As you might imagine, the materials that make up your shoes can have a significant impact on your shoes.
This comprehensive guide discusses the most common types of shoe materials—leather, synthetic leather, textile, rubber, etc. -and explains each one’s benefits and drawbacks so you can pick the suitable material for your feet.
I. Types of shoe materials
The primary material from which the shoe is made is far more critical than the texture or design, as different materials are intended for different purposes.
In the following list, I have compiled the list of the most common materials used for shoe making, their features, and their benefits.
The flexibility and toughness of leather make it as strong as it is soft. Due to its elastic nature, it may be stretched while still preventing ripping and abrasion.
Its combination of breathability and heat insulation aids in temperature control. Because of all of this, leather shoe mold to the wearer’s foot better than any other type of shoe material.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that leather is one of the most widely used materials by shoe manufacturers, especially when creating men’s dress shoes.
Leather has various types.
- Full-grain leather
- Top-grain leather
- Patent leather
- Faux leather
1.1) Full-grain leather:
Full-grain leather is the highest quality of leather available. It is made from the outermost layer of the hide and has a natural grain that it retains even after being processed and dyed.
This type of leather is highly durable and will last longer than other types of leather.
1.2) Top-grain leather:
Top-grain leather is made with the same process as full-grain, but with one difference – it is lightly sanded or buffed to remove some of the natural grain and give it a more uniform look.
Though not as robust and top-grain leather is still durable and can be used for furniture, shoes, bags, and much more.
Nubuck is a form of top-grain leather lightly buffed (or sanded) on its face side to give it a velvet feel. It typically has a suede texture on its backside.
True suede is made from the underside of the hide rather than its outermost surfaces, like full-grain and top-grain leathers, so it tends to be thinner and softer than other forms of leather.
It gives great texture to products like shoes and boots but not as much durability because of its thinness.
1.5) Patent Leather:
Patent Leather is a type of plastic coated using synthetic polymers or resins, which gives it an extremely glossy finish resembling patent or lacquer effects seen in paints or varnishes.
It is primarily used in shoemaking but also appears in fashion accessories such as handbags and wallets or on some furniture pieces.
Advantages of leather in shoes:
- Durable – leather is strong and will last a long time.
- Breathable – leather is porous, so it allows your feet to breathe, which helps to keep them dry and comfortable.
- Water-resistant – leather is naturally water-resistant, so it can be an excellent choice for wet days or water-related activities.
- Flexible – the leather will mold and conform to the shape of your foot as you wear them, making it more comfortable over time.
Disadvantages of Leathers in Shoes:
- Costly – leather may be expensive compared to other materials like synthetic fabrics.
- Heavy – depending on the type of shoe, leather can add weight that may be uncomfortable when worn all day.
- Not vegan-friendly – if you are an animal rights advocate or vegan, you may opt not to use any animal products, including leather.
2. Synthetic Leather
Synthetic leather is a man-made material designed to imitate the look and feel of genuine leather. It’s typically made from polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or other polymers.
Types of Synthetic Leathers:
- Polyurethane (PU) – PU leather has become increasingly popular recently because of its affordability and versatility. It offers a softer feel than PVC and is often used on upholstery, shoes, and bags.
- Polyvinylchloride (PVC) – PVC leather can resemble both full-grain and top-grain leather, so it gives the appearance of genuine leather while being more water-resistant than PU. It’s usually found in shoes and boots due to its durability.
- Bonded Leather – Bonded leather or “reconstituted” leather is created by adhering pieces of scrap hide together with an adhesive and then coating the surface with polyurethane for color, shine, and protection. This synthetic leather is typically found in bookbinding or furniture upholstery where strength isn’t an issue.
Advantages of Synthetic Leathers:
- Affordable – synthetic leathers are much cheaper than genuine leather, which makes them a great alternative if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option.
- Easy to clean – since these materials do not absorb liquids as genuine leather does, they are easier to keep clean by simply wiping off any dirt or grime that may accumulate over time.
- Variety of colors/patterns – with synthetic material, you can purchase different colors, including bright colors that you couldn’t find in natural materials like genuine leather. You can also find faux patterns rather than solid colors, which may appeal more to your style needs.
Disadvantages of Synthetic Leathers:
- Not as durable – while some synthetic materials have improved over time, they still don’t hold up entirely, as well as genuine leather for everyday wear and tear. If you expect your shoes to last longer, it might be worth investing in the real thing instead.
- Less breathable – since synthetic materials don’t allow air circulation as well as natural materials like genuine leather, it may become hotter during wear which could make your feet uncomfortable after a while.
Textile materials are often used in the construction of shoes due to their lightweight, breathable properties.
They are usually made from cotton, nylon, or polyester fibers which can be woven or knitted together to create a variety of fabrics.
3.1) Natural Textile Types
- Cotton – one of the most popular natural fibers, cotton is lightweight and breathable. It is often used to make t-shirts and other apparel due to its softness and absorbency.
- Hemp – this strong fiber is often used in durable goods like backpacks and canvas bags. It has anti-bacterial properties, which makes it ideal for items like towels and bathrobes.
- Linen – this material is known for its luxurious feel and crisp texture. It is usually blended with other materials, such as cotton or synthetic fibers, to provide additional durability.
3.2) Man-made Textile Types
- Nylon – a popular synthetic fiber, nylon offers excellent strength, elasticity, and flexibility at an affordable price point. This material is often found in athletic clothing due to its moisture-wicking capabilities.
- Polyester – another synthetic fabric, polyester is both durable and wrinkle-resistant, making it an ideal choice for clothing that needs to maintain its shape over time.
- Spandex – commonly blended with other fabrics such as cotton or Lycra, spandex provides increased stretchability which makes it great for activewear items like leggings and yoga pants.
Here are some examples of textiles made from nylon, polyester, and spandex applied in footwear:
A lightweight and breathable fabric often used in athletic footwear. It is made using a combination of nylon, polyester, and spandex, giving it flexibility and durability
A lightweight and breathable fabric made from knitted yarns. It is often used in athletic footwear to provide flexibility and durability while also being lightweight. Flyknit is a variant of jacquard mesh that is more breathable, stretchable, and supportive than traditional jacquard mesh fabrics.
Sandwich Mesh or Air-Layer Mesh:
A type of woven mesh fabric made from two layers of nylon, polyester, or spandex yarns with a layer of cotton in between. The layers are held together by alternatingly-placed loops and threads. Sandwich mesh is often used in athletic apparel to provide breathability, flexibility, and support.
A strong, lightweight mesh fabric typically made from cotton and polyester. The tight weave of Oxford mesh makes it exceptionally durable and resistant to tearing, making it a popular material for outdoor and hiking shoes.
A lightweight and water-resistant fabric made from a combination of cotton or polyester and spandex. Softshell fabrics provide a stretchy, breathable material often used for water-resistant shoes and waterproof boots.
A luxurious fabric made from either silk or synthetic materials, such as rayon or polyester. With its smooth surface and vibrant color, velvet is often used for special occasions, dress shoes, and loafers.
A durable cotton fabric typically made with two different colored yarns woven together. Denim is a popular material for jeans, jackets, and other jean shoes or fashion items, as it is strong and resistant to fading.
Advantages of Textiles:
- Affordable – compared to genuine leather, textiles are much cheaper, making them a great alternative if you’re looking for stylish footwear without breaking the bank.
- Breathable – since these materials allow air circulation around your feet, they are great for hot summer days when you want your feet to remain cool and comfortable.
- Lightweight – compared to leather or synthetic alternatives, textile materials are much lighter, making them ideal if you don’t want your feet weighed down during wear.
Disadvantages of Textiles:
- Not waterproof – unlike leather or synthetics, which can protect against liquid damage, textiles will not keep your feet dry if they get wet, which could be an issue depending on where you live/what activities you’re doing.
- Not as durable – since textiles aren’t as solid and long-lasting as leather or synthetics, they may need to be replaced sooner, which could add up over time
Neoprene, which is also used in boots and wet shoes, is a material that is commonly seen in sneakers. Neoprene’s ability to keep your feet warm in water is one of its major benefits.
It’s perfect to use on winter boots or specialized footwear made for surfing or swimming. Neoprene is useful and adaptable without sacrificing comfort. One thing to keep in mind is that neoprene does not stretch, so you must pick the proper size because the shoes won’t expand when you put them on and take them off.
Neoprene is not a breathable material and cannot be washed in your washing machine, which is something to take into account before buying.
Raffia is another unusual material for shoes. A unique species of palm tree known as the “Raffia palm tree” is used to make these shoes. Raffia is mostly used to make beach sandals or shoes, but nowadays, block heels and sneakers are also made with this material.
Benefits of Raffia shoes
There are a lot of pros to using footwear made with raffia, some of them are:
1. Raffia is a material rich in texture. Therefore, the shoes made from this are overflowing with intricate patterns.
2. Since these shoes are made from natural fibers, it gives you a very relaxing feeling. You can wear raffia shoes for long durations without any discomfort.
3. The natural fibers provide these shoes with a bouncy and sponge-like effect, which makes them very soft and comfortable.
There are many benefits of rubber material.
For one, the rubber soles provide great traction and grip, which is ideal for running or playing sports.
Rubber soles are also quite durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear, making them an excellent choice for people who are hard on their shoes. They’re also water resistant, so if you step in a puddle, your feet will stay dry.
Additionally, rubber shoes are often very affordable, making them an excellent option for budget-minded shoppers. Because of their natural material, rubber shoes are a great choice for people who want to be environmentally friendly.
Besides making complete shoes, rubber is also a favorite choice among shoe manufacturers for making rubber soles. Soles made from rubber provide a soft and bouncy feel, which is perfect for long use.
The most typical substance utilized to offer support in the uppers of all types of shoes, including leather, textile, synthetic, and even rubber, is foam.
Although there are several synthetic foam varieties utilized for this function, they are all typically categorized into two groups: open and closed cells. Foam is entirely comprised of plastic.
Unlike closed-cell foam, which has these open cells sealed to prevent gasses from escaping, open-cell foam is permeable, allowing water and air to pass through.
KFF or KF foam, another name for open-cell foam, is similarly comprised of polyurethane and is often sloppy than closed-cell foam. In the collars and tongues of shoes, open-cell foam is frequently used.
A denser substance frequently utilized to create shoe midsoles is closed-cell foam. Polyethylene, polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, latex, and neoprene are all closed-cell foams. Each type of closed-cell foam has unique characteristics like flexibility or waterproofness.
Foam shoes have built-in cushioning to make every step feel springy and energizing. They’re the perfect choice if you are looking for running shoes or exercise shoes.
Cork is a material to keep an eye out for if you want to create a sustainable closet, as it is one of the most durable shoe materials. It has the same appearance and distinctive qualities as leather while being vegan.
Cork matures with time to develop a vintage appearance, much like its more conventional counterpart. Your cork shoes will look different with time, just like a leather jacket.
While practically any shoe may be made out of cork instead of leather, sneakers are where cork is most often employed. Shoes made of cork are certain to be cozy and ideal for anyone leading an urban lifestyle.
II. Selecting the right shoe material
When it comes to choosing the right shoe material, there are a few things you need to take into account. The first is the climate and weather conditions where you’ll be wearing them. Breathable fabrics like mesh or canvas are best if you live in a warm area. If you live in a colder climate, then materials like leather or suede will be better suited since they provide more insulation.
The second thing to consider is the type of activity you’ll be doing while wearing your shoes. If you’re doing a lot of walking or running, you’ll want something comfortable that won’t rub or chafe your feet. Materials like foam or gel can provide extra cushioning while still being lightweight.
Finally, think about the style of shoes you want. This will help narrow down your choices even further. For example, if you’re looking for a dressier shoe, then materials like patent leather or suede would be better options. But if you’re looking for something more casual, materials like canvas or velvet would be better choices.
If you are looking for some untraditional materials, there are a lot of other materials you can choose from, like Lycra, Silk, Jacquard, etc.
It cannot be easy to know which material is suitable for you. We hope that this article has helped you to understand the benefits of each type of material and how they can impact your overall comfort level.
With so many options available, there is sure to be a material that will help you achieve optimal comfort levels.