Of all the items in a man’s wardrobe, shoes are probably the hardest workers of the lot. Hitting the ground in all manner of conditions mean that they’re always on the front line, at the mercy of whatever unsavoury things may lay in front of them. By rights, it should follow that practicality reigns supreme when it comes to covering your soles.
However, against all good logic and reason, the siren song of the buttery soft nap of suede boots continues to lure in men season after season, with no signs of abating soon. A footwear style worn by rockstars and city-dwelling pavement pounders alike, it’s a passionate love affair of the heart, not the head.
There’s no getting away from the fact that when left to their own devices, suede boots are about as fragile as Donald Trump’s ego. But, by accepting their intrinsic need for a little extra TLC and employing some smart shopping moves this sensitive but strokable footwear is a better bet than you’d first think.
“Contrary to common belief, suede boots can be worn all year round,” says Tim Little, CEO and creative director of British shoe brand Grenson. “The secret is to look at the quality of the suede. It should be an even nap, not short and long patches.”
And, if you thought suede boots were just the thing to pull out on the weekend to impress on a date, you’d be right – but only partially. They’ve got formal flair too. “Design-wise suede works in anything just the same as calf does, so find your favourite boot and see if they have a suede version,” says Little.
As well as the obvious boot styles – desert and Chelsea boots – you’ll find hardier styles that also come in suede. Hiking boots and even worker boots are commonly found in supple and strokable naps – and are tougher than they look. The main takeaway, Little says, is that like all the best boots, suede options are far more versatile than you might think.
“Traditionally suede has been seen as a casual option in the UK but elsewhere, like Italy for example, it is worn as a very smart shoe or boot to be worn with a suit.”
How To Wear Suede Boots
When it comes to the colour of suede boots, stick with shades that feel intuitive, as they’re undoubtedly more wearable. Yes, you’ll get the odd navy blue or red pair, but more standard-issue shades (tan, brown, black) are pretty hard to go wrong with when pairing with trousers. Unsurprisingly, lighter colours lend themselves to spring and summer outfits, while darker shades are best reserved for autumn and winter.
Suede desert boots can pretty much be placed on a neatly sliding scale of formality. Chelsea boots err most formal but can be worn with both smart and casual looks. Ditto chukka boots, though gum soles on the latter are probably best avoided if you’re wearing a suit. More utilitarian designs (read: worker and hiking boots) belong firmly in the realm of the casual, which means they’re the perfect companion for denim, anything smarter, not so much.
The Best Types Of Suede Boots
Suede Chelsea Boots
They may be the most basic entry in the suede boot line-up, but there’s nothing #basic about suede Chelsea boots; they’re a stone-cold footwear classic. The chasm between sublime and shoddy is a large one in this category, however, distinguishable by small but supremely important details.
The nap should be soft and even. And designs that creep higher up the ankle offer a more flattering shape and frankly look more expensive nine times out of ten than their stouter stablemates.
While every rock god worth his salt is prone to pairing suede Chelsea boots with skinny jeans, it’s not the noughties anymore, and you’re not (we’re assuming) capable of selling out an arena. Wear yours with cropped tailored trousers, a roll neck jumper and a bomber jacket for a less pastiche way to pull off.
Suede Chukka Boots
Dialling down the formality (but still smart enough to wear with tailoring in some cases) suede chukka boots are a pleasingly fence-sitting way to wear suede boots, lurking somewhere along the middle of the smart-casual continuum. Designs without heel tabs and with gum soles err more casual, while heel tabs and rubber soles offer a smarter way to wear.
Commonplace colours (brown, sand, black or tan) can be recruited to sit alongside turn-up selvedge denim jeans and a plaid shirt for an easy off-duty look. Then, those very same shoes can similarly add an off-kilter ease to tailoring too. Try pulling on a pair alongside a grey checked suit worn with a white grandad collar shirt for a less obvious take on dress-down Fridays.
Suede & Nubuck Work Boots
Perhaps surprisingly, suede is the tactile fabric of choice for work boots. Well, technically it’s nubuck – leather that’s sanded on the outer surface rather than the inner – which offers that same soft touch but is far harder wearing.
Of course, nubuck work boots and overalls make natural bedfellows, but assuming you’re thinking of wearing yours off-site, you’ll need to go a little less utilitarian and a little more menswear – not too much, mind. Be mindful of worker boots’ oh-so-practical aesthetic: this means straight leg jeans, a simple crew neck T-shirt and a workwear jacket will help you nail that rugged not-really-trying vibe.
Suede Hiking Boots
Fashion is full of ridiculous oxymorons, and while suede hiking boots sound utterly nonsensical on paper, we dare you to not be drawn in. No, you won’t actually want to go hiking in a pair of these beauties, but something about the practical/impractical mish-mash renders them near-impossible to ignore. Look for dad-friendly details (multi-coloured laces, metallic eyelets, contrast soles) to score points for authenticity and luxury touches like drool-worthy leather for extra fashion points.
To stay on-brand with the whole dad thing, take a cue from your old man on styling too. Slim jeans will do for starters (go for block colour and straight cut) then add a semi-ironic colour-block wind-breaker to nod to your forebear while staying within the firm embrace of club menswear. Or a plush padded jacket if you find yourself at a ski resort.
How To Clean Suede Boots
Assuming we’re all agreed that suede boots are things of beauty and have earned a place in your wardrobe, let’s find out how to keep them beautiful. A little love will go far and save you tears in the long run. They can even be a genuine pair of winter boots.
“Firstly to protect suede boots use a natural spray which will repel most things but won’t add stickiness,” says Little. Hold the protector spray at least four inches from the boots and spray liberally. (Watch the carpet.)
If you unwisely skip the prevention, you can (in most cases) benefit from a cure instead. “If you get suede boots dirty or wet, let them dry and then brush them lightly with a suede brush. Most things will come out as dust. If you don’t have a suede brush, any brush will do.” Just be gentle.
For heavy-duty maintenance work, you have to be something of a surgeon. “If you have something immovable try a pencil rubber or even lightly use a piece of sandpaper, but be very careful as you might damage the nap.”