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Nubuck vs Suede: What Are The Differences
Before we start, let’s be clear: both nubuck and suede are types of leather. And if you’re confused, you’re not alone. Suede and nubuck do have a totally different texture than most people typically picture when they think “leather.”
While a typical leather has a relatively smooth texture, suede and nubuck feature a napped, velvet-like finish. They both look sort of similar because they’re both made by sanding and buffing the leather to derive its signature texture. But does that mean they’re the same? Certainly not. How about we investigate.
Historically, nubuck leather was derived from buckskin of elk or dear and was limb to the US market in the early 1930s. From the outset, this new fabric didn’t encounter much success until the Duke of Windsor went on a royal visit to the united states. He was oxford shoes made of nubuck, and thanks to him, the new style took off.
Nubuck is similar to suede, just that instead of buffing or sanding the inner part of the hide, nubuck is made by sanding the outer part, where the grain is tighter. Nubuck leather is usually expensive than suede because the outer portion of calfskin is tougher compared to the inner part used in suede. Thus, logically the nubuck is stronger and likely to last longer.
That said, there’s a downside to the nubuck, as the leather is sanded from the outside. That means there may be some apparent natural imperfections of the leather. Well, some find that the imperfections add character to the nubuck, but most of the time, manufacturers often dye and stain the suede to offer smooth and clean products.
How Nubuck Leather Is Created
As we’ve stated, nubuck, unlike suede, is made from the outside of the calfskin, which then has to be sanded from the outside. That means it’s a more durable, long-lasting material that can bear more scuffing than the average suede.
It was historically made with the buckskin of dear, but modern nubuck is mainly derived from calfskin, which is super soft. This softness comes from sanding and buffing the grain side of the leather.
Nubuck leather is similar to traditional leather. The outside of the calfskin is also the visible side/surface (outside of the shoe). While nubuck has a velvety texture, it has a more pronounced knap than suede.
A great example of a nubuck leather shoe is the timberland classic waterproof boot. And timberland suggests nubuck often more capable of true water-resistance than suede.
The Appeal Of Nubuck Leather Shoes
Nubuck shoes, as opposed to suede shoes, are designed for a more working men’s appeal. Nubuck footwear can be a more likely option, especially for those with an outdoorsy personality.
Their top layer thickness can withstand the beating from the dirt, stains, and scratches. Moreover, you don’t have to top toe around water as much, and you can step around; however much you might want.
However, on the flip side, since it’s made from the outer hide, nubuck is associated with imperfections, which some would claim to lend it character. Still, plenty of manufacturers offer smooth, clean products through dyeing and staining the fabric to remove any visible faultiness, so the shoes look flawless out of the box.
Nubuck is tough but can be sanded down to look as finely textured as suede, hence the confusion. Again, the main difference is that it looks thicker and slightly rougher than suede.
While nubuck is more durable than suede, you’re advised not to use nubuck brushes on suede shoes. The nubuck brushes are usually stiffer and may cause damage to the suede during cleaning.
Also, note that nubuck can come with a higher price tag, considering that it’s made from more durable leather- though not always. Timberland, for example, makes their classic boots with nubuck, which are relatively affordable given their quality.
One last thing about nubuck is that it doesn’t develop a patina like suede. Therefore, if you’re looking for the footwear that comes with wearing in a pair over time, then nubuck isn’t for you.
Contrary to the nubuck, suede comes from the underside of the leather- the surface that looks and feels softer than regular leather derived from the outer layer. The term suede is a translation of the French phrase “gants de Suede”. In simple terms, it refers to “gloves from Sweden”.
The inner layer of calfskin is used to make the suede. Just like nubuck, the suede is sanded, but this time from the inner of the leather, making a naturally smoother and cleaner product than the nubuck.
On the flip side, this also implies that in comparison to nubuck, suede isn’t really resistant. Many tend to think that suede will be damaged if wet. While it is not advised to expose your suede shoes to too much water, your shoes won’t be easily ruined when if wet.
Where possible, avoid using your suede shoes during rainy days, but if you’re caught in a downpour, don’t worry; your shoes will just be fine.
Moreover, sued doesn’t require too much maintenance. Treating suede products with waterproofing products and regular brushing (soft bristles, never use the wire) to maintain the nap will be enough. Suede leather is thinner and often features more supple qualities. And with suede’s pliability and softness, it is one of the most popular materials for gloves.
The Appeal Of Sued Shoes
First, sued is very different from regular leather because the outer surface is actually the inside of the calfskin. To make the suede, the leather is split, removing the grain and leaving the soft inner hide with longer fibers and a smooth velvety feel.
Suede shoes have a rich history because of their premium feel that even cross over to fashionable accessories and timeless articles of outfits. From classic jackets to driving gloves. Not to mention that the finest suede shoes can be made from exotic leather hides and calfskin-grade suede.
However, because the grain inside is not as durable as the grain, suede is considered more susceptible to scratches and stitching, which is probably the trade-off you make when you order this super soft material.
It’s a common misconception that suede calls for more maintenance than regular leather, but the truth is both materials require maintenance. Nubuck leather shoes, in particular, need to be conditioned, shined, and polished to maintain their sheen. Similarly, sued shoes need proper upkeep against various forms of damage.
Excessive exposure to water is one of the situations where suede shoes require more attention. Suede can get wet and still be perfectly usable, but it needs to be carefully treated to preserve the soft feel and texture.
Despite the vulnerability, many still value suede shoes for the comfort level they offer. There’s nothing like wearing soft leather shoes to cultivate attention to your fashion statement.
Another thing worth mentioning is that not all suede materials are super sensitive. Waxed suede takes all the credit and in terms of texture and flexibility and boasts a durability factor with a waterproof coating of wax.
Which One Should You Choose?
As we mentioned earlier, nubuck is more water-resistant as it has a tighter grain structure and is more durable- though that comes at a cost. Suede, on the other hand, has a more velvety texture and is generally softer and more luxurious appearance.
Thus far, neither is better than the other. But we’d recommend nubuck if you’re planning to walk a lot and suede for something more formal and dressy. Also, if you don’t mind spending a touch extra, nubuck shoes might be a fantastic choice.
Remember that not all nubuck is of better quality than genuine suede. But a $150 pair of nubuck shoes are likely to be more scratch and weather resistant compared to a similarly priced pair of suede shoes.
Nonetheless, if you’re worried about getting your shoes wet, consider nubuck over suede. There’s a good reason Timberland has been manufacturing their classic work boot using nubuck for decades and not any other leather.
Speaking of suede, one impressive thing is that this soft leather dresses up casual pants like jeans and chinos. It is mostly less expensive compared to nubuck, considering that manufacturers can achieve a soft texture with a lower-grade piece of leather.
One gripe, however, is that unless it’s treated with ideal wax or a water-proof spray, suede gets easily damaged by water. It’s good to state that suede isn’t as finicky as many think. You can pick up several water-resistance products to protect your shoes in case they’re caught in a rainstorm.
In fact, most suede boots on the market have some sort of water-resistant wax or spray applied already. While that might be helpful, suede isn’t the best choice for boots you’re planning to get wet often. The grain is vulnerable, meaning it can take on more water.