Nubuck Versus Suede: How Do They Compare?

Nubuck Versus Suede
Nubuck (left) and Suede (right).
Photography Courtesy of Moore and Giles

When seeking a leather with a soft and velvety feel, your search will likely lead you to nubuck and suede. Knowing that they each feature a similar smooth finish, it is interesting to study how the two leathers match up. In order to understand what sets suede and nubuck apart, the information below highlights their history and how they are made.

History

Nubuck’s first foray onto the scene can be traced back to the early 1930’s. Made mostly from the buckskin of deer or elk, the finish grew in popularity and began making appearances across men’s fashion and footwear.Suede, on the other hand, emerged when new chemicals and processes were introduced to tanning procedures after the Industrial Revolution. It quickly rose to recognition and became a fashion trend featured heavily in high-end apparel.

How are they made?

The process of creating nubuck involves the sanding or buffing of the outer layer, or grain side, of the hide, which lends the leather added strength and durability. Nubuck is primarily made from cowhides and calfskins, but can also be processed from goat, lamb, or deer skins. Available in a variety of aesthetics as enabled by dyeing and embossing, nubuck has a fine pile and is noted for its sensitivity to stains and soiling.

Suede is made after the leather is split and the upper grain is removed to reveal the napped, fuzzy underside of the hide. Sourced from this soft inner layer, the suede is then sanded, buffed, and brushed. Suede is commonly made out of the hides of lamb, goats, pigs, calf, and deer. Offering a naturally smooth surface with a fuzzy feel and greater flexibility, suede’s fibers can be coarse as well as porous. As a result, suede is less water-resistant, and liquids can pass through easily.

How do they compare?

Durability is a determining factor in differentiating between nubuck and suede. While nubuck is known for its toughness and strength, suede is distinguished by its delicacy and pliability. Thus, nubuck is best used when looking for long-lasting quality, while suede is more suitable for applications that require more material flexibility. Both nubuck and suede are susceptible to damage without proper proofing. Whereas nubuck’s rough surface is particularly prone to soiling, suede’s porosity makes it much less resistant to water stains. Nubuck also has an inherent propensity for displaying any natural imperfections that the hide had on it before processing. However, manufacturers have adopted the helpful habit of dyeing the fabric as a way to conceal these blemishes.

As discussed above, the disparities between nubuck and suede are a result of the part of the hide that is used, and the processing methods applied to each. For the uninitiated, having an understanding of the advantages of different types of leather is imperative. Nubuck and suede are no exception to this rule.

Sources

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