Man wearing expensive leather shoes

If you look for a label that says "genuine leather uppers" when you shop for shoes, that's just what you're getting -- the outer and upper section of the shoe is real leather. The rest of the shoe is probably made of man-made material, or a composite of synthetics and leather.

When you play a sport, your shoes make up a vital part of your equipment. With advances in faux -- or synthetic -- leather, real leather uppers are not always the top choice for certain sports, such as soccer. But leather uppers do have advantages, the main one being breathability. It's important to keep your feet as cool as possible when you work up a sweat. Leather also stretches more than synthetics to conform to the shape of your feet. However, leather absorbs moisture more easily than synthetics, and it's not as easy to clean. Check with your coach or athletic instructor to see what the best choice is for your activity.

Along with sneakers, women's pumps, sandals, clogs, flip-flops, booties and boots all come with genuine leather uppers, as well as faux leather ones. The linings and/or insoles in the uppers of higher quality pumps may also be made with soft real leather. Pumps and dress sandals might also have bows or other embellishments on the uppers, in matching leather.

Genuine leather allows your feet to breathe and helps them stay cool, and it stretches more easily than the synthetic kind so it may be more comfortable.

Many designers have also started using faux leather uppers, thanks to the versatility of synthetic leather. It has a more uniform look, and can be dyed or printed with any color or pattern. It's also cheaper and more durable -- so it might be a good choice for shoes that see a lot of wear or inclement weather, such as boots. The upper makes up most of the shoe, so consider carefully which material will work best before you buy those new shoes.

Men can find sandals, loafers, dress shoes such as oxfords, athletic shoes and boat shoes with leather uppers, and leather rather than faux leather generally remains the top choice with these. Its durability may be one factor, and the larger expanse of the uppers on men's shoes may be another. Most men probably don't want shoes in lemon yellow, turquoise or magenta, so faux leather's coloration advantage does not apply.

In most cases, real leather looks better and more expensive than fake. If quality is your main requirement when shoe shopping, you'll be happiest with leather uppers. Always consider the purpose of the shoes, as well. To keep your feet healthy as you age, the American Podiatric Medical Association recommends lightweight walking shoes with breathable, flexible uppers made of leather or nylon. So if comfort is key, choose the shoes with real leather uppers.