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What Is Cordovan?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – if your suits are akin to your home, your shoes are akin to your car. We don’t make shoes at the moment, but when we consult with clients, what shoes to wear with which pants is always a discussion topic. “What is cordovan?” is one of the specific questions we answer, so we’d like to discuss it here as well.

What is Cordovan Leather?

double monkstrap in oxblood cordovanWhile most shoe leather comes from cow hide, cordovan is different in that it comes from a horse’s hide. Technically, the real article is referred to as shell cordovan, and it comes from the fibrous flat connective tissue (the “shell”) beneath the hide on a horse’s rump. Its origins are Spanish – the word is a corruption of Córdoba, the Spanish city in which it was first produced in the seventh century.

Cordovan is an extremely strong, durable material. In the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, it was used mostly for razor strops. In more modern times, we use cordovan in all manner of leather goods – shoes, wallets, watch straps, etc.

You’ll sometimes hear the word “cordovan” be used to refer to a reddish-brown color that’s also referred to as oxblood or burgundy. This isn’t necessarily incorrect, but you should be aware that the term technically refers to the material, not the color.

Horse Hide vs. Cow Hide

horse for shell cordovanWhether you invest in good cordovan shoes or good calfskin shoes is akin to a multiple choice test with no wrong answer. Still, there are differences you should be aware of.

cows for shoe leatherPound for pound, cordovan is more expensive than calfskin. This is because it’s more difficult to manufacture and source. With that added expense, however, is added value. It’s very crease-resistant, and for a man who values smooth leather, cordovan can’t be beat. Because it’s made of connective tissue from under the hide instead of the hide itself, cordovan always has a smooth finish. Calfskin can be smooth, but can also have a pebbled finish.

One of the only downsides to cordovan is that it doesn’t take dye particularly well. You’ll only see cordovan leather shoes in black, brown, oxblood/burgundy, and sometimes tan.

Should I Buy Cordovan Shoes?

cordovan leather bluchers in tanIn a word, sure. It’s worth noting that, for any man who’s serious about his footwear, a pair of true shell cordovan shoes is a bit of a “must-have” in his collection.

Cordovan works particularly well if your style veers towards dressy and conservative. A classic navy suit with oxblood cordovan balmorals is a can’t-miss look for nearly any occasion. On the other hand, cordovan can still work for more casual applications, just not anything too casual. A pair of cordovan loafers with dark custom denim and a custom button-down and sport jacket is a great look for going out to a casual dinner or drinks.

With the news of a forthcoming vaccine, these activities should be realistic again soon!

Where To Buy

As far as large brands go, we’re fans of the following:



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