Cordovan leather is a staple material of men’s shoemaking and you may wonder what makes cordovan leather so unique that you need to pay a hefty price to buy a pair of shoes.

At first glance, cordovan leather looks like any shoe leather – smooth, richly colored, and elegant in burgundy, black, and brown shades. Often they are confused with Bookbinder leather because of their similar look. Cordovan has some unique characteristics that make it ideal for men’s shoes. It’s also a rarer and more labor-intensive to produce in contrast to regular cowhide. 

What is cordovan leather?

Cordovan leather, also known as shell cordovan, is the name for a leather derived from horsehide’s hindquarters or simply horse’s buttocks. It’s one of the few types of leather that patrons might know simply by its name!

The “shell” part of the name refers to the hide’s hindquarter part once it has been split perpendicularly to remove the grain. The “cordovan” part of the name is derived from Cordoba, where this particular type is made.

Unlike other leather types, the shell is a membrane in the middle of two epidermal layers in the hind portion of a horse’s butt.  The hindquarter portion of the hide used for shell cordovan begins at about 24″ from the tail and extends 24-28″ on either side of the horse. The exact size depends on the particular horse.

What are the unique characteristics of cordovan leather?

Shell cordovan is extraordinarily sturdy. The pores are so thick on the rump of a horse that they are not apparent to the unaided eye. The hide is ordinarily impervious to water (however not impenetrable), so during the rainy days it’s a very good leather wear.

Also, rather than wrinkling, shell cordovan swells. Which means the leather won’t split as much from wrinkling. The swelling safeguards the outside of the leather and the shoe’s general life expectancy. Moreover, shell cordovan ages well overall and builds up an incredibly wonderful patina after some time. 

Cordovan leather is also incredibly tough. While calfskin is very smooth and soft, cordovan is very tough and stiff at first. Imagine the skin above the muscle that is used to run everyday. The skin above that will be tough to support the leg muscle. This tough leather will eventually be broken in and if you take care of it well, the pair of shoes can genuinely last you a lifetime. 

The cordovan itself doesn’t acknowledge color quite well, so it’s generally found in interesting shades of earthy colored, dark, and known as “cordovan” shading, such as dark burgundy or dark brown shading.

Why is cordovan leather so expensive?

The expensive cost of cordovan comes down to the low supply of hides and the appeal for them. Since horses are not raised as regular farm animals to be consumed and since the cost of raising a horse is much higher than other animals, supply for cordovan is little and not mass-produced. Resulting in rare and high-costing cordovan. While making shoes or boots usually, just a little bit of the horsehide can be utilized, and it can’t be parted into layers like regular cowhide. While making a pair of shoes usually one to one and a half cordovan pieces are needed. 

It also doesn’t help that the tanning process alone takes around a half a year, and much handwork is required during the process. Sadly, the tanning secret is not known to many tanneries either. 

Shell cordovan is a genuinely uncommon and one of a kind material, the cost of the leather will fluctuate. However, in general costs around $100 per square foot. The expense is justified considering the variables encompassing its creation.

Cordovan leather shoes are a luxury. With each shoe costing you hundreds of bucks, you might as well consider whether you like them or not. Nonetheless, it is still a significant expansion to your shoe wardrobe. After all, there’s no harm in trying.

Watch my unboxing video for Tricker’s Shell Cordovan Derby Boots

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