What Are Shoes Really Made Of?

Considering the fact that most of us wear shoes every single day, you might find it strange to realize that you have absolutely no idea what they are actually made of.

Sure, you’re probably fairly certain that there is some amount of rubber in there somewhere, but beyond that, do you have any idea what actually comes together to create these useful tools that we rely on daily?

It is easy to take for granted the wonder that is shoes because they have been around for literal ages, but believe it or not a lot of things really do go into making your favorite pair of Nike’s, and not every pair of stylish heels is composed from the same materials either.

shoes that are made of cotton

In fact, the different kinds of shoes that exist are mostly composed of different materials based off of their function and pricing. Now, you might be wondering why you should even care about what kind of materials make up your shoes.

They serve a purpose, so who really cares what they are made out of, right? Well, if you want to preserve your shoes or understand the dynamics of what materials are beneficial for certain purposes so you can get shoes that serve a specific use, knowing what makes up your shoes might just change the way that you buy them.

What is a sneaker really?

If you have ever owned more than one pair of sneakers, and we are assuming that you have, than you know that the way that they are designed really does matter.

Different shoes don’t only look different, but they feel different in a way that can impact your experience as well as your performance. When it comes to designing sneakers, textiles are a key component.

The most commonly used textiles are cotton, polyester, and nylon, and these different materials can change everything from how well a shoe breathes to what kind of support it gives. These design choices in a sneaker can be the difference between having shoes that keep your feet cool when you run and have them overheating after a gym session.

shoes made of leather standing on tracks

In addition to textiles, sneakers also rely heavily on rubber and foam. Rubber is commonly used for outsoles on shoes, and is often largely responsible for providing the grip and boosts that athletes look for in their shoes.

Foam in a shoe is used to provide arch support and can determine how comfortable a shoe is or how well it will protect your foot during certain kinds of exercise. 

What makes fancy dress shoes?

When it comes to buying a dapper pair of dress shoes to prepare for an interview, the most common material to use is leather. Leather is an amazing material because in addition to looking fancy as heck, the process of creating shoes with it is exceptionally artistic.

This is why a common differentiator in leather shoes is the patterns in place on them. Beyond merely looking nice, leather is exceptionally durable despite being a fairly flexible material.

This makes it possible for leather shoes to be sculpted in interesting ways while also allowing the shoes to break into the individual wearing them in a way that helps the shoes to actually conform to the wearer’s feet.

shoes that are made of leather

This makes leather shoes become more comfortable over time, and also leads to a better fit. As far as outsoles go, dress shoes have a tendency to have either traditional rubber in neutral colors or an alternate leather option.

While rubber is more traditional for the average person, leather outsoles have been increasing in popularity, particularly in high end shoes. Since leather is more expensive than rubber and leather outsoles must be treated in a way that accommodates the strain of being on the bottom of a shoe, it’s easy to see why we have an alternative.

What makes a good pair of heels?

A good pair of heels can range in materials based off of the price and design. A high end pair of heels is generally made of leather, which makes them more durable, but also more prone to being misshaped in the event that they are not stored correctly.

A more reasonable and less intense pair of heels might rely on synthetic materials or leather and synthetic materials collectively. This can impact the way that the shoes feel, how they regulate temperature, and how badly your feet might smell after a hot day in them.

heels made of glitter

For soles, most pairs of heels rely on a minimal rubber sole since the general design of heels is built around a smaller surface area on the bottom.

Some heels use leather finishes, though this can be risky depending on how the material itself is treated and could increase the likelihood of slipping, which is obviously not at all preferable when you are already struggling to stay upright in the shoes in the first place.


The materials that your shoes are made of can determine a lot about how long they will last and what kind of material that they require. This is why it is always beneficial to look at the tags of the products so that you know that you are getting something worth your money that will suit your needs.

Within the shoe industry, utilizing synthetics to sub in for more expensive shoe materials is a common approach to making more affordable shoes.

Synthetic materials also offer a wide array of color and customization options, which can make it easier to get unique looking designs without necessarily hiking the price up in a way that will drastically limit who can actually own them.

vans shoes made of black suede standing on tracks

Since the synthetic material does tend to breakdown more quickly than some of the textile and leather materials, it is important to know that these shoes will not be in it for the long haul without some serious effort and consideration when wearing them.

For plenty of people it is still a more reasonable option to buy multiple synthetic pairs than a couple of high end ones, particularly when you factor in the range of shoe options available from a synthetic design perspective.

The moral of the story here is that all shoes are made a little differently, but knowing what your shoes are made of can help you to make informed purchasing decisions as well as help you to extend the life of your products through routine maintenance, so read the tags or else.

For another great read look at Is Wearing Shoes Without Socks Bad?.