Suede is a very sophisticated choice for both formal and smart casual footwear. It is a type of leather with a textured finish. Though it is less durable than normal leather, it is very popular due to it’s attractive finish and soft feel.
Suede is made in a very similar way to normal leather; by preserving and tanning animal skins. For suede, lambskin is most commonly used, though goat, calf and deer are also reasonably popular choices. Unlike more durable leathers, suede is made from the underside of the animal skin. This is why it’s more flexible and textured than leather made from the outer layer of skin.
The thinness and pliability of suede has made it well suited to the manufacture of delicate clothing, accessories and footwear. One of it’s most common uses originally was for women’s gloves. The animal skin fibre was thick enough to provide ample warmth, but thin and soft enough to be made into beautifully comfortable gloves.
In fact, it’s this usage that gave suede it’s name. The word suede comes from the French phrase gants de Suède. The literal translation of this is gloves from Sweden.
Suede has traditionally been seen as more of a status symbol than other leathers thanks to being more delicate. Suede is less weather resistant and stains more easily than other leathers, making it impractical to wear for anyone doing manual tasks. Because of this, it became popular with powerful people as a way to show that they didn’t need to wear practical clothing.
This delicate leather has also been very popular with design houses since the beginning of the 20th century thanks to how easy it is to work with. Unlike other leathers, suede can be worked with like a standard woven fabric, which makes it more versatile.
Interested in reading more about the history of footwear? Here’s our take on the history of heels.