This very human relationship with shoes is a strange phenomenon that is subject to a lot of contemplation by neophytes and experts alike. Even sociologists have tried to understand why shoes hold such a strong intrigue for so many people.
Some men have an extreme devotion to understanding even the slightest nuance about the quality and appearance of bespoke versus high-end handmade or bench-made ready-to-wear shoes. But other men really don’t know what to look for when buying a pair of shoes, other than trusting their intuition about how the shoes look on their feet, and deciding whether the pair is affordable, or not.
Here is a list of 4 things to look out for in a shoe as a man....
1.IS THE QUALITY OF THE LEATHER ACCEPTABLE?
This is a particularly difficult subject to address, and only with experience can one discern excellent leather quality from good leather quality.
Since everyone has to start somewhere in order to master a subject, we will try a first-attempt to tackle the topic of leather quality in shoes.
Put plainly, big companies (e.g., John Lobb of the Hermès Group) have the most money to purchase the highest quality of leather. It is that simple. A handful of companies are thus able to buy large quantities of choice leather in bulk, to the extent that an industry-wide shortage of such leather can result.
This can cause a problem for many talented shoemakers who want to practice their trade and build their businesses. Not being able to access “better leather”, puts a number of gifted shoemakers in a position of searching for clever ways to provide well made shoes with great raw materials.
While a consumer cannot determine a specific leather quality simply by looking at a shoe, there are some visual cues that can help guide a buying decision.
A. Practice tuning your eye to what quality leather looks like, and what it does not look like by reviewing a leather grading system.
B. Understand that leather is taken from different parts of the hide and some parts of the hide render a nicer appearance than other parts of the hide.
C. Notice the thickness of the leather. Thicker leathers may hold their form better, but are at times dense and less flexible.
D. Pay attention to the color consistency of a new shoe as a cue to leather quality. If a shoe has a patina, analyzing color variations is useless.
E. Does the outer part of the shoe appear to have a surface chemical treatment, indicated by stiffness or an unnatural sheen? Look for shoes that do not have a surface treatment to hide flaws.
F. Remember that whole-cut shoes are beautiful but are the most difficult to make. Whole-cut shoes have a full unbroken canvass that reveals each wrinkle and crease occurring on the shoe, while conversely, toe-caps / brogues show fewer wrinkles, since smaller pieces of leather comprise the total shoe, which leaves less surface area to be stressed and challenged.
New shoes can feel tight and rub at the toes and the back of the heels, causing blisters and pain…until at last, the feet and the shoes find a place of conformity and comfort. Many quality shoes, custom and ready-to-wear alike, require a notoriously painful “break-in” period.
At times, custom shoes can be paradoxically difficult to break in, if the leather is especially thick or if shoes are made from strong hide cuts that are initially resistant to relaxing. Custom shoes also hug the feet closely for a more defined aesthetic look, which most of the time leaves practically no extra pockets-of-space for the feet.
This phenomenon of an expected break-in time may not be true for bespoke shoes crafted by Master boot makers specializing in orthopedics, such as Anthony Delos at Berluti or Dimitri Gomez.
Ready-to-wear shoes have been known to take less time to break in, since weaker leather may be used and because the shoes are generally roomier in order to deliver a more universal sizing scale for each specific shoe size.
Thus, while custom shoes are much more rewarding in the long run, ready-to-wear shoes have their advantages when time, money, and more immediate comfort is important. Yet, according to Paolo Scafora of the Neapolitan eponymous brand, most quality shoes require at least 24 full hours of wear before full comfort is experienced.
How to Evaluate Comfort in a Shoe?A. Make sure you bring the correct pair of socks to wear with the shoes you try on, so you can correctly evaluate the fit. After you try on the shoes, don’t take them off for another 10 – 15 minutes in order to identify potential pressure points. As many of us have learned the hard way, rushing into a buying decision without evaluating comfort is a mistake.
B. During the try-on, note where the pressure points are on the shoe and decide if the pain threshold is reasonable enough for a decent break-in time of around 20 wears or less. As you gain more experience in buying shoes, you will become more intuitive in knowing which shoes will break-in within a reasonable time, and which will not. Hopefully, if you are sized correctly, you will be lucky enough to have few, if any problems.
3. DOES THE SHOE HAVE AN OUTSTANDING APPEARANCE/DESIGN?
The entire shoe “last” (overall mold/shape of the shoe) is easier to analyze when you look at specific parts of the shoe.Noticing the toe shape, lace or buckle closure, and the waist of the shoe is a great way to analyze which designs you prefer:
A. The toe shape is a defining factor that differentiates one shoe from the other. Do you prefer the elegant country-side look of a rounded toe on a Weston, or the sophisticated eagle-claw toe of a Corthay shoe?
Before getting into the subject of toe-shape, we would like to plead with all men to avoid shoes with toes that point skyward. Nothing says “cheap” louder than this look.That point aside, if you recognize a few toe styles that you like, then selecting a pair of shoes becomes easier.
B. Lace/Buckle Closure – Bespoke shoes typically have a complete lace closure, with no gaps in the leather sections where the laces meet–thus, almost fully hiding the tongue of the shoe.
C. The Waist – One of the most fascinating areas to examine on a pair of shoes is the shoe waist. Most shoe aficionados are sure to be knowledgeable about this finer point of shoe design.
The beveled waist is something that RTW(Ready To Wear) manufacturers have only recently been able to do well, since the machine created to create a defined waist is a recent invention. Even without the bevel, RTW companies are focusing more and more on cutting the waist further inward, and closer to the leather.
Generally speaking, the deeper the waist cut, the more sophisticated the shoe—although some men prefer the look and feel of the straighter waist cut.
4. IS THE SHOE WELL-CRAFTED?
A. Note how the sole is attached to the upper part of the shoe.
B. Is the shoe constructed with adequate arch support for your foot? Feel inside the shoe and assess whether there is enough arch support for your foot. A quick subjective review is well worth the few seconds it takes to evaluate whether there is enough arch support in the shoe, or not.
C. Are there any faults to the shoe like mis-sewn areas that create creases or bumps that may aggravate the foot? Run your fingers inside the shoe and check for any obvious faults.
D. Are there any apparent visual flaws to the shoe? Look for scratches, dents and bumps that should not be present.
One article can never do the subject of men’s shoes the justice it deserves, but hopefully this information is a good start for newcomers who want to have a better idea of what they are buying before making a financial commitment.
We welcome any other tips from well-versed readers that may help those who are just learning about men’s shoe design and quality.