Ask Alex: What’s the point in leather soles?

Ask Alex: What’s the point in leather soles?

Let’s take a deep dive into one of the great debates currently raging (actually, more ‘quietly simmering’) in the footwear market: are rubber soles better than leather?

Let me begin by saying that if there was one sole unit that did everything, and contained every property that you could ever want, there would be no need to have a choice. However, if you look through our website or visit a store, you will see that we offer all sorts of different sole choices in various materials, thickness, and tread – but ultimately, you are choosing between leather or rubber. So, follow me on a nerdy journey into the pros and cons of each.

Left: Cheaney Alfred Capped Oxford with Diamond Rubber Sole, Right: Cheaney Lime Capped Oxford with Leather Sole

Leather soles

Let’s start with the sole that is arguably the most divisive. Over the last few years, I believe the trusty leather sole has seen a bit of a decline in popularity, despite being the most classic out of all the sole units we offer. I would argue that people are wary of them for the same reason that they are wary of suede; they think it is fragile, and any exposure to moisture leads to it melting away (or something equally as melodramatic).

Leather is a natural product, and just like the shoe’s leather upper, you can expect a leather sole to mould nicely to the shape of your foot as you wear it. Also, being porous, it actually lets your feet breathe (a strange image, I know) which can result in a more comfortable shoe, especially in the warmer months.

Oak Bark Tanned Soles, Featured in all Cheaney Imperial Footwear

However, in a cruel twist of fate, the leather sole’s benefits are also its hindrance. Being porous, it will let water in eventually, though I think you would have to be caught in quite a rainstorm for that to happen – at least if it’s Goodyear welted. I feel that people’s experiences with leather soles on shoes with less sturdy construction may be the reason why they shy away from them, but that’s purely speculative at this point in time.

In terms of side-by-side comparisons, leather also won’t last as long as rubber before needing to be repaired. However, problems rarely arise when leather soles get wet; it’s when they are worn repeatedly without being given a chance to dry out. Proper rotation of your shoes is paramount, especially with leather soles. 

They are also historically the most formal, and also make a great sound when walking on hard surfaces. On the other hand, not so good for sneaking up on people.

Rubber soles

We offer a veritable plethora of variations of rubber soles at Cheaney, but in essence they all offer the same properties.

Firstly, they are waterproof (whilst leather is water resistant), meaning they are very well suited to our country collection and perfect for splashing about in puddles.

Also, despite leather being a lot harder wearing than people make out, rubber soles will always last longer before needing to be replaced. I also find that, being man-made, they wear more consistently than leather, which can differ somewhat in wear between pairs.

There is also more grip on rubber soles, though I always hesitate to use the phrase ‘non-slip’. If you’re walking on mud or snow, you’re probably going to fall on your gluteus maximus regardless of what sole you’ve got on. For day-to-day wear though, rubber soles are good for self-preservation. Anyone who has walked down wet stairs or wandered the aisles of Tesco will know that leather soles can certainly be quite scary.

Cairngorm II C Country Derby Shoe in Black Grain Leather

But let’s not start believing that rubber soles are perfect. Being a man-made composite, rubber simply does not possess the same comfort as leather because it doesn’t mould around the individual’s foot in the same way. Similarly, because it is waterproof, it cannot be breathable. Therefore in the height of summer, your feet will be noticeably hotter in rubber soled shoes. 

Your preference towards leather or rubber soles will depend entirely on your circumstances. If you spend most of your day in an office, consider leather soles for their comfort. If you put in lots of steps on your commute, or spend most of your day on building sites, rubber is probably a safer bet.

Getting married? Leather sole. Moving to Canada? Rubber sole. 

There are exceptions to all of these suggestions, of course. Within both categories there are variations, which I will most likely go into in another blog, because you’ve done well to make it this far.

I hope this has been helpful, or at the very least given you a greater appreciation for leather soles. As with everything, if you look after it, it’s going to last much longer.

Written by Covent Garden Store Manager, Alex Pardey

IG: @shoes_maketh_man