The difference of a good leather shoe.
Well where do I start with this topic?! There are real leather men's shoes available at all price points, right from £20 up to £500 and beyond. Why? What's the difference?
In my time I've owned a lot of cheap shoes from high street discount retailers and thought they were fine. I expected a pair of shoes to last me 6 months before they'd need replacing and was convinced that was pretty good going. But was that a false economy? I believe it was.
Since I've been wearing shoes that are a bit more expensive, it's been a revelation to me. I never realised that a pair of shoes could last a decade, or even a lifetime, if looked after properly. Of course the durability of a pair of shoes is directly related to the quality of the components used in the production process, and indeed, the level of craftsmanship.
Let's start by having a look at the different leathers available, and which are best avoided!
Pictured to the right is my first pair of shoes I bought in a classic style. The shoes are a chestnut brown oxford captoe. They were cheap at £40.00, and after six months of wear I could see why. In fact I stopped wearing them because they were looking rather worse for wear.
The shoes did have real leather uppers, and leather soles, but they used "corrected grain" leather. This means the leather is cheap - perhaps because of imperfections in the grain - and they're then stamped with a leather-like finish. Hence the term corrected grain.
Corrected grain leathers often have a very shiny finish as if they've been lacquered. This particular pair felt quite plasticky to the touch too. They look fine when they're new, but as the leather wears, and you get the normal creases and wear on the uppers, it takes its toll much more than a better leather.
These shoes creased badly from day one, which you can see in the picture across the vamp, even with the use of shoe trees to try to help them maintain their original shape. Eventually the lacquer that had been painted over the leather began to crack and look unsightly.
Pictured here is another shoe I bought fairly early on in my shoe 'career'. The leather this shoe is made out of is called "calf leather". Without going into where calf leather comes from too much, it is accepted as the best form of leather for shoes. Unlike the corrected grain leather, the grain is not tampered with in any way, the leather is dyed to the colour that the shoe maker wants.
Calf leather is much more supple than corrected grain leather, and usually feels much softer and more pliable too. If you compare the creasing on the vamp of this shoe (all leather shoes will crease to come degree) you can see it creases in a completely different way, and doesn't make the shoe look unsightly, or cause any premature wear issues.
So, how do you spot whether a shoe is corrected grain leather, or calf leather?
If you're in a high street shoe shop and can handle the shoe in question, there are a few things that are a give away.
Firstly, the price. Calf leather shoes usually start around the £140 price mark (RRP - sales don't count!) upwards. If you're looking at a pair of leather shoes for £80, it's most likely they will be made from corrected grain. If the leather feels stiff that's another give away that you're handling a corrected grain leather shoe.
If you're looking to buy a shoe online, read the description carefully. How do they refer to the leather? If you see the phrases 'polished leather' or 'hi shine leather' it will be corrected grain. Remember that most retailers will want to draw attention to a shoe that is made from calf leather, so I'd be wary of buying a shoe that didn't give any clues one way or the other, unless you know from previous research of the shoe elsewhere.
Even the big English marques such as Loake & Barker still produce corrected grain leathers. Loake's L1 Classic line of shoes are not only corrected grain leather, but also produced in India.
In my opinion it is well worth paying the extra for a good quality leather shoe. The price might initially look high compared to a £40 shoe, for example, but in my experience you will end up getting a much better life span out of the shoe.
I can honestly say that I have had better value for my money out of more expensive shoes than a cheaper shoe. And that's not taking into account the extra comfort and foot support you can expect from a quality pair of shoes either.
Don't forget, that as long as the uppers are still in good condition, most manufacturers can re-sole your shoes too. With care, a good pair of shoes really can be made to last a lifetime.
© 2013 Timothy