Types of Leather – Why it Matters When Buying Shoes

From full-grain leather to corrected grain, learn what types of leather you should be looking out for when buying your next pair of shoes and why it’s so important.

As well as the construction of the shoe, the choice of leather is integral. Leather is the hide sourced from several animals and comes in a variety of characteristics.

Each part is marked in terms of quality and undergoes many processes before it’s used by a shoemaker.

Some leathers like suede are perfect for a summer’s day, but dreadful in wet conditions. While full-grain leather is extra thick and epitomises true quality.

When you buy a pair of shoes, the price you pay ultimately comes down to the type of material used. To give you an idea of quality and the types of leather you should be looking out for, here’s a handy guide.

What is leather made from?

Leather is hide sourced from various animals and comes in different conditions.

The most common type of leather comes from calfskin as it provides very tight grain and few imperfections for durable higher-end dress shoes.

Other common leather sources include cowhide and bullhide.

Moving slightly further afield, types of leather can come from more exotic animals like alligators, crocodiles, chickens, horses, pigs, eels, giraffes, kangaroos, lizards, sharks plus many more.

Understanding the types of leather

Types of leather grain used in shoes

The type of leather material boils down to its quality grade.

Just like a cut of meat, certain parts are tastier – or in this case, more durable. For example, the back of an animal usually has the smoother leather, whereas the head, legs and belly are more worn and used – making them perfect for cheaper pairs.

Here’s a complete guide to leather grades.

Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather refers to the outside part of the animal’s hide just below the hair. It hasn’t been buffed or sanded, which is used to remove imperfections or marks. Its thickness makes it more expensive and harder to process.

Top grain leather

Top grain leather undergoes light sanding to shave off a few millimetres from the top to remove any imperfections. It is similar to full-grain, but is thinner and less durable.

Corrected grain/genuine leather

You’ll see a lot of brands stating that their leather is “genuine” to pass it off as a high-quality leather. However, corrected grain is the leftovers after using the top layers for better types of leather.

This type of leather will go through sanding and layers of artificial grain to give it a false natural look using stains and dyes. It’s cheap to manufacture and is what sets our quality shoes from your standard pair from a high-street retailer.

Bonded leather

This is by far the worse type of leather. Bonded leather is the leftovers and scraps of the rest of the types. The manufacturer will shred them, put them on a fibre sheet and spray them with adhesives and polyurethane.

The shoes that use this type of leather are cheap, unreliable and will result in your contributing to the fast fashion epidemic.

What about men’s suede shoes?

Men's suede shoes - types of leather

Men’s suede shoes are made with the thin inner splits of the animal skin, which makes them more flexible and affordable.

This makes them lighter and better for summer wear. Desert boots and chukka boots are a perfect example of where suede works. As a style, they’re effortless and can elevate a casual look into a smarter one.

The major issue with men’s suede shoes is that they’re more susceptible to damage. Due to its thinner material, they’re less durable and will often deteriorate faster than better cuts of leather.

A prime example is when they’re exposed to wet conditions. The soft nature of men’s suede shoes can create an uneven stiffness and result in permanent discolouration.

Although, there are many protective treatments and cleaning products to help stop the dye from running from the suede material like this one.

All-in-all, the key to ensuring your shoes are made from quality types of leather is to simply ask. If the company doesn’t know, you shouldn’t waste your money.

Want to know how to protect your leather shoes? Then check out this interesting blog.