There is long debate on the differences between leather soles vs rubber soles with regards to comfort/durability/elegance etc. So I thought it wise to create a post in order to discuss all of the points and shed some light on certain myths that need debunking.
I will break it up into the main topics that tend to be discussed labeling both pro’s and con’s for each in order for you to understand better the truth behind both options
Leather Pro’s: Sole leather is often thought of as this hard material that does not allow for cushion/comfort. The problem with this train of thought is that it actually doesn’t take into account that while sole leather was made to be hard, one must not forget that in reality it is still just a skin and has the ability to mold and shape to your foot, allowing natural contour to take place (as it is a natural product). It therefore, combined with cork, can create a very soft and flexible foot bed actually creating much more comfort than it’s rubber counterpart. But this is also providing that arch support is correct.
Leather Con’s: The downside of leather is that if not done properly (or in the absence of cork combined with a thin sole), it can be very rigid and not actually providing much in terms of comfort if not accompanied by proper fitting lasts/certain shoe contructions etc. A thin-soled, blake stitched, flat last (no arch support) will be one of the most uncomfortable experiences ever. On the contrary, a double leather sole, Goodyear welted shoe made on a last with proper arch support will be among the most comfortable shoes around.
Rubber Pro’s: Rubber is often flexible right off the bat leaving minimal break-in period. Therefore you normally do not feel so stiff when a shoe is made on a rubber sole, even if handwelted. It also being quite sturdy makes it feel comfortable for some people. And naturally it has more shock absorption so when you step you don’t feel the hardness of the pavement as much as you might in the leather sole.
Rubber Con’s: Rubber (whether being claimed as natural or synthetic) does not have the ability to mold to your feet like a leather sole does. So while the insole might mold to your feet, the sole does not ever mold and thus the rigidity of that lack of taking shape can often feel quite uncomfortable over time. That being, a rubber sole will often feel comfortable in the beginning of the day but if you were to be on your feet in one all day long, the non-forming rigidity of the rubber starts to make your feet grow tired.
Leather Pro’s: Leather’s strength lies in how many layers of leather you have on it. A triple leather sole will outlast any rubber sole. Consequently a good double leather sole with toe taps on it would too. So the more layers of leather you have the exponentially stronger it gets.
Leather Con’s: Opposite to its pro, the less amount of layers or thinner the leather sole is the more fragile it is. I have seen guys chew through top quality (think best brands out there) soles in a matter of months due to ?how much they walked in all kinds of weather. Leather absorbs water so over time you can get it coming through your soles for the smallest of cracks or busted seam etc..
Rubber Pro’s: A good rubber sole is virtually indestructible (not really but close). Due to the nature of rubber and what it is intended for, you can really go hard on it and it will last. I put so many miles on cobblestones on my Stefano Bemer chukka boots and while I rarely wear them now, am still going on the first sole after 8 years (I must have put hundreds of miles on them through the streets of Florence). Rubber is very water resistant so you really don’t have to worry about your feet getting wet, ever.
Rubber Con’s: If it cracks, it’s over. And sometimes it can crack for no apparent reason. Or if you try to dry it (think leave your shoes on the heater) after being wet. I have seen what looked like good rubber soles, all of the sudden crack and then it are pretty much ruined as the cracks will only get worse.
Leather Pro’s: A leather sole is the epitome of elegance and formality and is always the material of choice when making formal shoes. According to some trains of thought, the thinner and tighter the construction (think cemented or blind welt) the more elegant/formal the shoe, however I disagree with this. I do think that the tighter the sole (i.e. not protruding out from the shape of the last) the more elegant/formal but don’t find dainty looking thin soles to be elegant. On the contrary if one maker made the most perfectly elegant sole it would be Gaziano & Girling or even Carmina who make a very thin appearing goodyear welted sole that runs tight to the last shape.
Leather Con’s: If the sole is not cut tight to the last it just looks wonky and very inelegant IMHO. So the cut has to be done right in order to maintain the correct manner of elegance and formality.
Rubber Pro’s: Some snobs and/or traditionalists will say that Rubber soles cannot be elegant nor formal. While I would agree about 90% there have been some makers that have sourced rubber soles that when looking at them from a side view from ?5 feet away you would not be able to tell if they were rubber or leather. So that debunks the myth there as rubber can be used in an elegant setting providing that the sole maintains a manner of thinness.
Rubber Con’s: 90% of the time rubber soles add a certain level of chunkiness to the shoe that just makes it plain informal