Patent shoes never fail to grab attention, something about the sleek wet look that make people want to look again. It’s quite amazing how this technology for making patent leather has evolved and become cheaper over time that they have become readily available across the deck. In the last week it has come up in my line of business with clients that I thought, maybe people need to know a few things about them. They embody the phrase, “things are not always what they seem” so well; it’s worth another look before you delve in to your pocket to buy one.
I have been asked continually if Patent is leather and the answer is simply yes; a good patent shoes gets its base material from leather. The process for making patent leather is the same as used for other fine leather but finished differently. It used to be sprayed on to the finished surface previously until air pollution concerns meant the use of a more hygienic and earth friendly method was sort. Today the base material is finished with a mixture of two chemicals; Polyurethane and Acrylic to give leather or any base material that glossy look.
Due to this external coating, it becomes difficult to tell to the naked eye what the leather underneath looks like (It is common to come across fake “patent leather” which is made fabric with similar plastic finish or coating). A good patent shoe should not crack, scuff easily or be tacky. The base leather is usually Hyde or Kid, the later provides the base for the softer version of patent leathers.
Styling Patent shoes
Where exactly can one wear patent shoes to? The answer to that question will be different things to different people but there are a few common threads. Patent shoes are also referred to as “dress shoes” which suggests they are only suitable for dress events but that is not always the case. They can also be used to complete a club outfit or a night out; it pays the outfit the right amount of compliment for such an occasion. I hear a few asking if it would work for a day at the office and my first answer is a firm NO. I know like everything in life there are a few exceptions but a rule of thumb to follow would be to restrict the wearing of them to events and outings.
Cheap Patent or THE REAL DEAL
One question I get asked soon as I explain the mechanics of making patent leather and how to wear them is, “do I need to shell out so much for a pair?” Very valid question if you consider the following; you wear them mostly at night, very hard to tell them apart from the looks and they don’t get much wear. Consider getting underwear which you would choose just because people can’t tell what you got under there, if you don’t then you have answered the question. I might side with you on a cheap pair if you are going clubbing and just need a pair to slip into for the night not knowing where the day will find you. Sometimes you want to dance the night away without a care in the world (or certainly not having to worry about someone spilling bubbly on your shoes, no matter how expensive the bottle).
The problem with the cheap or badly made patent will be seen before long as that coating on top begins to separate from the layer underneath and starts cutting up badly. In some cases you see a thin acrylic layer peeling away from the base material (I am very careful not to use the word leather to describe the base material as some are clearly not). Also worthy to note that the fact the base is leather does not necessarily mean its good quality. From the description of how Patent is made, it becomes clear that leather that has imperfection or cracks can be given the Patent treatment to cover this up. What happens naturally is that the shoes cracks and breaks up along the fault lines that where so beautifully masked at production.
It is very important to mention that most designer factories don’t make patent leather, they buy from specialist factories. I once asked a representative from a famous brand how patent leather is made and he couldn’t answer even though he was from production. They rely on the leather manufacturers to provide them with good quality patent. The top designers pay a premium to purchase good quality patent and to also have them put through proper quality control tests to see how they wear.
It is almost always impossible to tell good quality patent, but you can tell a good brand and take it from there. Next week I will present the second part to this article and will discuss care for your patent leather among other things.