Types of Leather Used to Make Shoes and Boots

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Traditionally, leather is the preferred choice of material for a shoe or boots upper material and has been so for thousands of years, with the first known leather shoe dating back over a staggering six thousand years. To date, the majority of high-quality shoe brands continue to follow in our ancestors wise use of leather as it offers numerous qualities, which are often left missed out in other materials.

  • The form of a shoe can often be maintained easier in a leather form whilst still having the ability to take on minor adjustments in order to accommodate the particular shape of someone’s feet.
  • Leather’s properties allows it to absorb and transmit perspiration and heat away from the foot.
  • Leather can often be restored by polishing as it has a good surface abrasion.
  • It is a comfortable material that can be worn in both hot and cold temperatures.
  • It flexes easily with the foot, and isn’t substantially weakened with folding or creasing.

The skin of most animals can be treated in such ways as to produce leather and can be found in the following different leather types:

  • French Veal Calf – these calves are normally of an age of up 10 months old, providing a premium fine leather that is of quite a strong nature. Therefore, this leather is often used as an upper material in many high quality men’s and women’s boots and shoes. This leather will always be lined.
  • Yearling – this leather comes from the skin of an older animal, up to the age of 2 years. The grain is courser than in calf, but stronger. This leather can be found in men’s, women’s and children’s shoes and as a dress leather is always lined.
  • Hide – made from the skin of a fully grown adult cow. Again, this leather is even courser than either calf of yearling but is much firmer and stronger. It is normally referred to as ‘a side of leather’ due to its being cut from the backbone for handling convenience. This leather is very suitable for both work boots and strong shoes. Due to its strength these skins are normally too thick for the use of footwear uppers and are split into layers. The outer layer (hair follicle side) is used for uppers and if this outer layer has been blemished or scarred in any way, the surface can be buffed to remove any imperfections before a finish is applied. The leather is then known as ‘corrected grain’ leather. Boots that are made with hide/ox-hide/willow leather are made as unlined boots due to the thickness of the leather.
  • Goat or Kid – this type of leather is much softer than that of a calf, but in the same instance is more likely to scuff and be subject to wear and tear. Kid leather, obtained from the younger animal, is finer in grain and has a glossy appearance. Both Goat and Kid leather are used in men’s and women’s fashion and comfort shoes and is particularly popular in good quality moccasins. In either of its forms, be it Kid or Goat, this leather has a very distinctive grain, which is found around the follicles. For example, R.M.Williams use kid leather for boot linings and heel socks only and it is recognised by its distinctive butter yellow colour.
  • Kangaroo – this is a lightweight supple leather, that is both soft and pliable to wear. It is also surprisingly strong for its weight and is often found in both fashion and sporting footwear, and in dress and casual boots. This leather is always lined.
  • Buffalo – this leather has an attractive and distinctive surface grain pattern; coming from the water buffalo. When used for shoe uppers, the majority of the buffalo leather will have come from young animals and is often used in casual and dress shoes and sometimes for linings.
  • Camel – a naturally heavily grained finished leather that is both tough and robust. This leather originates from Australian camels that are either from farmed or wild, culled stock found in Central Australia. One of its most distinctive features is found in the healed scars that arise from desert living. Again, this leather can be used for both dress and work footwear.
  • Pigskin – makes for an excellent lining material as it is a soft, loose fibred leather. Usually appearing in pairs, the follicle pores are deep and quite distinctive. It is sometimes possible for the grain side of the skin to be napped to produce a pig suede.
  • Sheepskin – another soft and loose fibred leather. This type of leather isn’t as strong as others and for that reason is usually used with the wool still intact as a lining for slippers or cold weather footwear.
  • Deerskin – is often used in very high quality footwear for both men’s and women’s boots and shoes. This leather is a hard-wearing, soft and very comfortable leather to wear and has a slight surface texture.
  • Exotic leathers – other creatures, such as lizards, snakes, crocodiles and ostriches, have skin that can be tanned for shoe and boot uppers or as decorative panels and trims for other footwear. As they have a very distinctive appearance and are difficult to work with, these leathers are expensive and require a strong backing material.