What is Leather Upper? (A Comprehensive Explanation)

If you’ve ever shopped for shoes, you’ve probably come across the term “leather upper.” But what is leather upper, and what exactly does that mean?

Leather upper refers to the part of a shoe that covers the foot, made from genuine leather. This section of the shoe offers durability, breathability, and a classic look, attaching directly to the sole. When a shoe is labeled as having a leather upper, that means this section of the shoe is made from genuine leather.

Leather uppers are a popular choice for shoes because they offer a range of benefits. For one, leather is a durable material that can withstand wear and tear over time. Additionally, leather is known for its breathability, which can help keep your feet cool and comfortable. And, of course, leather is also a stylish choice, lending a classic look to any shoe.

Understanding Leather Upper

When it comes to footwear, the material used for the upper is just as important as the sole. The upper is the part of the shoe that covers your foot and attaches to the sole, and one popular material for this is leather. In this section, we will help you understand what leather upper is and why it is a popular choice for shoes.

Leather is a material made from the skin of animals, and it is known for its durability, flexibility, and breathability. When used for shoe uppers, leather provides a comfortable fit that molds to your foot over time. Leather uppers are also easy to clean and maintain, making them a practical choice for everyday wear.

A leather upper can be made from different types of leather, including genuine leather, top-grain leather, full-grain leather, or suede. Genuine leather is made from the innermost layer of the animal hide, while top-grain and full-grain leather are made from the outer layer. Suede is a type of leather with a napped finish, which gives it a soft and fuzzy texture.

Leather uppers are commonly used for boots, sneakers, and sandals. They are more expensive than canvas or synthetic uppers, but they are worth the investment because they last longer and provide better support for your feet. Leather uppers also look stylish and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.

Fun Fact: Did you know that leather has been used for footwear for thousands of years? The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all wore leather shoes, and leather was also used for armor and other protective gear.

Types of Leather Used in Uppers

When it comes to leather uppers, there are several types of leather used in the manufacturing process. Here are the most common types of leather used in uppers:

Full Grain Leather Upper

Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather available. It is made from the top layer of the hide and has not been sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections. This type of leather is the most durable and develops a beautiful patina over time. Full-grain leather uppers are commonly used in high-end footwear.

Top Grain Leather Upper

Top-grain leather is the second-best type of leather after full-grain leather. It is achieved by sanding and buffing the full-grain leather, which removes any blemishes and marks from the leather. This process reduces the durability and patina of the leather, but it is still a high-quality material that is commonly used in footwear.

Genuine Leather Uppers

Genuine leather is a catch-all term that refers to any type of real leather that is not full-grain or top-grain leather. This type of leather is made from the lower layers of the hide and is less durable than full-grain or top-grain leather. Genuine leather uppers are commonly used in mid-range footwear.

Synthetic Leather Uppers

Synthetic leather uppers are made from materials that mimic the look and feel of real leather. These materials include PU leather, bonded leather, and reconstituted leather. Synthetic leather uppers are commonly used in budget footwear and vegan footwear.

When choosing a pair of shoes with leather uppers, it is important to consider the type of leather used. Full-grain and top-grain leather uppers are the most durable and high-quality, while genuine leather and synthetic leather uppers are less durable and lower quality.

Manufacturing Process of Leather Uppers

If you’re wondering how leather uppers are made, you’ve come to the right place! In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the manufacturing process of leather uppers, including the components, processing, cutting, stitching, and assembly.

Cutting and Shaping

The first step in making leather uppers is cutting and shaping the leather. This is done using a pattern, which is usually made of paper or cardboard. The pattern is placed on the leather, and the leather is cut to the appropriate shape and size using a sharp knife or scissors. The leather is then shaped using a machine or by hand to give it the desired curvature.

Stitching and Assembly

Once the leather has been cut and shaped, it’s time to stitch and assemble the pieces. This is done using a heavy-duty sewing machine and a variety of stitching techniques, depending on the design of the shoe. The pieces are sewn together, and any excess material is trimmed away.

After the pieces have been stitched together, they’re assembled to create the complete upper. The upper is then attached to the sole of the shoe using glue or stitching, depending on the design.

It’s worth noting that the manufacturing process of leather uppers can vary depending on the type of shoe being made and the manufacturer’s preferences. Some manufacturers may use different techniques or machinery to achieve the desired result.

Quality and Durability of Leather Uppers

When it comes to leather uppers, quality, and durability are two essential factors to consider. Quality leather uppers are made of high-quality leather that is soft, supple, and comfortable to wear. They are also more durable than their cheaper counterparts, making them a worthwhile investment.

Expensive brands often use high-quality leather to make their shoes, ensuring that they last longer and look better than cheaper options. However, not all expensive shoes are made of quality leather, so it’s important to do your research before making a purchase.

One way to identify quality leather uppers is to look for full-grain leather. Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather available, and it is made from the top layer of the hide. This type of leather is durable, water-resistant, and develops a unique patina over time.

Another factor to consider when evaluating the quality of leather uppers is the stitching. Good-quality shoes have tight and even stitching, while poor-quality shoes may have loose or uneven stitching that can lead to tears and other damage.

Durability is another essential factor to consider when choosing leather uppers. Quality leather uppers can last for years with proper care and maintenance. To extend the life of your leather shoes, it’s important to keep them clean and conditioned regularly.

One tip for maintaining the durability of your leather uppers is to avoid wearing them in wet or muddy conditions. Water can damage leather, causing it to crack and fade over time. If you do get your leather shoes wet, be sure to dry them off as soon as possible and condition them to prevent damage.

Comfort and Fit of Leather Uppers

When it comes to footwear, comfort and fit are essential. Leather uppers offer both of these qualities, making them a popular choice for many people. Here’s what you need to know about the comfort and fit of leather uppers:


Leather uppers are known for their comfort. They are soft and supple, which means they can adapt to the shape of your foot over time. This makes them an excellent choice for people with wider or narrower feet. Additionally, leather uppers are breathable, which means your feet won’t get too hot or sweaty, even on a warm day.


Leather uppers come in a range of sizes, so it’s easy to find a pair that fits you perfectly. It’s important to note that leather uppers can stretch over time, so it’s a good idea to buy a pair that fits snugly at first. This will ensure that they don’t become too loose after a few wears.


Leather uppers come in a variety of styles and finishes. Some are smooth and shiny, while others are more textured. Additionally, leather uppers can be treated with different finishes to make them more water-resistant or easy to clean. It’s important to choose a finish that suits your needs and lifestyle.


To keep your leather uppers looking and feeling great, it’s important to take care of them properly. This includes cleaning them regularly with a soft cloth or brush, conditioning them with leather conditioner, and storing them in a cool, dry place when not in use. By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your leather uppers last for years to come.

Styles and Designs of Leather Uppers

Leather uppers are a versatile choice for all types of shoes, from boots and booties to sneakers and dress shoes. Here are some of the most popular styles and designs of leather uppers.

Boots and Booties

Leather uppers are a classic choice for boots and booties. They provide durability, comfort, and style. Whether you’re looking for a rugged work boot or a sleek ankle bootie, leather uppers are a great option. Some popular styles of leather boots and booties include:

  • Chelsea boots: These ankle boots have an elastic side panel and a loop or tab on the back for easy on and off.
  • Combat boots: These lace-up boots have a military-inspired look and are often made with a thick sole for added durability.
  • Riding boots: These tall boots are often made with a smooth, polished leather and have a simple, elegant design.

Sneakers and Athletic Shoes

Leather uppers can also be found on many athletic shoes and sneakers. They provide a sleek, stylish look while also offering durability and support. Some popular styles of leather sneakers and athletic shoes include:

  • High-top sneakers: These sneakers have a high collar that covers the ankle and often have a retro or vintage-inspired design.
  • Running shoes: Leather uppers can be found on many running shoes, providing a supportive and breathable material for your feet.
  • Tennis shoes: Leather uppers are a common choice for tennis shoes, providing a durable and comfortable option for your feet during a match.

Dress Shoes and Loafers

Leather uppers are a popular choice for dress shoes and loafers. They provide a sophisticated and polished look that is perfect for formal occasions. Some popular styles of leather dress shoes and loafers include:

  • Oxford shoes: These lace-up dress shoes have a sleek, polished design and are often made with a high-quality leather upper.
  • Penny loafers: These slip-on shoes have a distinctive strap across the top and are a classic choice for both casual and formal wear.
  • Monk strap shoes: These dress shoes have a buckle instead of laces and are a stylish and unique choice for formal occasions.

Sandals and Slippers

Leather uppers can also be found on many sandals and slippers. They provide a comfortable and breathable material for your feet during warmer months. Some popular styles of leather sandals and slippers include:

  • Slide sandals: These sandals have a simple slip-on design and are often made with a soft leather upper for added comfort.
  • Espadrilles: These casual shoes have a woven rope sole and are often made with a leather upper for added durability.
  • Moccasin slippers: These cozy slippers have a soft leather upper and a warm, fuzzy lining for added comfort.

Maintenance of Leather Uppers

Taking care of your leather uppers is essential to ensure that they maintain their quality and last for a long time. Proper maintenance involves cleaning and conditioning the leather regularly to prevent it from drying out, cracking, or becoming discolored. Here are some tips to help you maintain your leather uppers:


Cleaning your leather uppers is the first step in maintaining them. Use a soft-bristled brush or a dry cloth to remove any dirt or dust from the surface of the leather. For tougher stains, use a damp cloth and mild soap to gently clean the leather. Be sure to avoid using too much water, as it can damage the leather. After cleaning, allow the leather to air dry naturally.


Conditioning your leather uppers is the next step in maintaining them. Leather conditioner helps to keep the leather supple and prevents it from drying out. Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to a clean, dry cloth and rub it into the leather in a circular motion. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the leather, including any seams or creases. Allow the conditioner to absorb into the leather for several hours before wearing the shoes again.


In addition to cleaning and conditioning, there are a few other things you can do to take care of your leather uppers. Here are some pro tips:

  • Store your leather shoes in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Use shoe trees to help maintain the shape of your leather shoes.
  • Avoid wearing your leather shoes in wet or muddy conditions, as this can damage the leather.
  • If your leather shoes do get wet, stuff them with newspaper to help them dry out and maintain their shape.

Environmental and Sustainability Considerations

When it comes to leather uppers, there are several environmental and sustainability considerations to keep in mind.

Firstly, it is important to note that leather is made from animal skin, which means that it is not a vegan or cruelty-free material. If you are someone who is concerned about animal welfare, you may want to consider alternative materials such as polyurethane (PU) leather, which is a synthetic material that mimics the look and feel of real leather without using animal products.

In terms of sustainability, leather production can have a significant environmental impact. The leather tanning process involves the use of chemicals and large amounts of water, which can lead to pollution and water scarcity in some areas. However, there are efforts being made to improve the sustainability of leather production.

One example of this is the Leather Working Group (LWG), which is a multi-stakeholder group that has developed a certification program for leather manufacturers. The LWG certification assesses the environmental performance of leather manufacturers and promotes sustainable and responsible environmental business practices.

Another consideration is the durability of leather. Leather is a long-lasting material that can withstand wear and tear, which means that leather products can often be used for years or even decades. This can make leather a more sustainable choice than materials that need to be replaced more frequently.

If you are concerned about the environmental impact of leather production but still prefer the look and feel of real leather, there are some things you can do to reduce your impact. For example, you can look for leather products that are made from LWG-certified manufacturers or that use vegetable-tanned leather, which is a more environmentally friendly tanning process.

FAQ: Leather Upper

What is the difference between leather upper and genuine leather?

Leather upper refers to the part of the shoe that covers your foot and is made of leather, while genuine leather refers to the actual material used to make the upper. Genuine leather is made from animal hides, while leather upper can be made from a combination of leather and synthetic materials.

Are leather upper shoes waterproof?

Leather upper shoes are not necessarily waterproof, but they are water-resistant. The leather material can repel water to some extent, but it is still important to take care of your shoes and protect them from getting too wet.

What are the benefits of using leather for shoe uppers?

Leather is a durable and breathable material that conforms to your foot over time, providing a comfortable fit. It also has a natural ability to repel moisture and resist wear and tear, making it a great choice for shoe uppers.

Is leather upper material a good choice for shoes?

Yes, leather upper is a great choice for shoes. It is a high-quality material that offers durability, breathability, and comfort. It is also versatile and can be used for a variety of shoe styles.

What is man-made leather upper, and how does it compare to genuine leather?

Man-made leather, also known as synthetic leather or faux leather, is a material made from synthetic materials that mimic the look and feel of real leather. While it can be more affordable than genuine leather, it is not as durable or breathable.

What does the term ‘uppers’ mean in the context of shoes?

In the context of shoes, ‘uppers’ refers to the part of the shoe that covers your foot. This includes the leather or synthetic material that makes up the top section of the shoe, as well as any laces, straps, or other closures that hold the shoe in place.

Andre from leatherninja.com

Andre is a passionate leatherworker. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.