The choice between leather and textile riding gear is more than a matter of picking nostalgic style over high-tech chic. Each material has its pros and cons in terms of comfort and protection. We will give you a short run-down of the major differences.
Leather is king when it comes to abrasion resistance, but 'leather' can mean almost any treated animal hide, including pig, goat, kangaroo and buffalo. Cowhide is the toughest and most common, the thicker the better. Racing suits are made from hides that are 0.9mm to 1.3mm thick; street gear tends toward the lower end of that range for comfort. Thinner 'fashion-weight' motorcycle gear is more for style than protection.
Leather doesn't breathe as well as some textiles, so vents or perforations are important if you ride in Thailand. It's difficult and expensive to waterproof leather so you'll probably need a very good rainsuit if you ride during the raining season. Wet leather should be air dried slowly to keep it from drying out and cracking. An annual treatment with leather conditioner keeps the garment supple and soft. Polyester-based fabrics are widely used in textile riding gear, especially at lower price points. Though relatively inexpensive, when it comes to abrasion resistance it doesn't compare with Cordura nylon of the same weight. Polyester has a lower melting point too, so it's more prone to damage if it touches a hot exhaust pipe. If you choose a nylon garment make sure it's made of Cordura nylon, which has special polymers added for strength; regular nylon doesn't have them.
Waterproofing textile gear is usually done by coating the material in polyurethane, or with a waterproof liner you wear under the outer shell. The first method impairs the garment's breathability (although it may increase the garment's abrasion resistance) while the second leaver the outer shell vulnerable to soaking in the rain. A third method, Cordura nylon laminated with Gore-Tex or a similar breathable membrane, solves both problems.