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What Is Leather Upper? – When You’ll Want One and Why

There are many different types of shoes available in stores and online, but not all are made the same. I’d like to discuss leather uppers and why they’re the best choice for just about any shoe type.

Leather upper is the leather material on a shoe that covers the foot and attaches to the sole. They are made for durability, comfort, and style. Patent leather, Nubuck, and Suede are popular materials for uppers on boots, sneakers, and sandals. Leather uppers cost more than canvas but last longer.

What material is the best type for shoes? What do you call the part of the boot or shoe that covers the foot? Let’s review what leather upper is and why it might benefit you. 

What Is Leather Upper?

The upper is the section of the shoe that covers the foot. It is the part that is attached to the sole of the shoe. A leather upper is an upper made from leather; if a shoe or boot label says leather upper, it means the sole (or lower) is not made from leather. Leather upper is commonly made from Suede, Nubuck, full grain, and patent leather and can provide more durable, comfortable, and fashionable footwear.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • The History of Leather Upper
  • Why You Might Like a Leather Upper
  • Leather Upper Overview Table
  • Popular Types and Styles of Leather Upper
  • Common Leather Upper Characteristics
  • Leather Upper Costs
  • Pros of Leather Upper
  • Cons of Leather Upper
  • Leather Upper Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
  • Experienced Tips for Choosing a Leather Upper
  • My Personal Research With Leather Upper
  • Leather Upper Care and Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Leather Upper
  • Key Takeaways
Various Shoe Types With Leather Uppers - What Is Leather Upper - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Shoe Types With Leather Uppers

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One myth about leather uppers is that they will make your feet hot and sweaty. This is untrue because even though leather uppers are water resistant, they allow air movement to keep feet comfortable. Another myth about leather uppers is that they fade and break down with time and use. This is false because leather is tanned and preserved to last 20–30 years or more with proper care.

Another misconception regarding leather uppers is that the shoes or boots will never fit right if the right size isn’t purchased. This is also false because leather is flexible to some degree, and there are ways of stretching leather shoes to make them fit the foot more quickly and comfortably.

The History of Leather Upper

The use of leather for clothing, shoes, and accessories dates back to prehistoric times. Leather shoes date back to as early as 3,500 BC; the first was with closed toes. These were handmade with a needle and thread, which continued until the 19th century.

The invention of the sewing machine revolutionized stitching leather uppers in 1846, although cutting and shaping were still by hand. By 1925 there were industrial machines and mechanized processes for cutting, shaping, and stitching leather uppers, which are still used today.

Why You Might Like a Leather Upper

According to researcher Mengstu Ashebre, leather uppers are tested for tensile strength, tear strength, flexibility, and elasticity to meet modern footwear manufacturers’ mechanical performance requirements.

This means the leather uppers will withstand daily use, flex to form to the user’s feet, and resist damage better than canvas or other materials. They can be made from full grain, top grain, genuine, or even faux leather. Leather uppers are quality made and very popular for shoe and boot material.

Leather Upper Overview Table

Leather Upper CharacteristicDetails
ItemLeather Upper
UsesShoes, boots, sandals
Common MaterialsFull grain, top grain, genuine, faux leather
Popular ColorsBrown, black, white, red
SizesChildren: 0 to youth 3 Men: 6.5–15 Women: 4.5 to 16
Popular StylesDress shoes, boots, sneakers, running shoes, sandals, flats, heels, loafers
Cost Range ($)$50–$500
How Long it Lasts (on average)10–20 years
Leather Upper Characteristics

Popular Types and Styles of Leather Upper

Leather uppers come in several types, including smooth and patent leather and Nubuck and Suede. Smooth leather is most common for boots, sneakers, and dress shoes. Patent leather is the shiny type that is used for formal shoes.

Nubuck looks and feels a little like velvet and is often used for casual shoes and boots. Suede is made from lambskin and is soft and comfortable for sandals, boots, and other casual shoes. The styles of leather uppers are almost endless but include: 

  1. Dress shoes
  2. Boots 
  3. Sneakers
  4. Running shoes
  5. Sandals
  6. Flats 
  7. Heels
  8. Loafers

Common Leather Upper Characteristics


Leather uppers are most commonly made from smooth or patent leather, nubuck, and suede.


Leather uppers are available in many sizes, from infants to adults. This includes children sizes 0 to youth 3, men’s 6.5–15, and women’s 4.5–16.


There are almost endless variations to leather uppers, including:

Athletic Shoes

  1. Sneakers
  2. Running shoes
  3. Walking Shoes
  4. Cross Trainers

Dress Shoes

  1. Heels
  2. Flats
  3. Loafers
  4. Oxfords

Casual Shoes

  1. Sandals
  2. Slippers
  3. Cruisers


  1. Cowboy
  2. Work
  3. Tactical
  4. Riding
  5. Booties

Key Uses

Different types of shoes are used for specialty and daily activities. Key uses of leather uppers include:

  1. Sandals
  2. Flats
  3. Sneakers
  4. Booties
  5. Loafers
  6. Boots
  7. And more

Check out this helpful video from For Us Foodies for a demonstration identifying what leather upper means.

Leather Upper Costs

Leather uppers can range in cost due to the quantity and quality of leather used, the style, hand- vs. machine-made, and brand. For example, one could purchase a pair of leather upper sneakers for $50 at the low end up to $500 or more for high quality, brand name sneakers.

Pros of Leather Upper

Leather uppers are durable, comfortable, and never go out of style. They’re resistant to water, allow air movement for comfortable feet, and protect better than canvas shoes. Leather uppers are also pretty easy to clean and maintain to last for many years.

Cons of Leather Upper

Leather uppers can start a bit stiff but over time will flex and mold to fit feet perfectly. They’re also more expensive than canvas and other uppers, but they’re made to last a long time. Leather uppers also need proper storage, including stable temperatures and humidity, to prevent drying and cracking. Leather is also difficult to repair, but proper maintenance and storage can prevent damage.

Here are some examples of popular leather types that you might find used for uppers:

Leather Upper Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made

Leather upper manufacturing begins with the tanning and processing of animal hides. This makes the leather durable and flexible and preserves it. Once it is rolled up, it is shipped and sold to manufacturers. The leather is then trimmed into the shapes of shoes or boots. Once cut, it is sewn by hand or machine into the body of leather uppers for shoes and boots.

Leather uppers are durable, comfortable, and never go out of style. They’re resistant to water, allow air movement for comfortable feet, and protect better than canvas shoes.

Experienced Tips for Choosing a Leather Upper

Choosing a leather upper is not exactly a no-brainer; there should be plenty of thought put into the product chosen. Here are some experienced tips for selecting the right ones.

Frequency of Use

Choosing leather uppers isn’t just about what looks good — it’s about how frequently they’ll be used. For everyday use, choose leather uppers that coordinate with the outfits you already own and are comfortable wearing. If they’re only for special occasions, select leather uppers that fit the dress code but are easy to store.

Environment/Conditions of Use

The environment is another important consideration when choosing a leather upper. For example, if there is frequent water exposure, it’s best to go with a leather boot that doesn’t lace up. If they’re just going to be worn to work, the environment may be less of a consideration except for the walk to and from the car, which opens the options.


Cost is, of course, a significant consideration regarding leather uppers. Be prepared to spend a bit more on high-quality leather uppers, which should last very long, even with regular use. If cost is an issue, consider genuine or faux leather to save a few dollars but still have something durable.


Trends come and go with leather uppers, but some staple leather upper styles always work. Leather itself never goes out of style, so even if one is swayed to buy the current trend, it will probably stay on trend for a long while, making most leather uppers a good financial investment.

Personal Preference

One must consider their personal preference. If the price and fit are good, and the style suits the wearer, the leather upper should be chosen because it is preferred over others. Try them on, feel them out, and experience the leather uppers to figure out what works for your personal preference.

My Personal Research With Leather Upper

I asked my friends and family their thoughts on leather uppers and to share what their favorite pair is and why. Here is a table representing their responses and what I learned from the poll about leather uppers.

Type of Shoe With Leather UpperBenefits
Suede insulated bootsThey keep my feet warm and comfortable, and they’re trendy and waterproof
Cowboy bootsThey’re colorful, pretty, and fit my wide feet
Running shoesComfortable and breathable
Leather slidesComfortable and easy to wear
High heelsThey’re fancy and make my legs look good
Ballet flatsComfortable, flexible, and match everything
ClogsComfortable, supportive, and last forever
Cross trainersSupportive, comfortable, flexible
SandalsCute and comfy
LoafersComfortable, warm, and flexible
SneakersComfortable, trendy, flexible, durable, and fit my style
Benefits of Leather Uppers

Leather Upper Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Leather Uppers

Leather uppers can be cleaned with a soft brush, microfiber cloth, or leather cleaner. Begin the cleaning process by brushing off dirt and debris with a soft-bristled brush or vacuum attachment.

If using a commercial leather cleaner, follow all instructions and test in an inconspicuous spot to check for colorfastness. In general, most liquid cleaners should only be used on non-absorbent leather.

How to Maintain Leather Uppers

The first part of maintaining a leather upper is regular cleaning and conditioning. Use the proper products to clean and condition the leather uppers every three to four months or whenever the leather appears dirty or dry. Protect the leather uppers from moisture, direct sunlight, and potential stains. Proper maintenance of leather uppers will ensure they look great and last a long time.

How to Store Leather Uppers

Leather uppers should be stored someplace away from heat and direct sunlight. There should not be any temperature extremes or moisture. Cover the leather uppers to protect them from dust. Then take the leather uppers out every few months to clean and condition them.

Helpful Insights on Leather Upper

What is leather upper?

Leather upper is the leather part of the shoe or boot that covers the foot and is attached to the sole. They can be made of different types of leather, including Nubuck, Suede, and full grain leather. A leather upper is comfortable, durable, and fashionable. 

What does man-made leather upper mean?

Man-made leather upper usually refers to faux leather because it is a synthetic material made by man to mimic real leather. It’s important to look at shoe and boot labels to know whether they are real or faux (man-made) leather and if the price reflects their quality.

What is meant by leather upper balance?

Leather upper balance refers to the part of the shoe or boot that covers the foot. It’s a misnomer because balance comes from the shoe’s sole rather than the upper. The leather itself can be full grain, genuine, nubuck, or suede.

Does leather upper last?

Leather uppers can last 10–20 years with proper care and use. This includes cleaning, conditioning, and storing the leather uppers to prevent them from drying out and cracking.

Is leather upper waterproof?

Leather uppers are made to be water resistant, not waterproof. They are made to withstand moisture for short periods but should be dried to prevent mold and breakdown of the leather.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather uppers are made to be durable, comfortable, and stylish.
  2. Leather uppers come in smooth and patent leather and faux leather, nubuck, and suede.
  3. Leather uppers cost more than canvas shoes but last much longer.

In Closing

Leather uppers come in many different types and styles. It can be difficult to pick just one. With their durability, flexibility, and comfort, leather uppers are a great choice for anyone. There’s sure to be the perfect pair of leather uppers for work, play, and everything in between!

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