For those who are looking to buy their first pair of leather shoes and have no idea how to tell the difference between a leather shoe and a leather bag, this article is for you.
It may take many years to really tell the many nuances that goes in a leather shoe, but let me jump start that process and give you a crash course in how to tell quality leather shoes.
There are three main factors when it comes to good men formal/smart casual leather dress shoes
- Leather Quality
- Shoe Construction
- Parts of the Shoe
There are many different types of leather that could be used to make a leather shoe; the most common ones being cowhide leather.
Cowhide leather is characterized into its different grain; each grain being of different quality.
I.E. Durability, Breath-ability, Strength, etc
1.) Full grain
Full grain leather is the best part of a cow’s hide and is produced from the top side of the leather; the surface.
This leather has not been sanded or buffed to remove the imperfections on the surface, unlike the other types of leather.
The grain remains, giving it the fiber strength, durability and breathability.
Full grain leather is the most sought after and expensive leather and typically ages and crease better.
At CustomMade, we only believe in full grain cowhide leather for our upper leather, sourced from the finest tanneries in the US.
2.) Top grain
Top grain leather is produced from just below the full grain, thus the second highest quality. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added, resulting in less breathability.
However, it is still strong, durable and resistant to stain.
3.) Corrected grain
Corrected grain leather is produced through the sanding of the top layer and has an artificial grain applied to its surface, giving it the ‘plastic’ look.
Corrected grain leather is a form of lower quality top grain leather. It creases badly and is less durable.
Leather shoes at cheap prices, below $150 to $200 are usually made out of corrected grain leather.
In fact, some of the major shoe brands in Singapore uses corrected grain leather, even for shoes that cost more than $200.
PRO-TIP: To tell if a shoe is made from corrected grain, one factor would be the price. If its below $150 to $200, there is a very high chance it is made out of corrected grain leather.
Secondly, look at the surface of the shoe, does it have a very "plastic" feel or artificial finish. Full grain leather are real cowhide without much correction so it would not have the artificial finish.
Genuine leather is usually what is left after the full grain and top grain leather are split from the cow hide.
Similarly, the surface is usually sanded, refinished and have an artificial layer applied on its surface.
An example of genuine leather is suede leather.
PRO-TIP: Genuine leather is a very commercial term and mainly use for marketing purposes to give shoes a "premium" feel. In fact, genuine leather does not mean high quality leather.
It could be very low quality leather and that is usually the case as shoe brands that pride themselves on using full grain quality leather would not use the term "genuine"
The best way to tell is of course the price.
There are three main types of shoe construction used for formal men leather dress shoes.
1.) Goodyear welting
Goodyear welting is the most labor-intensive of the three types of construction and it is usually hallmark of premium or bespoke leather shoes.
- Easy to re-sole because of the welt and two level stitching. This extends the shelf life of your shoe. However, this advantage is defeated due to the expensive cost of resoling in Singapore.
- Water proof. Because of the welt/sole stitching this doesn’t allow water to seep in.
- Expensive. Goodyear welted shoes generally require more labor and materials. Typically cost above $350.
- Less flexible and more bulky due to extra layers.
- Resoling in Singapore is expensive. $150++ for a leather sole resole. At that price, it might be more value to simply purchase a brand new pair.
2.) Blake STITCH
Blake stitching is one of the most common construction in formal shoes. The stitching is done on the inside of the shoe. A single stitch secures the upper and soles together.
Most Italian style shoes use Blake Stitching.
CustomMade shoes are constructed using a top quality Blake Stitched construction.
- Blake welted soles are very flexible and light weight
- Cheaper than Goodyear welted shoes. (cheap does not mean bad)
- Not as waterproof as Goodyear welted. (A good Blake construction can be waterproof)
- More expensive to resole as a specific blake machine is required.
This is the cheapest and most common way of construction. Basically, the sole is attached to the uppers by gluing them together.
No welting or stitching is used. Typically used in lower end shoes.
- Poor durability and water resistant
- Once the sole is damaged, no resoling can be done. The shoe must be replaced.
PRO-TIP: Cemented shoes usually use corrected grain/genuine leather for their uppers as it does not make sense to use quality full grain leather on a cemented construction.
One way to tell cemented shoes is from the soles. Look for welting or stitches at the bottom and sides of the soles.
Do note that some shoe brands now use "cosmetic stitches" on their shoe soles. Ask the sales personnel about the construction of the shoe if you are unsure.
3.) PARTS OF A SHOE
There are two main parts of a men formal leather dress shoe:
- Upper leather
While most people only notice the upper (main part) of a shoe, the other equally important part is ignored; Soles
High end shoes are usually full leather - leather inner linings, uppers and soles. However, there are many shoes that now use rubber soles as well.
Rubber VS Leather soles
Traditionally, only dress shoes with leather soles are considered formal shoes.
This notion still remains somewhat in today's world.
Two primary functional benefits of full leather soles over rubber soles is
- breathability and
- Ability to mold to your feet over time.
While you may not notice it, your feet actually sweat quite a bit throughout the day. Your feet, like every part of the body sweat; add a layer of cloth (socks) over it , followed by your shoe, and then coupled with walking around for 6 to 10 hours a day.
Just imagine how much your feet will sweat inside your shoes, especially if you don't get much chance to air your feet.
This is where the breathability of leather soles shine, allowing your feet to breathe and hence, sweat less.
This also reduces the moisture in your shoes, prolonging your shoe life.
2.) Molding to your feet
Leather has the unique property to mold to the contour of your feet over use, giving a custom quality to the fit of your shoe.
Over time, your leather soles will feel more comfortable as it molds to your feet.
Aesthetically speaking, it is still common consensus that leather soles are better looking than their rubber counterpart.
There is an advantage rubber soles have over leather soles which is the grip and traction it provides. However, personally, over use, the leather soles will provide enough grip for your everyday office wear.
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Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me (8500 6989) if you have any questions.