Breaking Fashion Rules: Patent Leather and Suede

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Dear Allie,
I see you wearing your black patent leather Mary Janes all winter long – I was told that patent leather is a material that should only be worn in warmer months. I am from New England, maybe the rule is different in the South?
Hi Allie,
I am seeing lots of suede sandals, and I have several pairs of suede pumps, including peep toe. Is suede in summer OK? (I live in Florida, btw.) It always seems like a “winter” material to me, but maybe I'm wrong.

Ah, yet another situation where I believe rules are often meant to be broken!

When rules like these (and the ones about navy or brown pairing with black) were created, fashion was far more black and white. Trends were far more specific, there were fewer options available for purchase, and fewer True Fashionistas who pushed boundaries and changed the rules for the rest of us.

Patent Leather

Unlike what many fashion Websites and bloggers state, it was NEVER considered a material specific to fall and winter. The original fashion rule was that unless you were under six years of age, patent leather was only to be worn from Easter to Labor Day.

patent leather winter

Women who wear patent leather in winter: Keira Knightley, Michelle Obama, and Mary-Kate Olsen

Via {here} and {here} and {here}

These days, patent leather shoes come in a variety of styles, many far more appropriate for the winter months. With patent leather, the style more than the fabric dictates whether the shoes is seasonally appropriate. I have a pair of black patent peeptoes that will not see the light of day until Spring, yet I wear my black patent Mary Janes with a dark red chunky heel almost weekly during the colder months. The difference is that the Mary Janes have a wintry feel with the heavy heel in a dark color and the closed toe.

Mary Janes are the perfect cold-weather patent shoe. In black they are a fun option for dresses and tights, and a dark color like plum or Bordeaux will add a much-needed pop of color on a dreary December day. Patent leather booties can add dimension to a monochromatic pants ensemble, and croco-embossed patent heeled loafers are a great contrast to tweed and heavier fabrics.

Pairing patent leather shoes with opaque hose continues the wintry feel and makes the shoe even more seasonally appropriate. This does not mean you can “winterize” any patent shoe with a pair of heavy tights – consider the silhouette first, then accessorize. A rule of thumb – if there is the opportunity for a lot of exposed foot (slingbacks, peeptoes, strappy, etc.), the shoe would probably look more appropriate come spring.


Suede was another fabric that collected dust in the back of the closet until the Tuesday after Labor Day. However the past decade has turned this rule on its head. Suede these days has become a big player in Spring runway collections and now the appearance of suede in stores usually means that spring is right around the corner.

Patent Leather and Suede featured by popular DC petite fashion blogger, Wardrobe Oxygen
Women rocking suede in summer: Kate Moss, Kate Hudson, Blake Lively
via {here} and {here} and {here}

The way to make suede look appropriate for summer months is to look to the designers who have made is warm-weather appropriate. They haven’t used suede willy-nilly, but have been very specific with the use.

For suede to look appropriate in summer, it needs to feel light. Colors like tan, beige, and light gray; strappy open styles that expose a lot of skin; lightweight suedes that drape on the body and are truly comfortable and wearable in warmer months.

I have a pair of nude suede platform peeptoes that I can’t wait to wear come spring – they are the perfect shoe for brightly colored sundresses, and look great with denim. I used to have a tan suede “denim” jacket that was my favorite spring coat – it was soft, lightweight, and looked great over dresses or paired with casual jeans.

This doesn’t mean all suede looks great for warmer months – again it’s about making it look seasonally appropriate. A pair of black suede boots or brown suede platform pumps would look terribly out of place when paired with bare legs and breezy cotton dresses – keep the silhouette appropriate to the season and the fabric will usually work as well.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Question – for a classic pump style like Jimmy Choo Lancer 85 – would you go with patent or suede? I keep debating between the two and I can’t make up my mind.

    1. What color are you thinking, a color close to your skintone, a metallic, or a color/black? If your skintone or a metallic, I’d go with patent; if a color I’d do suede. Though honestly either would work. Patent can look dressy more easily, but because of that can look too dressy for some looks when in black or a color. Suede can look too casual and summery when in nude-to-you colors.

  2. I am debating between buying patent lace up (kind of platform) boots or the traditional leather lace up boots. Mostly I will be wearing these to school. I was thinking that most people in my school already have the traditional leather, so it is less unique and maybe aging as well? I’d like some opinions… thanks.

    1. The patent sound fun, but a bit more trendy. If you’re looking for something that will be stylish for more years the leather may be a better choice. However, if the patent really speaks to you and works with your wardrobe they may be a better bet. One of the most worn pairs of shoes in my closet are silver snakeskin boots. They’re almost five years old and still look amazing with almost anything I put them with. I wouldn’t worry about your boots aging you; if they complement your wardrobe, whatever your aesthetic, they are a good choice. If you’re choosing shoes to look youthful often times they will have the opposite effect. Choose what makes you say YESSSSS when you put them on, and they’ll be the best choice!

  3. Hi I have a formal night event.
    I am wearing an Adrianna Papell Lace And And Chiffon Long sleeve Blouson dress.
    I wanted to wear some contrasting color shoes as red but after looking around a lot, I found black is the most elegant bet. so I am choosing among these (see pictures)… I think since the dress has so much fabric I need light (not to strappy or covered) shoes.
    But I also want to get shoes I know I´ll be wearing a lot more and was wondering if black nubuck is just for the night or if the look ok let’s say for an evening tea party or similar. What do you think?
    I was planning to wear it with really sheer black stockings but i guess it´s too much black but I have t figure that out that day.
    PS. I am currently a size 12 so I don’t wanna look like I have too much stuff on.
    I plan to wear yellow and white topaz dangle earrings (similar to the ones in the picture) and ring… no necklace or, if I do, it would be a thin one.

  4. Thanks for this confirmation! Being from the South, and a (ahem!) “woman of certain age”, I’ve always abided by the patent/suede season “rules”…until the past several years. A friend has chided me about carrying a black purse during the summer- I say, whatever looks good/makes you happy!

  5. Curious Sandy • an hour ago −
    What is etiquette on patent leather purse, i.e, red or aqua
    Michael Kohrs after labor day? What is etiquette on red leather purse
    during fall and winter?

  6. What is etiquette on patent leather purse, i.e, red or aqua
    Michael Kohrs after labor day? What is etiquette on red leather purse
    during fall and winter?

    1. Red and aqua are great colors year-round and patent leather is no longer reserved to summer. If you like the bag, wear it! The only things that make a bag very summer is canvas, linen, wicker, straw… that sort of thing 🙂

  7. Thank you! I have a pair of black patent peep toes that I wear around the office and I’ve been feeling weird about them.

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