Leather Types in Shoes: A Definitive Guide

en 11 sept 2023

Stepping into Style: A Comprehensive Guide to Different Types of Leather Used in Shoe Making

• What is leather?


Leather is a strong, flexible, and durable material obtained from the tanning, or chemical treatment, of animal skins and hides to prevent decay. The most common leathers come from cattle, sheep, goats, equine animals, buffalo, pigs and hogs, and aquatic animals such as seals and alligators1. Leather can be used to make a variety of items, including clothing, footwear, handbags, furniture, tools and sports equipment.
The preservation process employed is a chemical treatment called tanning, which converts the otherwise perishable skin to a stable and nondecaying material. Tanning agents include vegetable tannins (from sources such as tree bark), mineral salts (such as chromium sulfate), and fish or animal oils.
Although the skins of such diverse animals as ostriches, lizards, eels, fish, and kangaroos have been used, the more common leathers come from seven main groups: cattle (including calves and oxen); sheep and lambs; goats and kids; equine animals (including horses, mules, and zebras); buffalo; pigs and hogs; and aquatic animals like seals, walrus, whales, and alligators.
Leather making has been practiced for more than 7,000 years. The leading producers of leather today are China and India.


• Different types of leather

Natural Leather



Natural leather is made from the skin of animals, such as cows, goats, pigs, and horses. It is the most common type of leather used in making shoes. Natural leather is available in a variety of colors and finishes and can be made to be soft or stiff.


• Calfskin leather is the most popular type of leather used in making shoes. It is soft, smooth, and has a fine grain. Calfskin leather is often used to make dress shoes and high-end footwear.

 

Calfskin leather

 

 

• Goatskin leather is soft and supple and has a unique grain. Goatskin leather is often used to make driving shoes and loafers.

 

Cowhide leather
• Sheepskin leather is soft and warm and is often used to make slippers and boots.

 

Sheepskin leather
Sheepskin leather
•Pigskin leather is strong and durable and is often used to make sports shoes and boots.

 

 

Pigskin leather
Horsehide leather is the strongest and most durable type of leather. It is often used to make riding boots and other shoes that need to be able to withstand a lot of wear and tear.
Horsehide leather

 

 

• Exotic leather is made from the skin of animals such as alligators, snakes, and crocodiles. Exotic leather is often used to make high-end shoes that are unique and stylish.
Exotic leather

 

 

Split leather

 

Split leather is a type of leather that is made by splitting the hide into two layers. The top layer is called the grain layer, and it is the most desirable part of the hide. The bottom layer is called the flesh layer, and it is less desirable.

Split leather is often used for products that do not require the strength and durability of full-grain leather, such as wallets, handbags, and shoes. It is also used for linings and backings.

There are two main types of split leather:

  • Top-grain split leather: This is the highest quality type of split leather. It is made by splitting the hide only once, and the grain layer is left intact. Top-grain split leather is often embossed to give it a textured appearance.

 

 

Top-grain split leather

 

Top-grain split leather 2
  • Flesh split leather: This is the lowest quality type of split leather. It is made by splitting the hide twice, and the grain layer is removed. Flesh split leather is often used for products that do not require a lot of strength or durability, such as book bindings and lampshades.

Split leather is often advertised as "genuine leather". However, this term is not regulated, so it can be used to describe any type of leather, including low-quality split leather.

Here are some of the pros and cons of split leather:

Pros:

Less expensive than full-grain leather
Lightweight and flexible
Can be embossed to give it a textured 
appearance.


Cons:


Not as strong or durable as full-grain leather
Can be prone to scratches and scuffs.
May not last as long as full-grain leather


Overall, split leather is a good option for products that do not require a lot of strength or durability. It is less expensive than full-grain leather and can be embossed to give it a textured appearance. However, it is not as strong or durable as full-grain leather and may not last as long.

 

 Artificial Leather


Artificial leather is made from synthetic materials, such as polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is often less expensive than natural leather, and can be made to look like any type of natural leather. However, artificial leather is not as durable as natural leather, and may not last as long.


• PU leather is the most common type of artificial leather. It is soft and flexible and can be made to look like any type of natural leather. PU leather is often used to make casual shoes and boots.

 

PU leather

 

 

 • PVC leather is less common than PU leather. It is more durable than PU leather but is also more stiff and less comfortable to wear. PVC leather is often used to make work boots and other shoes that need to be able to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

 

PVC leather

 

 

• Faux leather is a general term for any type of artificial leather. It can be made from a variety of synthetic materials and may or may not look like any type of natural leather.

 

 

Faux leather

 

 

• Vegan leather is a type of artificial leather that is made from plant-based materials, such as pineapple leaves or apple peels. Vegan leather is often used by people who are looking for an alternative to animal products.

 

 

Vegan leather

 

 

• Patent leather is a type of leather that has had a high-gloss coating applied to it to create a glossy and reflective surface. This one-of-a-kind finish has been popular for decades and can be seen on a wide range of objects, including shoes, purses, and other accessories.
 The majority of current patent leather is created by blending imitation leather with a synthetic covering. That is, it is made of plastic. Historically, however, it was made with genuine calf leather and a natural, oil-based coating, such as linseed oil.

 

Patent leather

 

Choosing the Right Leather for Shoes


• The best type of leather for shoes depends on the specific needs of the wearer. Some factors to consider include the type of shoe, the climate, and the budget.
• For dress shoes, a soft and supple leather, such as calfskin, is often a good choice. This type of leather will be comfortable to wear and will look elegant.
• For work boots, a strong and durable leather, such as cowhide, is often a better choice. This type of leather will be able to withstand a lot of wear and tear.
• For casual shoes, a variety of leathers can be used. The best type of leather will depend on the specific style of the shoe and the climate in which it will be worn.
• For people who are on a budget, artificial leather may be a good option. However, it is important to choose a high-quality artificial leather that will last for a long time.



Caring for Leather Shoes



Leather shoes need to be cared for properly in order to last for a long time. Here are some tips for caring for leather shoes:

1. Clean Your Shoes Regularly: Use a horsehair brush or a damp cloth to remove dirt and dust from your shoes. Avoid using wet wipes or any other harsh cleaners as they can damage the leather.
2. Condition Your Shoes: Leather can dry out over time, which can lead to cracking. To prevent this, apply a leather conditioner to your shoes every few months. This will help to keep the leather supple and prevent cracks.
3. Polish Your Shoes: Polishing your shoes not only makes them look good, but it also helps to protect the leather. Use a good quality shoe polish and apply it in circular motions.
4. Store Your Shoes Properly: When you’re not wearing your shoes, store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. You can also use shoe trees to help maintain the shape of your shoes.
5. Protect Your Shoes: If you’re going to be wearing your shoes in wet or snowy conditions, consider using a waterproofing spray to protect the leather.
Remember, proper care and maintenance can significantly extend the life of your leather shoes!



How to condition leather shoes



Conditioning leather shoes is an important part of shoe care as it helps restore the natural oils in the leather, keeping it soft, flexible, and free of cracking¹. Here are some steps on how to condition your leather shoes:

1. Clean Your Shoes: Before you start conditioning, make sure your shoes are clean. You can use a horsehair brush or a damp cloth to remove dirt and dust.

2. Apply Leather Conditioner: Use a clean cloth to apply the conditioner in small circular movements. There are many types of leather conditioners available in the market. Make sure to choose one that is suitable for your type of leather.

3. Let it Absorb: Allow the conditioner to be absorbed by the leather. This could take a few minutes.

4. Remove Excess Conditioner: Once you've conditioned the whole shoe, remove any excess conditioner with a clean cloth.

5. Dry Your Shoes: Allow the shoes to dry naturally. Avoid placing them near a heat source as it can dry out the leather.

6. Polish Your Shoes (Optional): After conditioning and drying your shoes, you can polish them for that lovely sheen.

Remember, conditioning should be done at least every 25 years or so to keep your leather shoes in good condition. If your shoes are exposed to harsh weather conditions or worn frequently, you might need to condition them more often
How to store leather shoes



Storing leather shoes properly is crucial to maintain their shape and prolong their lifespan.

 

Here are some tips on how to store your leather shoes:



1. Choosing the Right Storage Space: Avoid storing them in damp basements, attics, or garages, as these areas can cause the leather to deteriorate. Instead, store them in a cool, dry room with good ventilation, away from direct sunlight and heat sources.

2. Cleaning Your Shoes Before Storage: It's essential to clean your shoes properly before storing them. This will prevent any dirt, grime, or bacteria from building up and causing damage to the leather.

3. Stuffing Your Shoes: Stuff each shoe with newspaper or a shoe tree to maintain the shape of the shoes and prevent creasing.

4. Wrapping Your Shoes: Use a soft cloth or a shoe bag specifically designed for leather shoes to protect them from scratches, dust, and other potential damage.

5. Storing Your Shoes: Once your leather shoes are clean, stuffed, and wrapped, it's time to store them. Place them in a cool, dry room with good ventilation, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. If possible, store them in a shoe rack or on a shelf, rather than on the floor. This will prevent them from getting crushed or misshapen.

6. Checking on Your Shoes: It's important to check on your leather shoes periodically, especially if they are stored in a damp or humid environment.

Remember that proper storage can significantly extend the life of your leather shoes!



FAQs


• What is the difference between natural leather and artificial leather?

Difference between natural leather and artificial leather: Natural leather is made from animal skin that’s been tanned, or chemically treated, to prevent decay. It is strong, flexible, and durable1. Artificial leather, on the other hand, is a synthetic material that imitates the appearance of real leather but does not possess its natural characteristics1. It’s often made from plastic materials like polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane.

• Which type of leather is better for shoes?

Best type of leather for shoes: The most commonly used leather for shoes is calfskin. It comes from calves (young cows) and has a smooth grain and surface. It’s durable with varying levels of softness (depending on the tannery) and is the perfect material to make any type of shoe.

• How long does leather last?

The lifespan of leather depends on its quality and how well it’s maintained. Full-grain leather, which is the highest quality of leather, can last for decades, and with proper care and maintenance, even for over 100 years.

• How do I know if my leather shoes are real?


Real leather shoes can be identified by their label (should say “real leather”, “genuine leather”, or “full grain leather”), their surface grain (should have imperfections and uniqueness), their feel (should wrinkle under touch), and their smell (should have a natural, musty smell instead of a plastic-like or chemical-y smell).

 

• How do I fix a scratched leather shoe?


To fix a scratched leather shoe, you can clean the shoe using a damp cloth or shoe brush, apply a thin layer of leather conditioner to the scratch using a small rag in circular motions, use a leather marker on the scratch until you achieve your desired color, and then buff your shoe with a dry cloth.