Suede vs. Nubuck

Reader question - What’s the difference between nubuck and suede? If I’m looking for bucks, is one or the other preferable?

 

This question comes from one of our regular readers.  If you hadn’t heard this year we decided that one of our style resolutions was to only purchase suede shoes.  Around here we’re fans of suede and its attributes, but often nubuck gets overlooked as a second tier option.  Nubuck originates from buckskin of deer and/or elk which was introduced to the US market in the early 1930′s. Like many style innovations it was not readily accepted by most.  However, when the Duke of Windsor made a royal visit to the States wearing suede Oxfords, the new style took off.
Nubuck is actually a type of suede and both are made of leather like calfskin.  Both look and feel similar but are created and treated differently and are vastly different in price with suede being the lesser of the two.  Both of these leathers are created by sanding process.  However, the difference is nubuck is sanded on the outside of the skin while suede is sanded on the inside of the skin.  The outer layer of calfksin is obviously tougher than the inside so this lends itself to more durability.  However, since nubuck is sanded from the outside of the skin there are natural and inherent marks and imperfections.  While some may see this as character, others may not be so kind.  This leads manufactures to stain, and or dye the imperfections away creating a cleaner, smoother product, but also a product with less life and personality.Many footwear novices believe that suede shoes are harder to maintain and more precious than their shiny leather counterparts. This could not be further from the truth.  Suede and nubuck actually require less maintenance.  They do not need to be, nor should they be shined, hence no weekly polishing.  Most men believe that suede will be ruined if it gets wet.  While wearing your suede shoes in the rain is ill-advised, it is not death for your shoes.  Suede can and will recover from getting wet.  However, the best method is prevention versus reaction.  Treating your suede shoes with water proofing products and brushing them regularly with a suede brush (the soft bristles, never the wire) to maintain the nap–the actual fibers that gives suede its character–will suffice.We personally prefer suede products over nubuck.  Given the character achieved over time with suede and the soft and supple nap which only gets better with time, its ability to be dressed up or down equally, and its low maintenance factor make it most attractive to our liking.

 

Suede Loafers from Suitsupply

 

 

Suede belt from SuitSupply

 

 

Nubuck shoes from Florsheim

 

Grant Harris is Owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted, LLC; a Washington, DC based Image Consulting Company dedicated to solving the complex image, style & fashion issues of today’s professional man. Mr. Harris provides private & corporate wardrobe consultations, closet organization, personal shopping & other value-based services for men in need of practical & affordable style advice. Visit Grant at imagegranted.com and follow him on twitter @imagegranted.

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