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I Bought a Damaged Leather Skirt — Can It Be Saved?

It was on super sale, but did I waste my money?

Photo: Driely S. for Racked

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

In the crazy end-of-season Zara sale, there was a white leather pencil skirt for 50 bucks — perfect but that it had a big dark gray smudge right in the middle of it. I figured it had rubbed up against something else, and that I could clean it up easily.

I've tried dish soap, rubbing alcohol, leather cleaner (it IS real leather), all to no avail. Still smudged. Is there anything I can do, or am I out $50? — Kelley Peters

I've had this question languishing in a folder labeled "Racked, Good Questions" for weeks now. I've pushed it back in the queue several times in favor of other questions. I was avoiding it, if I'm being really honest with you. And here's why: Somehow, I got it in my head that the damage was a tear in the leather, and I was worried that I was going to have to deliver the unwelcome news that repairing the damage would either be impossible or prohibitively expensive.

I needn't have worried! Because what we're actually facing, problem-wise, is a mere smudge, and I can totally help you out on that front. Phew! What a relief.

Try a Different Leather Cleaner

It may very well be the case that the leather cleaner KP tried wasn't good enough for the job, and that switching to another type of leather cleaner might do the trick. It does happen! Some formulas just work better than others.

There are a lot of products designed for use on leather, from conditioners to cleaners to polishes to out-and-out soaps; for a full breakdown of the different types of leather care products, check out our guide to caring for your new leather purchases.

I was so impressed I made her show me the bottle so I could take a photo of it and order some for myself.

In this case, there are two products I want to call out in particular: Cadillac Leather Cleaner and saddle soap. I mention the Cadillac brand specifically because I recently bought a Cuyana bag that, in the course of having a monogram applied, got embossed with a whole bunch of extraneous gold in addition to the JK. I winced when I saw it happen, but I shouldn't have worried at all — the shopgirl took all that heat-embossed gold off the bag in seconds using Cadillac Leather Cleaner. I was so impressed I made her show me the bottle so I could take a photo of it and order some for myself. And now I get to mention it to you all!

Then there's good old saddle soap, which we've talked about a bunch in this space. It's a step up from leather cleaners like Cadillac in terms of potency and isn't generally something you need to use for regular cleaning, but in the case of this stained white leather skirt, it may be exactly the ticket.

Use White Leather Polish or Scuff Cover

But maybe you're put off by your first failed experiment with leather cleaners and don't want to fool with similar products that may not work. Fair enough. I've got other options for you to consider.

You can always try to go over the smudge with white leather polish to see if that does the trick. Another good option in the same vein as using white leather polish is a white scuff cover. Scuff covers are marketed for use on sneakers, but you can certainly press them into double duty and use them on other white leather goods. The use of polish or scuff cover may slightly stiffen the leather because they're designed for use on shoe leather, which is generally not as soft as the leather used for skirts, bags, and other accessories, but applying a light coating of leather conditioner after covering the scuff will restore the softness.

Take It to a Repair Shop

Of course, outsourcing the job to a professional is also an option! You'll want to seek out an estimate before committing to having the skirt serviced, because it may well be the case that the repair costs you more than you paid for the skirt in the first place. I mean, maybe it's still worth it! That's up to you to decide, but it's also my job to mention that leather repair can get pricey.

Outsourcing the job to a professional is also an option!

If you do decide to go that route, check out our guide to New York City's Best Fixers, a roundup of the best fashion-related services, including leather repairists. There's help to be found within even if you don't live in New York, as several of the businesses, such as Cobbler Concierge and Leather Spa, offer mail-in services for folks who can't drop their leather goods off in person.

Dye it Dark Gray

Of course, if all else fails, you could take a cue from the movie Can't Buy Me Love and dye the skirt a darker color to hide the smudge. It would be sad to not have a badass white leather skirt, but the cool factor of being in possession of a badass gunmetal leather skirt is nothing to sneeze at!

You can absolutely send your leather goods out to be re-dyed at a place like the aforementioned Leather Spa, or you can DIY it. Fiebing's makes a series of leather dyes in loads of colors like kelly green, British tan, and turquoise. It also offers a guide to successfully using its leather dyes that will be helpful; this step-by-step tutorial with photos is also a great guide for those opting to tackle a leather dyeing project on their own.

If you do take on a DIY leather dyeing job, I would love to see the results, so please take some before & after photos and send them to joliekerr@gmail.com so that I can delight in your mad skills!