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Figuring out the difference between alligator and crocodile shoes takes a little bit of detective work. At first glance, their skins look just alike. A little more nosing about will result in some surprises as you see unique patterns that tell exactly which animal you're wearing. If you're laying down some significant bucks for genuine reptile leather shoes, it's best to know exactly what you're buying. Otherwise, you could be stuck with some funky shoes, and we're not talking about the smell.
Alligator Skin Characteristics
If a shoe is made from genuine alligator, you can look for a pattern attribute shaped like a splattered star. That's the alligator's umbilical scar, and it's standard on every alligator skin. Alligator skins also have series of bumpy ridges that fall in a pattern of 2-2-2, according to Vintage Skins, a vintage skin purse consignment shop. Alligator skin is also soft and flexible, especially in the tummy area. If a shoe seems stiff and tough to the touch, with scales that don't fold so easily, it's probably not alligator or crocodile. Instead, it may be their cheaper cousin, caiman.
Croc skins have one good tell, if you're okay with looking at the leather very closely. Vintage Skins points out that each scale grows a sensory hair called an "integumentary sensory organ" that grows out of a single pore. This is a dead giveaway for croc skin. Look at the head horns, if evident. A crocodile will show four humps in a row, followed by a grouping of two. Crocodile leather also shows a more softly graded transition from the top body skin to the belly skin, with large scales that fade into smaller ones. Alligator scales exhibit a more abrupt change in shape, with a rounded look that switches to square in a small space.
Sometimes, manufacturers slip another skin into the mix to save money. If you're in the market for a real pair of alligator or crocodile shoes, watch out for caiman-skin products masquerading as the real deal. Caiman skin isn't nearly as soft as crocodile and alligator, and it doesn't take dye as well. If the bright red heels you just bought seem to be fading away to pale pink, blame it on caiman skin and the jerk who sold you bad shoes in the first place.
Crocodile and Alligator Tips
Alligator and crocodile qualify as exotic leathers, so expect to spend well to get a quality product. Once those pretty shoes are in your hands, take care of them by giving them a quick wipe-down with a damp cloth on occasion, followed by a very small bit of spray-on furniture polish. Yes, you read right. Rub the polish in with a light buffing and your shoes will look marvelous for a long time to come. Word to the wise: Skip conventional leather shoe products, because those will actually hurt your lovelies in the long run. Play it safe and stick with lemon furniture polish instead.