More specifically, I'm reading "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov which describes in some detail the American landscape of the late 1940's. Here's a quote:

On especially tropical afternoons, in the sticky closeness of the siesta, I liked the cool feel of armchair leather against my massive nakedness

This takes place at a motel in the sticks. Could it have been real leather? In a motel?

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    Your question does presume that real leather was expensive in the US in the 1940s. Given the large cattle industry of the south-central US, this might not be the case. Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 9:52
  • @KillingTime: Good point, actually. The question remains, though: leather or plastic?
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 10:03
  • I would clarify who "they" refers to. America? Great Britain? The world?
    – terminex9
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 5:06
  • @terminex9: The world. Such trends are usually global. Some countries get ahead quickly, others lag behind, but relative parity is normally reached in a few years. When stockings and wigs went out of mens fashion in France shortly after the First Revolution due to the anti-aristocratic sentiment, it took other countries (republics and monarchies) only a couple of years to catch up.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 5:22

1 Answer 1


It was fairly widely available in the 19th century as mass manufacturing started to branch out from military materiel and animal rights started to become an issue within society.

It wasn't, however, used heavily for furniture until more recently. If it was described as leather in the 1940's, it was probably actual leather. As noted by KillingTime, the US had a huge cattle industry and there was no significant shortage of leather and it was reasonably cheap. Leather is only relatively expensive nowadays due to the massive increase of faux leather and the consequent reduced production of actual leather, and the perceived "luxury" tag attached to "real" leather. Even so, real leather is still prominent in furniture etc, where that perceived additional quality still counts for a lot.

I have one item of faux leather furniture in my house, and the rest (and my car seats) are all real leather.

It's not impossible the furniture in a motel was faux leather in the 1940s, but it's far more likely to be real.

  • I accept the answer. Out of curiosity: so what do they do with all that surplus cowhide these days? The industry is still huge.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 10:19
  • Burn or otherwise destroy it, if it's not used. A lot is still used though, there's still fairly high demand for leather - just not as high as it used to be
    – Jon Story
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 11:52
  • Seems like such a waste, though.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 11:55

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