Choosing Shoe Soles: Leather or Rubber?


A question of style and practicality.

When it comes to dress shoe soles, there are usually two overarching types, with various subtypes: these are rubber, and leather. Each has their own pros and cons, and each have their own advocates.

Your choice can come down to a variety of factors, such as the climate you live in, your location, what you do for a living and aesthetic preferences. It’s not a total limiter of whether you buy a shoe, either. If your shoes are constructed using goodyear welt or sometimes Blake stitch, a good cobbler can change the sole of your shoe from one type to the other.
However, it does help to know your preference so you can minimise the amount you spend on changing soles.

The following isn’t an exhaustive list of considerations, pros and cons, but it should help you somewhat in guiding your decision.


Leather Soles

The leather shoe sole is the sleeker, dressier choice of the two. It allows for a narrower profile, which is essential if you want your shoes to truly cut a shape.
Also, leather gives more options for sole side colouring, where rubber soles are largely found in black.
Naturally, this means you’ll mostly find leather soles on dress shoes, and dress boots.

While a leather sole certainly makes for the sharpest silhouette, there are downsides to using them.

First and foremost, they don’t grip so well. This makes them best suited to wearing in a dry climate, as you risk slippy soles in the rain. It can also prove troublesome walking on tiles, which I personally find quite irksome in many Aussie shopping centres. It’s no fun having a bit of slip to every step.
Secondly, leather soles don’t usually take as much abuse as their rubber counterparts. This means that if you’re trekking through harsh and/or muddy terrain, leather soles are going to suffer.

I do like leather soles, especially on dress shoes, but I don’t find myself wearing them too often. Most of my shoes are a hybrid.


Rubber Soles

This is where rubber soles excel. They’re built to be grippy and hardy, perfect for tramping about in the countryside. Thanks to their rugged nature, rubber soles also tend to last longer and take more punishment than their leather counterparts.

Rubber soles have their downsides, too. Outward appearance is a notable factor, with some people disliking the larger, chunkier look. If you’re choosing dress shoes, you might find that the rubber ones don’t look as appealing because the rubber sole disrupts the sleek profile of the shoe.
The increased size of a rubber sole can lead to shoes feeling weightier and more clunky. It can be quite a put off, and some people simply can’t abide walking with heavy rubber soles. It’s something worth trying for yourself before making a purchase.

Personally, I like to have rubber soles on my winter shoes and boots.


Hybrids

If you’re looking for the sleek look of a leather sole, but you don’t want to slip around, a mix between the two is a decent compromise.

Some shoes come from the factory with a hybrid sole, but often it’s an option to be affixed by a cobbler. Rubber toe sections or heel sections can be added to leather soled shoes, to increase the grippiness and make the sole a bit more hard-wearing.

These are often known as topy soles, after the brand TOPY who are known for manufacturing shoe soles.

You can find more about sole additions on this post by Shoe Snob Blog.


Concluding Thoughts: Horses for Courses

As I said earlier, there are a few variables that can influence your decision on sole type. It’s worth trying on shoes with leather, hybrid and rubber soles to see what you like wearing the most, and combine that with your climate, terrain and type of walking to make your decision.

Hope you found this useful,
Sam


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Sam founded STS in 2019 to help his fellow man to dress (and smell) fantastic, and most importantly to enjoy it! He works as a fitter at the made to measure tailoring store Beg Your Pardon in Adelaide, South Australia.

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