Whether to opt for dress shoes with rubber soles or leather soles is an age-old debate and one which can be rather contentious. Everybody has their particular preferences, and these might be for a variety of differing reasons.
Both types of soles have their own advantages and disadvantages, and understanding these will assist you in making a choice when it comes to the purchase of your own pair of dress shoes.
Leather soles are the original sole and are considered to be more elegant and refined. They are, however, prone to wear and tear, and they do not tolerate water and moisture very well at all. Rubber soles, on the other hand, a newer alternative, are more waterproof but tend to be somewhat inelegant.
In order to understand which type of dress shoe sole is best for you, you will need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of sole, and how these will suit your individual needs and circumstances.
What do you hope to get out of your dress shoe? How long do you intend to wear it? Will you wear it mostly indoors or outdoors? Do you spend long periods of time on your feet? These are all considerations to be made when choosing which type of dress shoe sole is best for you.
Leather and rubber soles will be compared with regards to how comfortable they are, how durable they are, and how elegant they look in comparison to one another.
The Comfort Factor
When it comes to comfort, leather is usually your best option. This is because leather is able – with time – to mold to the shape of your foot, following its natural contours.
It may not be the most comfortable at first wear, but this is because leather is a natural material and will take some time to mold itself properly to your foot. Given time, (as long as it’s an excellent quality shoe) you will be assured of extremely comfortable wear.
Leather is often combined with cork to create an extremely soft and flexible footbed, which in turn creates an exceptionally comfortable experience for the shoe wearer.
If, however, the shoe is not properly made, there is no cork used, and the resultant sole is very thin, you will be left with a horribly uncomfortable shoe that will not last a very long time. It can also be highly rigid and inflexible, further worsening your shoe-wearing experience.
Essentially, if the sole is thin and does not have arch support, the shoe will be uncomfortable to wear. If, however, the sole is constructed of double leather and boasts proper arch support, then you will be assured of a comfortable shoe.
Rubber soles, comparatively, can boast excellent flexibility and will require no break-in period as is required with most leather soles. They also tend to be very good at shock absorption, allowing you to walk the streets with no issues.
Rubber soles, however, unfortunately, cannot mold to the contours of your feet, making them uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Which Option is the Most Durable?
When referring to durability, leather has strength in layers. The more layers of leather fused together to create the sole, the better the durability.
On the contrary, fewer layers will result in a thin and fragile sole, potentially causing it to break after a short period of use.
Leather also tends to absorb water with time, despite treatments administered to it to prevent this. This can lead to a host of problems down the line, often rendering the shoes unusable if often exposed to water.
Rubber, comparatively, is almost indestructible if produced at a high quality, and it is extremely resistant to water. This makes it extremely durable; however, it is also prone to cracking. Once the rubber cracks, water will seep in, and your shoe will no longer be water-resistant.
Rubber can become cracked relatively easily, and this is even more likely to occur if you attempt to dry the rubber on a heat source after it has been wet in the rain.
What about Elegance and Aesthetics?
Leather is generally considered to be the more elegant option when it comes to the soles of your dress shoes. This is not only because it is the more traditional and classic material, but because leather soles are usually thinner and tighter than the rubber alternatives.
This means that the shoe will be significantly more elegant and formal. If, however, the leather sole is not properly cut tightly, the shoe will look crooked and unattractive.
Rubber is considered to be far less elegant than leather for the sole of a dress shoe. This is because rubber soles tend to make the shoes look chunky, but some rubber sole manufacturers have managed to produce soles that are relatively thin, making them far more elegant in this case.
Grip is Important, too
Rubber soles tend to have excellent grip, whereas leather soles do not. This makes it difficult to wear leather-soled shoes outdoors, as they can be slippery and cause an accident. As the leather is used and becomes scratched, however, the grip improves significantly.
To compensate for the lack of grip in leather soles, some manufacturers have opted to add rubber studs to the bottom of the soles. This option allows for the elegance of a leather-soled shoe with the practicality and grip of rubber.
From the above, it is clear there are some substantial differences between rubber soles and leather soles in a dress shoe. How these pros and cons interact with your needs will determine which type of sole is best for you.
Perhaps you’re a traditionalist, and only the original leather sole will work for you. Perhaps you’re open to trying something contemporary and practical, and if so, the rubber sole will be your best bet.
The third alternative is a hybrid between the two shoe types, essentially offering the best of both worlds. The choice is yours, and it is hoped that by reading this, you will be sufficiently equipped to make the best decision for yourself.
Shoe Hero: Leather vs. Rubber Soles
Allen Edmonds: Our Soles
Gentleman’s Gazette: 4 Biggest Men’s Dress Shoe Mistakes
Beckett Simonon: What’s So Special About Leather Soles?
Liv Hipp: Leather Soles vs. Rubber Soles
Stridewise: Pros and Cons leather Soles
Hand Dyed Shoe Co.: What Sole is Best Leather or Rubber
Undandy: Leather or Rubber Soled Dress Shoes
The Shoe Snob Blog: Leather Soles vs. Rubber Soles