Last Updated on October 21, 2020 by Comfy Soles
A pair of dress shoes is a staple for any man’s wardrobe. It’s not just a luxury but an absolute necessity.
After all, your go-to footwear for events requires you to suit up and look more presentable than usual.
However, we understand why not everyone is too keen to buy a pair since quality dress shoes come at an investment.
That’s because these shoes require a level of craftsmanship and quality.
What are dress shoes made from, anyway? How are they constructed, and what makes them so special?
Let's learn more about them for you to make the right decisions when purchasing a pair.
What Are Dress Shoes?
In a nutshell, dress shoes are pieces of footwear specifically designed for professional, formal, and other special events, especially those requiring a suit.
There are different types of dress shoes, but Oxfords and dress boots are the most common.
The Basic Anatomy of a Dress Shoe
Before we move on to the materials that dress shoes are made from, it’s ideal to get familiar with its construction first.
Dress shoes have various parts. The exterior, which is made of three main sections namely the quarter, the vamp, and the toe.
On the other hand, the interior is lined with a different material for added comfort to the user.
Lastly, let’s not forget the outsole and the heel, which are also composed of other materials.
What Are Dress Shoes Made From?
While most dress shoes are made of leather, other styles use other materials for their exterior.
To be more specific, though, we will go through the different parts of the dress shoe and determine what goes into the construction of this footwear.
The part of the shoe that comes in contact with the ground is called the sole or outsole.
There are different methods when it comes to sole construction.
It can be made into one, thick layer. Sometimes, soles are made of several layers using different materials such as leather, rubber, crepe, and synthetics.
- Leather Soles
Leather soles for dress shoes can be divided into two main types: single and double.
Single leather soles are usually made of a single layer of thick leather, and the result is a thin sole that looks sleek and elegant.
On the other hand, double leather soles are made of two pieces of leather bonded to each other.
Of course, they're thicker and more durable than the single-layered leather sole. They look more casual, though.
The main downside to leather soles is they can be difficult to maintain.
As such, some brands infuse their pieces with oil for longer wearability.
You might prefer looking into rubber soles if you really value long-lasting durability.
- Rubber Soles
What makes rubber soles more durable is their ability to survive the elements.
You can wear your rubber-soled dress shoes, rain or shine, without worries. They provide better traction, too.
We recommend looking into rubber soles with grooves or indentations for more friction and support.
- Combination Soles
Finally, there are combination soles that use both leather and rubber in their construction.
Their rubber sections are usually placed in the heel for added traction and weather protection.
Here’s a part of the shoe that doesn’t get seen: the footbed filler.
It is an interior layer that separates the outsole from the insole.
It plays an essential role in reducing your feet's impact and the bottom part of the shoes.
A lot of brands prefer using a cork material for the footbed filler.
That is because it follows the natural curves of your feet after a while, providing personalized comfort.
It is also important to note that most dress shoes have a metal shank underneath the footbed.
It gives your shoes more structure and gives the insole the curve that follows your feet's arch.
Lastly, there’s the part that actually touches our feet: the insole.
While the classic, especially more vintage, pieces have leather insoles, more and more brands shift towards both plain or patterned textiles.
These pieces are considered more casual than those with leather insoles.
Still, you can wear them during formal events.
The Different Types of Insoles
You can also add removable insoles to your shoes if you need the added comfort and support.
These are available in different types and materials, but here are the most common ones.
- Gel Insoles
These are great for those who expect really hectic activities.
That’s because gel insoles were designed specifically for shock absorption.
Gel insoles are also known to significantly decrease feet fatigue, even if they tend to be heavier than other insoles.
- Warm Insoles
These insoles are usually made out of wool and were designed to provide insulation.
Higher quality ones can even retain your feet's natural temperature, whether you’re in a hot or cold environment.
- Moldable Insoles
As mentioned, some brands utilize a footbed filler made out of cork that can conform to your feet's natural shape.
They do take a while to mold, though, which can severely impact your experience during the first few months of breaking in your dress shoes.
This is where moldable insoles come in. They are made of a special material that speeds up the molding process.
All you need to do is heat them a bit in the oven and stand on them as they cool.
- Memory Foam Insoles
Another option is to get a memory foam insole.
While it tends to bounce back to its original form during the first few weeks of usage, it can retain the shape of your feet over time.
Aside from those we have mentioned above, there are also ergonomically-designed insoles for orthotic purposes should you require them.
Dress shoes are sometimes categorized according to their main material.
If so, then it is based on the construction of the exterior body of your dress shoes. Leather is the most common one.
The Different Types of Leather Used in Dress Shoes
Dress shoes come in different types based on the type of leather used in their construction.
Here are the most common ones used for men’s dress shoes:
Some of the best American made men’s dress shoes are constructed using calfskin.
Also known as vellum, this type of leather is commonly used in quality dress shoes.
High-end brands prefer European calves over North American ones since they are known to have better quality.
That is all thanks to their stricter breeding standards.
Although calfskin is also preferred for its fine grain, it's prone to scratching.
Treating it with proper polish can easily hide these marks if they are not that deep and help develop a beautiful patina.
Regular maintenance is also required to ensure that your pair doesn’t dry or crack.
This is the term used to refer to premium calfskin. It was coined by Joseph Box, one of the pioneers of leather shoe craftsmanship.
Cowhide and calfskin obviously come from the same animal.
That said, they yield different results and are thus categorized differently when it comes to leather types.
It is also notable to mention that most cowhide used for dress shoes are byproducts of the meat industry.
This leather type is also thicker and more fibrous, making it perfect for dress boots.
This material is not as common as the previous ones.
Also known as peccary, from the name of the specific animal it is harvested from, this leather is known for its softness and interesting texture.
One of its best qualities is that it doesn’t scratch that easily.
We suggest, though, that you should skip wearing a pigskin-made leather dress shoes during rainy days.
This material is usually categorized separately from leather because of the stark contrast in texture and aesthetic.
We will include it in the leather category for this article's purposes since it also comes from animal hide.
Different types of suede exist, depending on the animal that it comes from, but cow suede and sheepskin suede are the most common ones.
You wouldn’t want to use suede during rainy days, just like the previous material featured.
That’s because it tends to absorb moisture faster and longer.
Also, it is more prone to staining if you’re not careful.
Additionally, suede should not be confused with chamois and nubuck.
While the three share similar qualities, they come from different parts of an animal hide and undergo distinct treatments.
This is one of the most luxurious leathers out there.
It is a membrane that comes from a horse’s hindquarters that undergoes complex processing.
The process can last up to six months before you can use the material for shoemaking.
Most people like it for its smooth and pore-less appearance.
What we love best about this material, though, is that it ages well.
It is water-resistant, durable, and known to last for decades with proper maintenance.
This material originated from Scotland, as the name suggests. However, it also goes by the name of pebble grain thanks to its pebble-like texture.
It is a bit thicker compared to the other materials featured and is thus known for its durability.
Its texture can also easily hide scratches and other imperfections.
Are you always worried that your dress shoes are not shiny enough?
Then you might want to consider getting a pair made of patent leather.
It was originally developed through a complicated process to achieve that high-gloss finish.
More modern versions use plastics or other synthetic materials to recreate the effect, though.
If you want high-quality patent leather, we recommend choosing a pair that comes from Japan, where the manufacturing process originated.
Finally, there are exceptional leathers that come from more rare and exotic animals.
Here are some of them:
- Alligator and Crocodile Leather
The alligator leather used for the best mens dress shoes made in USA usually comes from the American Alligator.
These types of leather are costly and are thus prone to replication.
One thing to keep in mind when checking for authenticity is the scale pattern. It shouldn’t be too uniform.
If you want to save a bit, then we recommend taking a look into crocodile leather instead.
- Camel Leather
This type of material is very rare, so kudos to you if you find a pair of dress shoes made from it.
Its texture is similar to suede, although more fibrous.
It is known to be one of the softest and most breathable leather materials in the world.
This material is also more prone to scratching, so not many shoemakers prefer it.
Even so, wearing it is a dream. Your feet won’t get tired easily and sweat as much.
- Elephant Leather
Want a material that is as rare and breathable yet not as delicate?
That’s something that elephant leather can offer!
However, we recommend conducting careful research before buying a pair to make sure that it comes from legal sources.
There is a lot of poached elephant leather out there.
- Ostrich Leather
Here’s something that meets an acquired taste thanks to its distinguished texture.
Even so, it remains to be one of the most sought-out exotic materials for dress shoes thanks to its excellent qualities.
It is soft yet durable, scratch-resistant, and doesn’t dry out.
Ostrich leather shoes can be quite an investment, but they’re worthwhile.
The shoe components and materials mentioned above are not the only ones that your dress shoes have.
There are definitely more pieces that go into making your pair, like welts and backstays.
Those are also not the only types of leather used in making the best mens dress shoes made in USA.
There are countless more like snake leather, lizard leather, and sharkskin.
Part of the reason that makes these shoes more expensive than your average sneakers is the complex design and craftsmanship dedicated to them.
Choosing the Right Material for You
The question now is which one should you choose? It all depends on what you want to achieve.
If you want a timeless pair that will look perfect for most occasions, then a calfskin pair will already do the trick.
They are great for work and more conservative settings.
If you seek your footwear to stand out a bit and even spark conversation, then you might want to consider investing in something that’s more unique, like a pair made of ostrich leather.
Are There Vegan Alternatives?
We also understand that some might not be too comfortable wearing animal-sourced dress shoes.
You will be pleased to learn that there are vegan dress shoes out there.
These dress shoes are usually made of pleather, a material that seeks to recreate leather with polymers, such as PU and PVC.
Do note, though, that these are also made from organic materials, like cork and hemp.
Some of the best American made men's dress shoes are even shoes made from recycled materials like rubber tires and plastic bottles!
The Dress Shoes' Material
Have you ever wondered what are dress shoes made from?
Surprisingly, each pair is constructed using a wide variety of materials, including cork and metal.
That depends on the complexity of the design and the craftsmanship that went into making a pair.
The most common material, though, is leather. There are various leather choices out there, from the usual calfskin to the more exotic alligator leather.
There are also vegan alternatives for those who are more conscious of their fashion choices.
That said, we believe that the material your dress shoes are made from plays only one part in your pair’s longevity.
Proper maintenance is more essential, especially if you’re opting for a pair made of actual animal hide.