We recently received an inquiry about leather v. rubber soles. (you, know, the bottom of your shoes). Most menswear blogs loathe rubber soles; they’re new, a-traditional, and less expensive. Menswear, in all its own horn-tooting, is all about tradition and craftspersonship (because let’s be honest, your “hand-formed” leather soles were probably made by women who were being exploited). Rubber soles fly in the face of tradition and “craftspersonship” because they’re produced by machines. We say this: know your clothes and do what YOU want.
Leather soled shoes literally have leather for soles. These soles are thin, low-profile, traditional, and delicate. Leather soles are great for the traditional vibe; they are beautiful and classic.
Leather soles, however, cannot withstand a lot of wear, especially outside and double-especially rain, snow, etc. Leather soles require new soles somewhat frequently. New soles run $15 and up. (Note: If you walk around on wet concrete or stone in leather soles, you will bust your ass! My brother suffered a concussion from slipping on slick marble on Christmas Eve!)
You can also buy rubber overshoes for your leather soles, and your weather problem is solved.
[Update, Jan 3] Ooops… left this out: leather soles are also bad because they come from baby animals, and animals are so much better when they’re alive and not slaughtered/on your feet. So if you must buy leather, buy vintage, because otherwise it’s brutal, inhumane, and wasteful of our precious resources to continue the exploitative and inhumane economy of leather production.
Rubber soles are infinitely more comfortable and more flexible than leather soles. They are thicker and made for exploring the wilderness. Rubber soles range from hiking shoes to vibram soles to crepe soles.
However, rubber doesn’t breathe at all. You will have to wear socks with these shoes. Also, rubber soles are newer than leather soles; they’re thicker and not as classy nor seen as classic. When you finally have to resole these babies, you may have to send them back to the makers (like, for Red Wings Boots, resoles costs $100…), or you may not be able to resole them at all. (However, this is a minute point; it should take years to wear out serious rubber soles.)
As for which one you should buy…it’s about aesthetics and your pocket book. If you really like leather soles and you can afford the upkeep (new soles, leather treatment, etc.), go for it. If you want a pair of shoes you can wear wherever, whenever, get some rubber soles!