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How to Wear Suede Shoes and Keep Them Looking Good

Men’s suede shoes are the pinnacle of casual luxury. Especially compared to leather boots, they’re soft and a bit more effortless. Yet, with suede used across Chelsea boots, sneakers, and slip-ons, its versatility means it’s not relegated to a single occasion.

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Interested in trying a pair of men’s suede shoes? Up your style game with the following:

What is Suede?

Understanding suede, especially in relation to leather, helps you see why its care is particularly important. It also answers the time-old question - can suede shoes get wet? The question has steered many away from this material for years, believing a drizzle will ruin their good (and often high-priced) footwear.

Kenneth Cole_The Mover Chukka Hybrid Boot_suede
The Mover Chukka Hybrid Boot by Kenneth Cole

On a general level, suede is a type of split leather with a napped appearance derived from the underside of an animal’s skin. After removing it from the top of the leather, the result is soft and smooth and doesn’t have the typical graining.

Whether suede is sourced from goat, pig, or cow, it’s a far more delicate material that, while it feels luxurious, can also be damaged easily. Water is a common source, but dirt and debris, especially salt if you’re taking your suede shoes outdoors in winter, also affect its appearance. 

Gavia Strada by Koio

Reflecting this, anything suede you own should first be treated and then needs to be brushed regularly. 

Understand that not all suede materials are identical. Especially for suede shoes and garments requiring a greater degree of durability, full-grain leather may simply be turned around, so that the underside faces outward. You’ll notice this with the feel, which may seem more rigid and tough compared to traditional suede. 

Thickness also varies with the source. Sheepskin, made from sheep or lamb, tends to have a smoother nap and feels lighter. Cowhide and pigskin suede, on the other hand, has more body and a more visible nap that resembles graining. 

Cognac Suede Boots by Magnanni
Cognac suede boots by Magnanni

How to Care for Suede Shoes

Based on the points we’ve mentioned, caring for suede shoes involves a few basic principles:

1. You’ll want to maintain the material’s smooth appearance and nap. Regular use, as with all shoes, will cause the material to wear down in certain places. 

2. You’ll want to remove any dirt and dust. The thinner, more pliable, and soft construction means that not only is suede easily damaged, but it also acts as a magnet for particles of any kind. These mar its surface with a dirty, dingy look and, rather than appear smooth and flowy, can highlight creases. 

3. You’ll also want to be wary of moisture. Although a drop or two can be cleaned out, heavier water staining is more challenging and, if not addressed quickly, can give your suede shoes a more mottled appearance.

Scout by Thursday Boots Co.

To care for your men’s suede shoes:

  • Use a protecting, water- and stain-repellent spray. This prevents water, salt, and other outside substances from altering the nap. To apply, hold the protectant at least four inches away from the shoes, and spray until you’ve covered the full surface. The formula shouldn’t leave a sticky or tacky film. 
  • Have a suede brush, and get in the habit of brushing off your suede shoes every time you return home. This Dislodges any particles that the material may have picked up. Doing this prevents the material from looking worn out after a few months of wear.
  • Develop a storage solution away from moisture and dust. Consider storing your shoes in a cloth bag or even a pillowcase, which will guard the material while still allowing it to breathe. 
Tom Ford Suede-Leather Oxfords

Men's Claydon Suede-Leather Oxfords by Tom Ford

How to Clean Suede Shoes

If you’re dealing with everyday dirt and minor stains:

  • Brush your suede shoes once they dry, moving the brush in a single direction.
  • If you’re dealing with a scuff mark, going back and forth over a particular area will help lift the grain and even out the nap. If that doesn’t help, carefully go over the area with sandpaper or a knife. 

Feathercraft Grand Blucher Oxford By Cole Haan

For water and salt stains:

  • Believe it or not, you’ll actually want to start addressing the stain with water. However, you’ll want to create a solution that’s two parts water to one part vinegar.
  • Apply the solution to the stain with a towel or rag made out of a soft material like microfiber.
  • After the stained area dries completely, brush it lightly to help even out the grain. 

How to Wear Suede Shoes

Gazelle Trainers by Adidas

No single type of men’s suede shoe exists. Rather, you can find more casual silhouettes out there made out of suede, from sneakers and even sandals to derbies and Chelsea boots. You’ll also come across more formal styles, including oxfords, given an ultra-luxe treatment with suede.

Pasadena Buck by GH Bass

To some extent, suede shoes have a place in both realms of fashion. For dressier style, the matte finish often tones down the shine for a more subtle appearance. That said, due to this effect, you likely won’t want to wear suede shoes with your finest suit. Yet, they’re perfectly acceptable for cocktail attire, with a party or full-on patterned suit, and hit all the notes for business and smart-casual dressing.

Chester Suede Boots
Chester boots by Grenson

At the same time, suede enlivens traditional casual footwear. For instance, replacing leather or synthetic paneling with suede gives your kicks a higher-end upgrade. As well, the material lightens up and adds a fashionable angle to a pair of combat or workwear boots.

Yet, understand that, due to how delicate suede can be, you don’t want to take these suede shoes to a dirt-covered jobsite, and you definitely don’t want to wear them to train for a marathon.

Italian Style Suede Shoes by Peach & Mango

So, within these parameters, wear suede shoes like you would any related type of footwear. Just keep in mind the occasion and dress code and realize its matte finish can come across as understated. As well, while you can find suede shoes in burgundy and blue, classic shades like brown, charcoal, and black will end up matching more items in your closet. 

As far as when to wear suede shoes goes, they’re fine for most occasions, excluding black and white tie dress codes. Seasonally, you’re generally good to go, as long as you check the weather report for days with rain or snow forecasted. 

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Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.