Leather Vs. Man-Made Shoes

By E.C. Rosenberg

Choosing leather vs. man-made synthetic shoes can be a vexing decision. Price and durability are factors. Some people wear nonleather shoes for ethical or religious reasons. Others choose leather for physical comfort or aesthetics. Ultimately, buyers must make individual decisions based on preference, as there is no "right" answer.

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Friends shopping for shoes

Price Differential

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Young man trying on different cowboy boots

Price is often the single most important factor in choosing man-made over natural leathers. A pair of synthetic high boots, for instance, can cost at least $100 less than a comparable pair of leather boots--great when you're buying shoes for a specific event, or for achieving maximum look at minimum price. High-tech athletic shoes, however, may cost just as much or more than their leather counterparts.

Durability

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Two women with fashionable shoes

Leather shoes usually last longer than man-made, but not all leather lasts longer than all synthetic materials: A good pair of shoes can last for 30 or 40 years, but most current faux-leather materials didn't exist a generation or two ago. Most people only wear shoes for a few years, and during that time both types of shoes will hold up virtually equally.

Comfort

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A pair of broken-in leather shoes

Historically, faux-leather shoes have not been as comfortable as leather. Leather stretches better and more naturally, and "breathes" better. The exception is athletic shoes, which are designed to breathe and conform to running and kicking feet. However, athletic shoes are not designed to look like leather dress shoes.

Young Children and Shoes

Boy Tying His Tennis Shoe
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Young boy tying his tennis shoes

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests "a soft, pliable shoe with plenty of room" for growing toes. This could mean leather or synthetic leather shoes, or athletic shoes, but good quality is a must.

"Green" Shoes

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Man tying his green, hiking boots

"Green," or environmentally-friendly, shoes are becoming increasingly popular. Most large shoe websites now offer environmentally-conscious footwear. "Green" in this case could mean either vegan (made without animal products) shoes, shoes made with recycled or recyclable materials, or those from factories with socially responsible policies.

Materials Used in Man-Made Leathers

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Faux-leather, wingtip shoes

Currently, the most common material used in faux leather shoes and accessories is "porometric synthetic leather," which was patented in 2001. Synthetic suede has been available since the 1970s.