Shoes are a very important part of our outfit. They can make or break our look of the day. Leather is such a fascinating material. Every pore and scratch tells a story of that piece of leather making. Since the dawn, humankind has been using leather for various applications. Out of all the uses, one of the most common is shoemaking. There are different types of leather, as different animals produce leather with different qualities.
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Best Material for Shoes
There are many fabrics commonly used in shoe manufacturing. Each has its uses, and the material chosen varies greatly depending on the type of shoe. Canvas isn’t a good choice for dress shoes, and full-grain leather isn’t the best for sneakers. Leather is often the way to go if you want quality, durability, and timeless style. But here is where it gets tricky. If you thought leather was just leather, think again. There are many different types of leather, not to mention differences in quality, finish, color and texture. What you choose depends not only on the performance of the shoe or boot but also on the finished look you want.
Fine leather shoes are the perfect pairing with fancy outfits and classic jeans. But choosing the right shoes can be challenging. From understanding animal hides and grains to deciphering the soles of feet, there is a lot to analyze.
Not all leather is the same. Leather is first classified by the texture of the leather or the appearance of the leather shoe. In addition, it is important to choose the right style of leather shoes to match your outfit and personality.
Grades of Leather
Leather comes in variations and qualities. The origin of leather also has a great impact on quality. Generally, the best leather is made from parts of the animal that are less susceptible to damage. Usually, this includes the back, but the worst parts come from the head, legs, or abdomen.
Types of Shoe Leather
To know which leather is best for you, you must first know the types of leather. For this, you must understand the grain of the leather. The type of grain is important when choosing the type of leather or shoe material. Cowhide is thick and consists of two distinct parts. The top or skin of an animal is called the grain. This determines the skin value. Ideally, the fibers and surface of this part of the leather are strong, smooth, strong and dense. The deeper you go into the skin, the softer and looser the fibers. The term for these layers is split leather, but they are also called split leather, suede, and split below. The name comes from the large metal blades used to separate the upper grain from the suede surface.
Now that we have understood grain, it is time to learn about the different leather types.
Full Grain Leather
The highest quality leather, and therefore the most expensive full-grain leather, comes from the top layer of hides. It is composed of grains, hence the name. Known for its durability, full-grain leather can be a challenge for artisans. It is the highest quality leather at the top of the chain. It refers to the outer part of an animal’s skin just below the hair. Full here means buffed, a process used to remove imperfections and dirt. Leather’s dense porosity prevents it from retaining moisture and adds thickness. Aside from thickness, few areas of animal skin are suitable for full-grain leather, making it more expensive and difficult for leatherworkers to work with. However, full-grain leather is a durable material that develops a nice patina over time and can last for years with proper care.
Top Grain Leather
Top-grain leather ranks second, with flexibility and suppleness not found in full-grain leather. Although it has been strengthened by dyeing and coloring, it tends to stretch over time, so it does not rank on the same level as the first type, i.e., full grain. It is, however, durable and strong. Top-grain leather is usually made by splitting the hide’s top layer and removing imperfections. It is then sanded to smooth out any remaining natural imperfections. Top-grain leather is similar to full-grain leather but with a twist: a few millimeters are shaved from the top and lightly sanded to remove imperfections. This means it’s thinner, less durable, and more consistent while retaining the general characteristics of whole grains. It has a smooth surface and is good at picking up dirt but poor in breathability.
Corrected grain leather, also known as a bottom cut or split leather, is most commonly referred to as genuine leather. It is obtained by removing the layer of skin left after cutting off the top. Like top-grain leather, it is polished to remove the natural imperfections that occur in leather and is often embossed or spray painted. This gives the leather a more natural finish than the modified grain’s rough texture. On the other hand, it also changes the original breathing ability of leather.
As the name suggests, bonded leather is made from the rest of the hide bonded together with a fiberboard-based latex or polyurethane. Used like corrected grain leather, bonded leather is often spray-finished to look like two other types, i.e., full and top grain leather. This is the lowest and cheapest quality of leather. Bound leather is an impious residue left under the barrel when the modified grain rubs against the bottom of the barrel. It’s not even leather. It is a by-product. Take the by-products, shred them, place them on fiberboard, spray them with copious amounts of glue and polyurethane, and you have bonded leather.
Shoe Leather Styles
Another important thing you should know is the name of the style of leather you are getting for your shoes.
Calfskin is the most commonly used material for high-quality men’s shoes. As the name suggests, it comes from the skin of a young calf, usually over three months old. Another name for calfskin is vellum, which comes from Latin. Interestingly, North American calves are different from European calves. The latter’s skin is usually doubled in size and of better quality by breed standards and usage. It is a very fine and imperfect leather, making it the perfect material for most fine dress shoes. The wood grain is very fine and is also very strong and flexible. This is because calves have a denser fiber structure that is stronger than regular cowhide and older animals. Calfskin is usually around 1-1.2 mm thick, and depending on the model, good leather can provide enough leather for ten pairs of shoes.
Cowhides are made from aged cows and are a by-product of the meat industry. This is a reasonable benchmark for other types of shoe leather. More precisely, cowhide is thicker but undergoes a similar tanning process as calfskin. Cowhide’s thickness, enhanced strength, and fiber nature make it the perfect material for work boots and rough-use shoes.
Pig skin is usually made from the peccary, a mammal species belonging to the swine family. They are mostly found in South America, with all the most famous coming from Peru. Peccary leather is very thick but very soft and supple. This provides abrasion resistance, comfort, and flexibility at the same time. Plus, it requires maintenance, and it is very difficult to damage. However, it is not suitable for those who prefer glossy leather due to its texture.
You get suede when you remove the hair and cut off the grain, leaving only the split skin or flesh. Polish the thick part with a file. Once polished and buffed, it has a soft and thin texture with a unique fluff. This makes them very manageable and perfect for a more casual shoe. The downside is that suede is a sponge for water and dirt and is a fairly fragile leather.
The process of obtaining chamois consists of grinding and polishing the skin to remove the grains and expose the fleshy crevices. It remains soft, has a fine pile, and is absorbent. In many cases, the cloth used to polish shoes is made of chamois, a chamois that is highly porous and undergoes an extensive oil tanning process. This makes it very tough and doesn’t need to be smoothed and finished with elegant casual boots.
Nubuck is derived from cowhide, but the biggest difference from suede is the texture of the leather. It’s lightly sanded to produce a similarly soft pile, but the grain makes it much more durable and water-resistant.
Shell cordovan is a dense fibrous membrane cut from the horse’s rear. Regardless of its origin, it is one of the most luxurious leather pieces. It does not show pores, does not wrinkle, and curls nicely over time. Additionally, it is strong, durable, generally waterproof, and can last for decades with proper care.
It is leather that has been heavily waxed and oiled. The trick here is that when you pinch this leather, it usually turns a lighter color. The leather shifts in color when pulled, so the color shifts. Another characteristic of this style of leather is that it is extremely durable. It requires little maintenance. It is stubborn and absorbs scratches but is not abrasion resistant. It is great for casual boots and is very popular in North America.
For this, the rough, fleshy side of the skin on the outside is used. It is named rough out because the thick part is quite rough. Usually made of cowhide, it is soft, comfortable, and requires little maintenance. As the name suggests, it’s extremely durable and requires less maintenance, making it a fan favorite for older wartime and mountaineering work boots. This can also be because it can also absorb water.
This is the basic information required for choosing the leather for your shoes. With this, you can have a great pair of your favorite leather shoes!