Leather Footwear: A Complete Guide For Your Leather Boots

Footwear comes in different styles and made from various materials. But while styles have come and gone, there’s no question that leather footwear is king in both style and durability. Leather is something people have associated with quality and with good reason.

But which leather should you choose? To help you out, we have prepared this guide that covers all the essentials about leather. Even though leather may look the same, the quality varies depending on the type. If you want to get maximum value for your money, you have to learn the difference between the various types of leather and their properties.

History of Using Leather in Footwear

There are 15,000 year cave paintings depicting humans with their feet wrapped around animal skin. There is also an ice man dating from 5000 years ago whose feet are covered in leather. While they don’t look like today’s shoes, that is where modern footwear are descended from.

As shoes have evolved through the centuries, one thing has remained constant, and that is the use of leather. Platform soles, very popular during the 1970s and 1990s, are derived from 16th century chopines. The Assyrians also wore leather footwear, and so did other ancient peoples.

Leather vs Synthetic

Leather is superior to other synthetic materials, and they last longer. Genuine leather however, is more expensive than synthetic leather because they undergo a more stringent process.

Genuine leather has patterns and pores. Some even have a fire branch or hair holes, an indication of their being genuine. Real leather also has a distinct smell, whereas synthetic leather smells like plastic.

Even if you don’t know a lot about leather, you will notice the difference. Another way to distinguish the two is by the brand name, as some brands only sell genuine or synthetic leather footwear.

Check this article for further knowledge related to leather and synthetic footwear.

Classifications of Leather Using in Footwear

Leather footwear comes in many forms, and the following are the most common.

  • Full Grain: This is the finest leather available. Full grain leather is not buffed or sanded, i.e. even the imperfections are left in. The grain is untouched, and it is very durable. Full grain leather ages very well and looks fantastic on footwear, bags, jackets and wallets.
  • Top Grain: This is the standard material used in most footwear. Top grain leather is obtained from splitting full grain leather and the imperfections are removed. Synthetic grain is then put over the hide. Color is applied to give it an even appearance. They’re softer than full grain, but don’t last as long.
  • Suede: Oxfords, chukkas and other dress shoes are made from suede. This material is made out of a hide’s lower layer. This is then sanded to make it soft and have more texture. Suede is soft, pliable and light. However, it needs regular treatment to maintain this state.
  • Patent: Patent leather is either synthetic or natural, but they share the same characteristics. The material is glassy, smooth and has a glossy feel to it. Patent leather is almost waterproof, but quality wise it is nowhere as good as genuine leather.
  • Genuine Leather: A lot of footwear sold today is marketed as genuine leather, and in a sense that’s true. However, most are made from bonded leather, the lowest quality leather available today. This is basically a piece of cardboard surrounded by bits of leather and glued on.
  • Nubuck: Nubuck leather is a variant of top grain leather. This is repeatedly buffed and to give it a smooth appearance. Nubuck is more durable than suede. But like suede this needs to be treated on a regular basis to maintain its appearance.

Examples of Leather Footwear

  • Roughout Boots: These have the roughened part of the leather on the outer part of the shoe. The surface is soft, thick and can take a lot of punishment. Compared to rough in leather, it is more breathable.
  • Veg-Tanned Shoes: Made from tree barks and vegetable matter, it has a natural leather color and is stiff. This softens and darkens with prolonged use. Veg-tanned looks great, but it’s not waterproof and will shrink when drenched.
  • Pull Up Shoes: Pull up shoes refer to a wide range of leather including oiled and waxed. Chrome and aniline are also classified as pull ups. These shoes are low maintenance and can absorb scrapes and scuffs easily.
  • Chamois Shoes: Chamois are recognized for their durability, ability to absorb water and softness. It is these qualities that have led to its use as polishing cloth material. You do need to apply oil and wax regularly to avoid moisture buildup. Chamois also doesn’t wear out easily.
  • Scotch Grain Boots: Also called pebble grain, these boots are notable for the pattern set over calfskin. It has a tough finish and it is more weather resistant compared to more brittle leather.
  • Shell Cordovan: Made from a horse’s hind quarters, it is very rare, durable and expensive.

Leather Problems and Solutions

  • New Shoes are Tight: This is common with new shoes as they need breaking-in. Just wear the shoes inside your house, walk around and they will loosen up. You can also use stretching techniques to make your leather shoes comfortable.
  • Stains: Wipe the stained part with a damp cloth or a shoe leather cleaner, available online.
  • Scuffed Suede: Get a pencil eraser (which has never been used) and scrub the affected part. Just scrub back and forth and the mark will disappear.
  • Nicked Shoe: Apply a few drops of glue on the leather. Use your fingernail to press the flap back firmly. Use a matching tip marker for the edges.
  • Nicks and Scuffs on Black Leather: You can use the same fix above. Or if you’re pressed for time, a black marker will do.
  • Shoe Sole Comes Off: You need a wood skewer to apply Shoe Goo. Once you’ve applied the Goo, use a clothespin to maintain its position.

Leather Footwear Care

Do not store leather shoes until they’re completely dry. Some brands sell their won shoe cleaners. Use those whenever possible to avoid damage.

Remove the laces of the shoes before cleaning. When polishing, use only soft cloth and wipe on the shoe gently with a circular motion.

The time it takes to dry shoes varies. After 20 minutes they should be dry and ready to be polished.

Always use polish that corresponds with your shoe’s color. Use a lanoline based beeswax polish as it’s soft. Use nylon to remove excess polish.

Full Grain Leather

Use a dry cloth to get rid of dirt and dust. Dampen the cloth, wipe the shoe and allow the leather to dry. To condition leather, use leather cream polish with a similar color as the shoe. Buff until it’s shiny. Don’t use silicone sprays or liquid shoe polishes on full grain leather.

Oiled Leather Shoes

Use a dry cloth to wipe dust and dried on dirt. Only use a cleaner that works for oil leather. Follow the directions for its use and let your shoes naturally dry. Like full grain leather, do not expose to direct heat sources or sunlight when drying. Avoid heat vents too because they’ll dry the leather.

Oiled leather will benefit from a leather protector and restorer. Make sure they are made of non-soluble ingredients. All the elements in the protector must be suitable for oiled leather. You can use these same treatments for beeswax leather footwear.

Sometimes there could be a necessity of sewing your shoes. So, after that oil your shoes properly. ​

Suede and Nubuck Leather

Use a soft dry cloth or rubber eraser to remove smears and smudges. Use a soft bristle brush to remove the remaining dirt. Whether it’s suede or nubuck, brush gently. Brush in one direction only, otherwise the colors will look out of place. Use only soft brushes that are meant for these leathers.

Check out our latest post on leather footwear care at home.​

Materials You Need to Care Your Leather Gear

Your leather shoes will last only if you use the right tools to care for them. With the right supplies they’ll always look as good as new.

  • Shoe Polish: polish is essential, and the good news is you can apply it quickly. Polish works on specific types of leather, so use where it’s appropriate.

There are two types of shoe polish, cream and wax. Wax polish is used to buff shoes until they shine, and cream polish is for color restoration. Apply cream polish prior to the wax polish. There’s no need to apply wax if you don’t want the shoes to have a glossy look.

  • Shoe Brush: use this to remove dust and dirt. You also need this for polishing, moisturizing and buffing. Any horsehair brush may do, but get the best horsehair brush you can afford as it can make a huge difference.
  • Rag or Clean Cloth: you need these to apply waxes, creams and conditioners. Rags are also useful for wiping dirt off. 
  • Leather Cleaner: You need this to remove substances that could end up in the polish and cause surface deterioration.
  • Leather Conditioner: Leather Conditioner is used to protect the leather against drying.

Do’s and Don’ts with Leather Footwear

Do's

  • let your footwear breathe. Get a second pair of shoes and let your primary pair rest every now and then.
  • Do use lukewarm water to clean the shoes.
  • Do use polish that’s meant for that particular leather.
  • let your footwear dry at room temperature. Avoid exposure to radiator heat and sunlight as that will lead to cracking.
  • Do store footwear in a cool, dry place. This is the ideal place to keep leather shoes from damage. Do not store them in the original box as it’s unsuitable for long term storage.

Don'ts

  • Don’t use leather footwear in damp weather. Use waterproofing sprays if you have to wade in water.
  • Try not to drench the shoes in water even if it is advertised as water resistant. If there’s a lot of dirt, use a leather cleaner.
  • Don’t polish until all the dirt has been removed from the shoes. Shoe polish work like sealants, and it will trap the dirt in.
  • Never put on your shoes until they have dried 100%. Doing so will cause damage.
  • Don’t put any item over the shoes as that could cause damage. Even if the shoes look great and feel durable, this is best avoided.

Best Leather Footwear Brands

  • Aldo: This is a well-known brand especially when it comes to affordable footwear. The company makes a lot of products, but they’re best known for cost effective leather dress shoes.
  • Hugo Boss: Anyone who knows anything about fashion knows the name Hugo Boss. They make all kinds of shoes, all of which offer a classic, yet contemporary look.
  • Allen Edmonds: This is the brand that many business executives swear by. Their shoes are perfect for office employees and professionals. These are high end sophisticated shoes for those who don’t want to compromise.
  • Bruno Magli: This is an Italian luxury brand that offers high quality shoes for discriminating buyers.
  • To Boot New York: This is another high end brand for those who want high quality shoes. While it is an upscale brand, they also have mid-range footwear for consumers.
  • Johnston & Murphy: This is the brand for college graduates and anyone who’s looking for affordable but quality shoes.
  • Cole Haan: The brand has become a global icon and appeals to both men and women. They make several quality shoes, plus they’re available everywhere and affordable too.
  • Magnanni: This brand manufactures premium footwear straight out of Almansa, Spain.
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Leather Footwear FAQs

Conclusion

Buying leather footwear is easy, but you need to be careful if you want to get your money’s worth. With this guide you should now be ready to make a sound purchase. With the right pair of leather footwear, they should last a long time before needing a replacement.

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