Leather Soles vs. Rubber Soles: Stepping Out in Style and Comfort

Shoe soles are more than just a barrier between our feet and the ground; they’re a blend of science, art, and tradition, all aimed at ensuring we walk, run, and dance comfortably. While there are numerous types of soles, leather and rubber have dominated the shoe industry for decades.

Let’s dive into the world of leather soles versus rubber soles, explore their strengths and weaknesses, and give your feet the attention they deserve!

Why leather vs. rubber soles are used

Leather Soles:

Traditionally, high-quality formal shoes, especially Oxfords, Brogues, and loafers, have been fitted with leather soles. They exude elegance and are often a hallmark of a handcrafted, premium shoe.

Leather soles can also be found on luxury women’s shoes, especially high heels and ballet flats. Christian Louboutin shoes, for example, are made with leather soles that are then dipped in the brand’s signature red lacquer, and some of Chanel and Tory Burch’s signature ballet flats also have leather soles.

Rubber Soles:

From sneakers to work boots, rubber soles are versatile. They offer grip and durability, making them a popular choice for everyday wear. Many shoes nowadays are mad with rubber soles, including both fashion footwear like Chelsea boots and mules, as well as sneakers and tennis shoes, and work boots.

Pros and Cons of leather and rubber soles

Leather Soles:

Pros:

  1. Elegance: Nothing matches the refined look of a leather sole on a formal shoe.
  2. Breathability: Leather is porous, which allows feet to breathe, making it cooler and less sweaty.
  3. Flexibility: Over time, leather soles mold to the shape of your foot, providing a personalized fit.

Cons:

  1. Durability in Wet Conditions: Leather soles can wear out quickly if frequently exposed to water – when I lived in Chicago and walked to work everyday, I made the mistake of getting caught mid-commute in the rain in a pair of Tory Burch loafers with leather soles. They decayed quickly after that. So bad that when I took them to get re-soled the cobbler made a joke and asked if they had been in a fire! I learned the hard way.
  2. Price: Handcrafted leather soles can be on the pricier side.
  3. Initial Rigidity: They can be a bit stiff when brand new and require a break-in period.

Rubber Soles:

Pros:

  1. Traction: Rubber provides excellent grip, reducing the risk of slips.
  2. Water-Resistant: Perfect for those unpredictable rainy days.
  3. Comfort: Rubber soles often provide more cushioning and shock absorption.

Cons:

  1. Aesthetics: They might not always have the refined appearance suitable for formal settings.
  2. Breathability: Rubber isn’t as breathable as leather, potentially leading to warmer feet.
  3. Drying out. If you have leather-soled shoes you don’t wear often, but keep over a period of years, they can b prone to drying out.

Caring for Leather Soles:

If you do opt for shoes that have leather soles, care is important. I now tend to get rubber soles added to my leather soles, or at least rubber heels and taps, which make them more durable. I even had Christian Louboutin heels re-soled with red rubber, which is apparently a common practice!

If you keep your leather soles, however, there are ways to car for them to ensure they last longer.

  1. Keep them Dry: After wearing in the rain, let your shoes dry naturally, away from direct heat sources. Using cedar shoe trees helps maintain their shape and absorb moisture.
  2. Regular Cleaning: Wipe down the soles to remove debris. For a deeper clean, use saddle soap.
  3. Condition: Apply leather conditioner to prevent cracking.
  4. Protection: Consider adding a thin rubber protective layer to extend the sole’s lifespan.

Replacing Leather Soles

There comes a time when, despite best care practices, a leather sole can wear down. The beauty of quality leather-soled shoes is that they can often be resoled. Visit a reputable cobbler who can either replace the sole entirely or add a protective layer, ensuring your cherished shoes have many steps ahead.