Suede sneakers: they’re about as reliable in bad weather as an umbrella made of bog paper, are a nightmare to clean, and if you spill a glass of Rioja on them, it’s basically game over.
And yet, even despite boasting nowhere near the same level of practicality or, well, wine-proofness as their leather counterparts, they remain one of the most important footwear investments a man can make.
Just ask American singer Carl Perkins, who wrote his famous ode to a pair of blue suede shoes. Fuzzy footwear is light, comfortable, and if you know how to care for it, fatal stains and water damage can actually be avoided altogether.
From what to wear with them to the brands making the best ones – here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about buying a pair of suede sneakers.
Why You Need A Pair Of Suede Sneakers
People often talk about suede and leather as if the two are completely different materials. They’re not. Both are made from cowhide, but whereas leather (the exterior skin of the animal) has a smooth finish, suede (the inner layer of the skin) has a more velvety feel. Each has its pros and cons, and though it’s true that suede can be more susceptible to staining than smooth leather, it’s also less prone to scuffs and tends to be easier to break in.
Then there are the good looks. Suede has a more porous finish which holds dye well, meaning brighter and more vibrant colours are achievable than with other materials. This is something German sportswear giant Adidas has capitalised on, with three crisp white stripes set against a vivid suede backdrop having become something of a trademark in its own right.
The heightened risk staining is what tends to put buyers off. However, hydrophobic products from the likes of Liquiproof, Crep Protect and Jason Markk, which provide a sort of water and stain-repellent forcefield, have all but eliminated this problem. Now you can stand up, eating a hotdog and wearing a pair of suede sneakers, safe in the knowledge that should any mustard escape, it’ll just roll right off the surface of your footwear.
How To Wear Suede Sneakers
Perhaps the most redeeming feature of suede sneakers is how easy they are to style. Find a smart enough pair (low profile, block colour, minimal detailing), and there’s no reason they can’t be paired with tailoring in the form of cropped trousers, a (preferably unstructured) suit jacket and a roll neck, T-shirt or polo shirt.
At the other end of the spectrum, a pair of classic, retro sneakers in suede make excellent Saturday afternoon pub attire when worn as part of a casual outfit with jeans, a crew neck sweatshirt and hooded jacket.
The secret to getting any look right is simply to ensure you don’t try to dress up shoes that are fundamentally casual. That means a big thumbs down to a pair of suede running shoes with a black tie, but you probably knew that already. Smarter suede sneaker styles, on the other hand, can be dressed up or dressed down to whatever extent you see fit. Just keep the colours simple, the detailing minimal and you can’t go far wrong.
The Best Brands For Suede Sneakers
From tailoring-friendly options at the premium end of the market (and your bank balance) to terracewear essentials built for the stands, these are the brands to turn to when it comes to shopping for a pair of suede sneakers.
The Samba, the Gazelle, the Campus the Trimm Trab; we could go on. As any sneakerhead worth his salt knows, Adidas has made and continues to make some of the most iconic suede sneakers on the market.
Since 1949, the brand’s trademark blend of soft suede and white leather stripes has been a common sight on sports courts, football terraces and the feet of many a style tribe. Look out for the classics, or for something a little more unique, check out what the archive-inspired Spezial line has to offer.
Puma is so good at making suede sneakers that its most iconic footwear silhouette is simply called the ‘Suede Classic’. But don’t be fooled, that doesn’t mean the brand’s other furry styles aren’t just as worthy of your hard earned.
There’s the sporty, retro goodness of the Roma, the sleek styling of the Basket Classic and the track-and-field-ready Easy Rider. All are solid suede choices from one of the biggest names in sportswear. What more could you want?
Nobody is about to argue that £300 isn’t a ludicrous amount of money to drop on a pair of sneakers. Still, if you were planning on skipping a few meals in order to do just that, a pair of Common Projects would serve as some pretty good motivation as to why you should.
The American-Italian footwear brand is best-known for its buttery calfskin leather, but suede variations of its minimal sneakers are every bit as appealing. If you were looking for a suede sneaker that does it all and then some, you just found it.
When it comes to footwear design, Nike’s focus on pushing the envelope has meant that it’s much more common to see sneakers made from woven recycled goat hair. Nevertheless, suede sneakers from the brand do exist, and they are worth parting with your cash for.
For classic retro styling, look to models such as the Blazer or the Bruin. Or, for something a little more modern, check out premium versions of some of the brand’s Air Max models, which often feature an all-out suede construction.
No one makes suede running shoes quite like New Balance. Loved by European cool kids and North American dads alike, the Boston-based firm’s ultra-comfortable suede sneakers have mass appeal for good reason.
For the highest-quality options, look for the ‘Made in the UK/USA’ styles. Yes, they’ll set you back a little bit more than the mainline versions, but you’ll ultimately be getting something that’ll work better and last longer. Better value in the long run.
Converse has always been a name synonymous with canvas footwear, but with advancements in footwear technology in the 1960s, the brand was forced to up its game and introduce something new to the game.
This resulted in the One Star, a simple suede sneaker with a low-top design that quickly became a hit on basketball courts and, later down the line, skateparks. It’s the only shoe from the American brand that was exclusively made from suede and continues to be a stylish, reliable and wallet-friendly option to this day.
Take one former Supreme creative director, a hint of beachy styling, a dash of minimalism and strain it all through a skate-culture shaped colander and what do you get? Well, something that tastes a lot like Aprix.
This relatively new footwear brand works exclusively in brightly coloured suede, and we defy anyone to be in anything other than a fantastic mood when they’re wearing a pair. If not because of the vibrant colours, then just due to the instant style points earned.
Californian skate brand Vans knows better than most the practical advantages of suede construction. The material has long been used by the label to provide skateboarders with increased durability and better grip when performing tricks.
That’s the practical side of it, anyway, but it also looks good. For proof, just look to the likes of the Sk8 Hi or the Old Skool, both of which perfectly illustrate Vans’ knack for making suede sneakers that can stand the test of time.
Golden Goose has done the impossible. That is, create a highly successful brand around the concept of selling shoes that look like they’ve already run 10 marathons, for 10 times the price of a regular sneaker.
Still, there’s just something about them. We know it’s ridiculous, but also, we kind of want a pair. Hey, if you can afford it then why not?