Patent leather is produced through a process that gives leather a high gloss shine. While the manufacturing process has changed over time, the look remains largely unchanged.
Patent leather was originally created in 1818 by Seth Boyden. He created the leather by using a linseed oil lacquer to seal the surface of leather and produce the signature shine. Today patent leather is most commonly created by applying a plastic coating to the leather. Though it may look similar to imitation leather, patent leather is indeed genuine leather and thus commands a higher price.
In addition to being visually appealing, patent leather is known for its durable nature. The coating process responsible for the high gloss finish also creates a near waterproof barrier that keeps the leather in good condition; yet still remains flexible.
Patent leather is most commonly used in formal shoes such as those worn with military uniforms and tuxedos. Patent leather is also found in women's shoes, particularly shoes that are appropriate for formal occasions. While shoes are indeed the most common application for patent leather, it is not a limiting factor. Handbags, wallets and other fashion accessories also make use of patent leather when a high gloss shine is desirable.