How To Choose Leather Shoes: A Comprehensive Guide

How To Choose Leather Shoes

When it comes to style staples, a quality pair of leather shoes is unparalleled. Investing in the right dress shoe is about more than just fashion; it's a choice that can significantly influence your comfort and foot health.

Unlike suede or other materials, leather offers a timeless look and durability that can last for years. However, navigating the sea of footwear options isn't always straightforward.

This guide is designed to make it easy to choose leather shoes that work for your specific needs.

Understanding Different Types of Leather

Understanding Different Types of Leather

Full-Grain Leather

Considered the highest quality leather available, full-grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all of the natural grain. It's the most durable and resistant to wear, developing a unique patina over time.

The best full grain leather will tan beautifully and contribute to the aesthetics of smooth leather shoes for men, particularly in the shoe's upper and heel, where the leather is most visible.

Read related article: What Is Faux Leather Shoes? Is It Real Leather?

Top-Grain Leather

This is the second-highest quality of leather. It has had the very top layer sanded off to remove imperfections, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain.

Top-grain is often used in high-end leather goods where a smooth finish is desired and is a common choice for business dress shoes.

Genuine Leather

Although the term "genuine leather" sounds reassuring, it's actually a lower grade of leather that comes from the layers of hide remaining after the higher-quality top layers have been removed.

A pair of shoes labeled as genuine leather may look and feel good, but it won't be as durable or luxurious as full-grain or top-grain options. It's important to note that genuine leather is not synonymous with quality leather.

Bonded Leather

The lowest quality, bonded leather, is made from scraps of leather that are bonded together with adhesives to form a single piece of leather for shoes. It has a less uniform appearance and breaks down more easily than higher grades of leather.

Bonded leather shoes are often more affordable, but they do not offer the same prestige or endurance as their full or top-grain counterparts.

Corrected Grain Leather

Also known as corrected grain leather, this type has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. After the natural imperfections are sanded off, an artificial grain is impressed into the surface, and it is then treated with stains or dyes.

Shoes made from corrected grain leather can be less costly and still look appealing, but they lack the strength and longevity of full-grain hides.

Understanding these distinctions is essential for choosing a pair of leather shoes that not only meets your style requirements but also offers the durability and quality you deserve.

Read related article: How To Repair Scuffed Leather Shoes - A Step-by-Step Guide

Classic Styles

When selecting a good pair of leather shoes, classic styles stand the test of time:

  • Oxford: The hallmark of men's dress shoes, Oxfords are known for their closed lacing system, giving them a sleek and neat appearance. Perfect for formal events and office settings, a quality leather shoe of this style, often made from full or top-grain leather, is an essential part of a man's wardrobe.
  • Derby: Similar to Oxfords but with open lacing, Derby shoes offer a more relaxed fit and versatile look. They effortlessly bridge the gap between smart casual and semi-formal.
  • Monk Strap: Featuring a buckle closure, Monk Strap shoes provide a modern and sophisticated alternative to laces. These shoes shine in business and smart casual environments, with their polished buckles adding a distinct touch of class.
  • Loafers: The slip-on design of loafers offers a perfect blend of comfort and elegance. Horsebit or tassel loafers crafted from veg tanned leather are stylish options that fit both corporate and laid-back settings.

Modern Innovations

Contemporary designs and technological advancements have led to several innovations in leather shoe fashion:

  • Animal Hide Varieties: Beyond traditional cowhide, shoes are made from exotic animal hides, introducing unique textures and patterns.
  • Rubber Soles: Unlike sneaker rubber soles, modern leather shoes incorporate sleek, durable rubber soles for added comfort and weather resistance while maintaining a stylish profile.
  • Athleisure Influence: Today, leather shoes blur the lines between casual and dress wear, offering hybrid styles that provide the comfort of sneakers with the sophistication of a dress shoe.
  • Eco-Conscious Materials: The market now features more eco-friendly options, including sustainably sourced veg tanned leather and materials from conscientiously managed animal herds.
  • Dress Boots: A good pair of dress boots crafted in sumptuous leather with attention to detail can serve as a fashionable and practical choice for cooler seasons, providing the same panache as traditional shoes but with added protection and support.

Fit and Comfort

Fit and Comfort

Sizing Tips

Proper sizing is crucial for maximizing comfort, especially when it comes to leather shoes. Here are some easy steps to measure your feet for a snug fit:

  • Measure at Home: Stand on a blank sheet of paper and trace the outline of your foot. Measure the longest and widest part with a ruler.
  • Check Size Charts: Use the measurements to check against standard size charts, keeping in mind that sizing may vary by manufacturer.
  • Room for Movement: Make sure there's about a thumb's width of space between your longest toe and the front of the shoe.
  • Width Matters: Consider the width of your feet, not just the length. Leather shoes should feel snug but not tight.
  • Time of Day: Measure your feet in the afternoon when they are likely to be their largest.

Breaking In New Shoes

Ease the break-in period for your new leather shoes with these simple steps:

  1. Wear Them In: Start by wearing your leather shoes around the house for short periods.
  2. Thick Socks: Use thick socks to protect your feet and stretch the leather gently.
  3. Leather Conditioner: Apply a leather conditioner to moisturize the leather, making it more pliable.
  4. Bend and Twist: Gently bend and twist the shoe to loosen stiff areas without damaging the structure.
  5. Gradual Increase: Slowly increase the time you wear your new shoes, allowing them to mold to your feet naturally.

Read related article: 10 Tips on How To Make Shoes More Comfortable

Durability and Maintenance

Quality Indicators

To ensure durability and get the best value out of leather shoes, savvy shoppers should look for several quality indicators:

  • Stitching: Premium leather shoes feature tight, even stitching with high-quality thread, which reduces the likelihood of coming undone. Double or triple-stitched seams are particularly resilient.
  • Soles: It's important to examine the soles—look for stitched soles rather than glued ones as they tend to last longer. Good-quality leather shoes might have soles made of stacked leather or integrated with rubber or synthetic materials for longevity.
  • Construction Methods: Time-honored techniques like Goodyear welting and Blake stitching are indicators of well-constructed shoes. These methods allow for repeated resoling, extending the life of the footwear.

Care and Preservation

Maintaining the integrity and appearance of leather shoes involves a few key practices:

  • Cleaning: Remove dirt and debris after each wear with a soft brush or damp cloth. For deeper cleans, use a leather cleaner that is suitable for the type of leather of your shoes.
  • Polishing: Applying polish not only makes your shoes look great but also provides a layer of protection. Use a cream or wax polish that matches your shoe color, then buff to a shine.
  • Storing: Keep your leather shoes in a cool, dry place and use shoe trees to maintain their shape. For long-term storage, encase them in breathable bags to prevent dust buildup without retaining moisture.

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Where to Buy

High-Street vs. Bespoke

Pros and Cons of Off-the-Rack Shoes

High-street or off-the-rack shoes offer the convenience of immediate purchase, with a range of styles and sizes available for instant gratification. For those who need shoes quickly or have a limited budget, high-street shops provide a practical solution.

  • Pros:
  • Readily available
  • Affordable
  • Variety of styles

However, the one-size-fits-all approach may not accommodate unique foot shapes, and the mass production process typically means a compromise in quality and durability.

  • Cons:
  • Less durable
  • Standardized sizes might not fit well
  • Common designs

Pros and Cons of Bespoke Shoes

Bespoke or custom-made shoes are tailored to fit the exact specifications of the wearer's feet, guaranteeing comfort and style.


  • Perfect fit
  • High-quality materials and craftsmanship
  • Customization options

These shoes are typically crafted from superior materials with attention to every minute detail but come with a higher price tag and require waiting time for the crafting process.


  • Expensive
  • Longer wait times

Online Shopping Tips

Shopping for leather shoes online can be a convenient and effective way to find the perfect pair, but it requires vigilance to avoid common pitfalls.

  • Measure Your Feet Precisely: Because you can't try shoes on, accurate foot measurements are crucial.
  • Read Reviews: Customer reviews can give insight into the fit and quality.
  • Understand the Return Policy: In case the shoes don't fit, knowing the return policy is essential.
  • Use Trusted Retailers: Purchase from established online stores with secure payment methods.
  • Contact Customer Service: For any questions or clarifications, reaching out to customer service can offer personalized assistance.


In conclusion, this buying guide aims to equip you with the knowledge to select the best leather shoes that not only match your style but also promise durability and comfort. Remember that a quality leather sole is a true hallmark of fine footwear.

By understanding the different grades of shoe leather, you can make an educated decision, ensuring you invest in the best leather available, resulting in footwear that stands the test of time.  

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