“Why would a man pay between $300 and $500 for a pair of shoes?”
According to the English shoemaker John Wildsmith:
“You are either in your bed or in your shoes. So it pays to invest in both.”
Intuitively, you understand it makes good fashion sense to invest in high-quality footwear. In reality, it’s tough parting with hundreds of dollars without a guarantee of what you’ll receive in return. Relax, we’ve got your back with this quick guide to identifying quality in men’s dress shoes.
The materials, construction methods, and individual elements of a pair of shoes are indicators of how much wearable use you’ll get for your investment. Top shelf standards for men’s dress shoes are those made from full-grain leather or shell cordovan with one back seam and soles that are Goodyear or hand welded. Shoes can be machine manufactured or bench made. Let’s take a closer look at some key factors.
Full grain leather is manufactured from minimally treated cowhide and may contain surface imperfections; high-end shoes are made from the best sections of hide. Natural grain leather has a rich patina, a buttery hand, and a heady aroma you’ll recognize immediately. It breathes so your feet stay more comfortable, repels moisture to keep your feet dry, and ages well so you’ll still be wearing and enjoying your shoes for years to come.
Shell cordovan leather is made from the hide of horse rumps and offers several advantages over cowhide for shoe manufacturing. On the plus side of the ledger, it wears better and is more water and crease resistance. On the minus side, it is rarer than full grain leather so it is more costly. Shoes made from shell cordovan leather typically cost more than those made from full grain leather but as they will last longer, the cost per wear is less.
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Corrected leather looks and feels like plastic; it may smell like chemicals. Full grain leather and shell cordovan leather are supple and with proper care, resist wrinkles and cracks. The harsh chemicals used to manufacture corrected leather cause it to crease, wrinkle and crack with wear.
Welding vs Adhesive Construction
Welding: the welt is the strip of leather you see sewn around the shoe bottom. The welt seam attaches the insole to the upper, and then the welt is sewn to the outer sole. Goodyear welding or hand welding is the gold standard for men’s shoes.
A less labor-intense method is used in Blake stitched shoes. These shoes are quality footwear but the construction method makes them less durable and waterproof. The advantage is they are lighter whereas shoes made with Goodyear welding are heavier. In general, you can tell a lot about a shoe’s quality by examining the stitching used in its construction. But, your final choice may be predicated on fit and feel as much as quality manufacturing methods.
Adhesive construction: This technique refers to shoes with glued or cemented outsoles. While this is an effective construction technique for shoes with rubber outsoles, it is not the recommended method for dress shoes because it shortens the life of the shoe.
Welded shoes can be resoled, which extends the wearable life of the shoe and gives you a lower cost per wear. Shoes with cemented soles cannot, thus costing more per wear over the life of the shoes.
Outsoles and Insoles
Look for shoes with a minimum of 0.25″ leather outsoles. Ask the salesperson if the soles are attached by welding or gluing. Regardless of cost, if a shoe pinches or hurts your foot, you aren’t going to enjoy wearing it. Quality dress shoes have a shock absorbing material, such as a cork footbed, between the insole and outsole to increase comfort levels.
Dress Shoe Lifespans
Quality dress shoes can last for decades with regular maintenance and refurbishing. Maintenance is simple and includes cleaning and shining, storing them with shoe trees inserted, and rotating their wear with other pairs of shoes.
Cobblers and shoe repairers can refurbish shoes with:
- New soles and heels
- New welding and footbeds
- Leather conditioning and polishing
There you have it – a basic guide to quickly decide whether a pair of shoes is worth the investment. While there are many more elements of shoe construction such as lasts and broguing that we have not touched on, our purpose here is to teach you how to spot quality regarding men’s dress shoes. Manufacturing elements such as the materials, the construction techniques, and the finishing details mean the difference between a pair of shoes that last for a season or two and must have men’s shoes you’ll wear for decades.