8 Ways to Spot Cheap Leather Shoes

Leather is leather, right?

Is there a difference between a $60 pair of leather shoes and a $1000 pair?

Leather Shoes

Yes leather is leather but there are many differences that make up the price.

Hint: It’s not all in the craftsmanship.

I’m going to get to the bottom of things today and let you know how to spot cheap leather shoes and help you avoid getting ripped off.


Step 1: Smell the Inside

Whenever I look for a new pair of high quality leather shoes to purchase, I always smell the inside.

If I smell glue, it’s likely the shoe has been bonded together with glue rather than stitching, which means it is lower quality and going to fall apart faster.

Step 2: Smell the Leather

Leather has a very distinct smell, but that isn’t the end all be all, it’s just another way of knowing it’s real leather instead of synthetic.

What you need to do is smell the leather all over the shoe.

If you can smell leather, it means we are looking at a shoe that’s potentially high quality.

On the other hand, if you smell a fake or synthetic smell, then it’s of lower quality and you should turn the other way asap.

Step 3: Feel the Cushioning

The softer the cushioning, the lower the quality.

Firmness dictates how well the shoe will last and how good it feels on the feet. The softer it is, the quicker it will get damaged.

Basically, you’ll want to feel the cushioning inside the shoe and see how firm it is which is going to dictate quality.

Step 4: Softness and Flexibility

High quality shoes have thick, hard leather which makes it last longer.

Of course this also means it’s going to take longer to break in and may even cause pain and discomfort until that happens (How to Stretch Leather Shoes).

Lower quality leather is softer and can be worn pretty much straight away without hurting.

But that also means it’s going to break down faster and not last as long.

Step 5: Check the Stitching

Can’t see the stitching? Does it mean it’s been bonded with glue?

Not necessarily.

Stitching can be hidden in things called “channels”.

It’s another way of making the shoe more appealing, and it’s mostly found on high end luxury shoes.

So if it’s been stitched together, it’s more high quality than glue bonded.

And if it’s hidden, that’s even better!

But you need to know what you’re looking for when looking at the stitching.

Look for things like:

  • Spacing consistency
  • Tightness (or lack of)
  • Stitching depth (one lower than the other)

Step 6: Hand sewed or machine sewed?

Does hand stitching equate to better quality and workmanship?

No, absolutely not.

You might think hand stitching is going to be of higher quality because there’s more attention to detail, but that is a fallacy.

The 3 things to look for above still apply.

In my opinion, machine stitching is usually better because the spacing consistency is there, the tightness is there and the depth is always going to be the same.

However, this can be difficult to accomplish for one person to hand stitch, so always looks at the quality of the stitching to know how well it’s going to last.

Step 7: Leather Graining

For those who don’t know, leather graining is the quality of the leather.

Full grain leather is THE best. It’s soft to the touch and has not been sanded down by humans.

Basically, the longer the leather has been preserved, the more durable it is.

The next best leather is top-grain. It’s a little more flexible and been sanded down for a finishing coat. This type of leather feels plasticy and less breathable.

Then you have genuine leather, which is some of the worst leather out there. It is the “scraps” of the different leathers mentioned above.

This type of leather has been coated with harsh chemicals to make it look more appealing, but it’s really cheap and nasty and the reason they are only found on cheap shoes (usually less than $100).

That’s why it’s good to smell the leather.

Step 8: Be Cautious of “Handmade”

Many sellers will say their shoes are handmade which makes it seem like it’s of high quality and going to last longer.

However, most people don’t know this but all leather shoes are handmade anyway.

It’s a marketing tactic.

No machine can create a leather shoe from scratch, so there’s always going to be human involvement.

Just because a shoe says it’s handmade, it doesn’t mean it’s better.

All the other rules still apply which is to check everything else I have mentioned in this article.

In Conclusion

These are the key differences you need to keep in mind when figuring out if a leather shoe is high quality or complete waste of money.

Hopefully with these tips, you know whether you’re getting ripped off or a bargain.

I’ll be honest, when I first started buying leather shoes I had no idea what was good or bad.

I thought because it was leather, it was good!

Unfortunately this is not the case and I think I got ripped off a few times.

But now you know what to look for and I hope you make the right decision as you search for the perfect leather shoe for you.

Well that pretty much sums up this article.

I would love to hear what you think. Please leave all your questions and concerns below and I’ll get back to you asap.


12 thoughts on “8 Ways to Spot Cheap Leather Shoes”

  1. Given how quickly even expensive shoes can wear out, it can be difficult … The key is knowing what makes a shoe look cheap in the first place … or add padding to make them more secure, but do you really want to go through all that? Nahhh….i like these tips that you have given i hope they help others too as i already add them to my arsenal for next use.

    • I would rather get quality leather shoes in the first place too, rather than trying to improve cheap shoes which is still going to wear out fast.

  2. Just a few months back I fell a victim to buying a low quality leather shoe all cause I had no idea of these tips to spotting poor quality leather. Now that I do I will never fall a victim of poor quality leather ever again.. I really do appreciate your effort to putting up post that gives very education and vital information.

  3. I have always had the tendency to smell the leather of a shoe (especially boots) whenever I’m shopping for new ones but how do I really know how leather smells like? I’ve always had this imaginary smell inside my head but I’m not really sure if that’s what it really smells like or if that’s how my brain thinks it smells. I don’t know much about leather so I would really love to know more about this. 

    • Good question Stephanie.

      Good quality leather should have a mild smell and be easy on the nose.

      If you smell nothing but chemicals, dyes, glues, paint, rubber, gas, etc, then it’s been through a rigorous process to make it look the part when it definitely is not.

      Hope this answers your question,

  4. I’m somewhat of a shoe buff; my sneakers, loafers, shoes, and sandals are my some  of my most prized possessions. With this, I know the kind of heartache one could get if when spends a lot of money on a shoe and it ends up being of inferior quality or a knockoff of big brands. I’ve gained a trained eye for this and the best way I’ve been able to determine if a shoe is fake is by checking the stitching. 

    • That’s really awesome YMaestro007 and I have to agree with you about checking the stitching.

      That’s not only with leather shoes, that’s also with limited editions and other expensive shoes.

      Good quality stitching always translates to workmanship and attention-to-detail.

  5. Really cool, I had no idea about this, I do like good leather shoes and even though in my country  Colombia we produce high quality leather products, I have always gone for the high brands for shoes, thinking they are higher in quality, so is good to know that there is a way to know if they are or not, This could be a way into finding high quality shoes for a better price and quality than what well known brands offer.

    • Yes Juan, it definitely is a great way to know if your purchase is worth the money or simply a piece of junk.

      Glad you enjoyed this article 🙂

  6. I am happy that I could come across this article as it will save me from spending unnecessary money. I never knew that smell held so much significance in discovering if leather is low quality.

    • I know, but it makes complete sense as leather that has not been through a vigorous process will smell as natural as possible, compared to leather that’s been sprayed with chemicals, been put together with glue and whatnot, which is going to be more hurtful on the nose.


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