Why Roughout Leather Shoes Make Sense

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Scuffs are an accepted risk with leather shoes, but not all grains need polishing. On icy days when you know your kicks are going to take a beating, consider trading full-grain for roughout leather, suede’s badass cousin. Like denim, a factory staple turned fashion necessity, roughout was built to be tough. Roughout shoes are standard issue in many corners of the military for exactly the same reason they’re becoming increasingly popular among civilians: They walk the line between rugged and refined (and look decent with a pair of chinos).

“Many tanneries remove or ‘split off’ the top grain of the leather side for use in the manufacturing of other goods,” explains Red Wing Shoes Director of Product Development Dave Hill, who helped design the brand’s Iron Ranger boots, which use a single full hide to increase sturdiness. “This leaves only a portion of the leather to be used toward a pair of boots, resulting in less durable upper leather.”

Red Wing is among a few companies that have embraced the roughout trend. Viberg Boot offers the Oxford Navy Latigo, which is based on the sixties-era patterns for industrial safety shoes. Wolverine will soon celebrate its 125th anniversary by releasing a roughout version of its classic 1000 mile boot. Oak Street Bootmakers makes a mean roughout trench. These boots are uniformly tough, but they don’t need a mine or worksite to make sense. They look great with dark denim and acquire an attractive patina as they age.

Roughout buyers just have to be a bit careful. A number of companies use the term interchangeably with suede, which is probably the last thing you want to venture out in when there’s rocksalt on the ground. Fortunately, true roughout leather is easy to spot. It’s heavy and raw to the touch. It looks like it can handle any traditions because it can. [Red Wing Heritage Moc Toe Roughouts, $250: nordstrom.com]

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