Nubuck vs Suede Shoes – Which Ones Are Right For You?

If there’s one thing that has come out of the ongoing global pandemic, it’s that we have online shopping down to an art form. Granted, you might be angling at saving extra bucks whenever possible. However, when you’re buying a staple that sparks a smile and will give you that extra confidence boost you need every day, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Leather is a no-brainer for style and durability. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the nubuck vs suede debate has been a dilemma for a multitude of leather shoe lovers. Although most people opt for either because they get quality and aesthetics rolled into one, understanding the difference between the two is a big deal when it comes to making that ‘once in a while’ shoe splurge.

After all, there are only two possible outcomes: deep regret that you missed out or unwavering satisfaction for money well spent. To help you decide on the better option for you, we’ll compare nubuck vs suede shoes.

What Is Suede?

blue pair of suede shoes
Image Source: Pixabay

It’s leather that has been sanded and split to generate a velvety, soft fabric. Picture an animal’s hide as a crust of bread. Although the leather is crafted from the crust, tanneries manufacture suede by turning the hide inside out and buffing it. Likewise, you’d turn a crusty loaf inside out and sand the soft inner bready section to boost the fluffy texture.

As a result, it’s more porous compared to leather, making it more susceptible to liquid stains. It’s also more susceptible to water damage. The lack of a protective coating means even a small rain shower can cause irreversible stains on particular types of suede.

Suede is pliable, flexible, velvety, and soft to the touch. Like leather, it’s available in a vast assortment of colors. The name originates from the French phrase ‘Gants de Suède,’ meaning ‘gloves of Sweden’ as it was solely used for clothing items such as the liner in your boots and gloves, which are in contact with the body.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to find suede on dressier shoes, given that the trade-off for its softness means it’s not as long-lasting as other types of material.  It’s thinner and more supple than nubuck. But, like leather, proper care of suede means it’ll develop a patina after a while.

Nonetheless, not all suede is quite delicate. The waxed counterpart takes all the best parts of the fabric, such as flexibility and longevity, upping the durability factor with a waterproof wax coating. For instance, the Sarnia Waxed Suede Boot is rustic-looking and hardly picks up scratches after weeks or months of wear.

What Is Nubuck?

nubuk leather shoes

Referencing the analogy of bread again, nubuck leather is what you get after buffing the crusty outer layer to create a velvety signature texture. While it’s closely similar to suede, nubuck is more durable as it’s constructed from the outer side of the hide. In addition to withstanding more scuffing than generic suede, nubuck leather historically comprises an elk’s or deer’s buckskin.

However, modern nubuck is crafted from unbelievably soft calfskin. Furthermore, the suppleness stems from the fact that it gets buffed or sanded on the exterior of the leather (grain side), producing a slight nap of protein fibers.

Given that it’s created from the outer hide, nubuck comes with beautiful imperfections that lend it character. Nonetheless, a wealth of manufacturers offer clean, smooth leather products by staining or dyeing the material to eliminate visible flaws, giving your shoes a perfect look out of the box.

It’s worth noting that nubuck can be pricier than suede because it’s usually crafted from more durable and sturdier leather. Timberland, for men and women, makes their classic boots with nubuck. Additionally, unlike suede, nubuck doesn’t develop a patina after a while. Therefore, if you gravitate more towards the character that stems from wearing a pair of shoes over time, then nubuck isn’t an ideal option for you.

If you prefer the napped texture coupled with a patina-developing, hard-wearing pair of shoes that are suitable for all types of weather, then suede roughout boots are your best bet.

Nubuck vs Suede: When Should You Choose Suede?

Given that suede leather is more textured than burnished leather, it’s a great option for boots worn in the colder months of winter and fall. Suede effortlessly spruces up chinos, jeans, and other casual pants. It’s typically more affordable than nubuck because manufacturers of both types of material can achieve a supple texture with lower-grade leather.

You’ll discover that most suede leather boots are already layered with waterproof spray or wax. Although that enhances their longevity, suede will never be a good fit for boots that are susceptible to getting wet frequently, particularly in rainy areas or during the rainy season. The grain is more open, so they take on more water.

Nubuck vs Suede: When Should You Choose Nubuck?

As we mentioned earlier, nubuck is more waterproof due to its tighter grain structure. However, that comes at a cost. If you’ve got extra bucks to spare and don’t mind splurging a bit for superior quality, then nubuck boots are right up your alley. Granted, it’s a no-brainer that not all nubuck shoes are of superior quality than suede.

However, there’s no denying that spending $150 on a pair of nubuck leather footwear means you’re guaranteed impressive resistance to weather and scratches compared to a similarly priced pair of suede leather shoes.

If you’re concerned about getting your shoes wet, nubuck is a better option than suede. After all, Timberland has been churning out its classic nubuck boots for decades compared to other types of leather. Nonetheless, if you’re gravitating towards a pair of nubuck shoes, ensure you’re aware of the quantity of wax that has been layered on.

Otherwise, you might need to purchase the Scotchgard Suede & Nubuck Protector, particularly when the harsh winters roll around.

How to Clean Nubuck Shoes

To clean your nubuck shoes, you need to have soft cloths, a toothbrush, cotton swabs, white vinegar, and Nubuck protectant spray or a nubuck cleaner handy. You never want to put your nubuck shoes in the washing machine and you also want to pay attention to what cleaners you use on the outer layer. Some chemical nubuck cleaners have reportedly spoiled the nubuck shoe material.

When nubuck gets wet, it does darken in color. However, while suede that gets wet can become permanently damaged, nubuck typically returns to its original color as the material continues to dry.

How to Clean Suede Shoes

When it is time to clean your suede shoes, make sure they are dry if they were wet or damp. You can then use a suede brush to brush the surface of the shoe and remove loose dirt. You can also use a suede rubber or pencil eraser to remove scuff marks. If you find more difficult stains, you can use white vinegar on a soft cloth.

If you don’t have a suede brush, you can use the cloth as described above or you can purchase a suede cleaning brick. It is kind of like a Magic Eraser, but it works well on your suede shoes.

Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Proof Waterproofing will work well on your footwear and is recommended for use on all textured leather shoes.

The Bottom Line

The truth is that no leather shoes are perfect. Nubuck and suede each have their strong points and shortcomings. Therefore, the better option boils down to your preference. While suede gives a more polished look, nubuck is an ideal all-weather, outdoor option. There’s no harm in investing in both types of leather footwear for more style possibilities of making a grand entrance everywhere you go.

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