Can you spot a quality shoe? What goes through the decision making process when purchasing a shoe? Is it the feel? price? fit? Having worked at Men’s Wearhouse and sold shoes to numerous customers, I can tell you first hand that quality may be an after thought believe or not for most guys. Usually the decision is made first by price, then the best looking one in their price range and then hopefully it fits. Speaking truthfully, as the wardrobe consultant selling the shoes, I didn’t know much about quality either, I learned all about leather and shoe construction after I left MW. Those are the two things I look at when looking at the quality of a shoe. Those two will inevitably determine the look and comfort of the shoe and price is the last thing I look at. Many have associated price with quality but that’s not simply the case. There are other things worth considering that can speak to the quality and longevity of a shoe. I’ll be using one of my favorite brands, Beckett Simonon in this illustration.
First thing I look at is the upper of the shoe. This is the part that wraps around your foot consisting of the tos, vamp, tongue and back. Typically when it comes to dress shoes, leather is used. Let’s take a quick trip down the rabbit hole of the leather world.
This is an area that alot of people have no knowledge about, or at best, confusing. I also get confused with the terminology since so many people use it interchangably, here’s my attempt to simplify the different types.
This is the outer part of the hide that hasn’t been processed yet, it still has its natural look free from blemishes and scars. This tend to be the thickest and toughest part of the hide since it is exposed to the elements. What makes it so tough is the collection of collagen that the body naturally produces. Along with the many benefits of the collagen protein, it gives the skin flexibility while also healing wounds and create new cell tissues. Being the less processed and most natural part of the hide, it can be very expensive to manufacture and is reserved to high quality products. Just as your skin may have marking over the course of your life, so does full grain. As much as some tanneries may try to avoid it, others embrace it because a “natural” look as imperfections. This is the type of leather that creates a beautiful patina over time .
This is pretty full grain that has been buffed or sanded down to remove all imperfections, scars, blemishes and to give the leather and even look. As you can imagine with the top layer being heavily processed, it doesn’t have the strength of a full grain but can still be durable. It gives it a soft and sleek look can best be seen on products like jackets.
Probably the most common and what folks are most familiar with due to branding and marketing from well known companies. There is a misconception that “genuine” leather is the best kind because it has that word in it but in reality it is the least of the five leathers in terms of quality. Found on the bottom part of the hide, closet to the flesh, it isn’t as durable as the other two. It is cheaply made and cheaply priced and can be found easily at your local department stores. Some have even overcharged for this type leather because of the misleading name and the lack of knowledge of the general public.
Suede and Nubuck
Similar in nature the feel of them is what separates the two. Both have been processed but what differentiates them is where they have been buffed/sanded. For the suede it has been buffed on interior of the hyde creating these naps/hairs on the exterior giving it a very soft velvety feel. Nubuck is the opposite, sanded on the exterior which also produced naps/hair but not as long as suede. They both look alike but the Nubuck has a much rougher feel than suede. Nubuck is much more durable than suede since it is the exterior of the hide that has been treated and you can usually find these on construction boots that can withstand the harsh elements of the environments they are made for. Suede on the other hand can be seen on casual and more dressier type of shoe.
Attachment of The Outsole
This is the second part I look at in term of quality and a very important part. This is were the longevity of the shoe is determined, is it going to be a shoe you were once or twice or will it last a generation? Let's look at the 3 different types starting with the least.
Pick up your nearest casual shoe, boat shoe, gym shoes and there is a high probability that the outsole has been "cemented" to the upper. Cementing is gluing in a nutshell. Probably better for the aforementioned type shoes of shoes but as far as dress shoes STAY. AWAY. This type of attachment doesn't last long as it can easily be detached and when that happens it isn’t resolable. It has a lifetime that is short and can't stand the test of time. Think of how easily worn out your gym shoes can be, do you want that for your dress shoes?
Blake Stitch Construction
The other type of attachment is the Blake Stitch. With the Blake Stitch, the upper is stitched through the inside of the shoe to the outsole. With the upper wrapped around the insole, a machine stitches threads to the outsole to it. This is what you’ll find on alot of dress shoes, the main advantage is that it can be easily resoleable and the break in period are usually minimal, a much better construction than cementing but it does have its flaws. As it is, having a single stitch, water can seep through causing damage over time and as you can imagine when it is being resoled, new holes are being punching in making it less water resistant to the existing holes. Having a shoe with a Blake Stitch is still a worth investment, all of my dress shoes have a blake stitch and I haven’t had any complaints.
Good Year Welt Construction
Unlike the Blake Stitch, the main the difference is the upper has been attached to the outsole on the outside through the welt. Arguably most durable of the three, it can be stitched by machine or by hand so it is more time consuming and expensive with the labor cost being reflected in the price of the shoe. Multiple stitching is used to attach the upper to the welt then the welt to the outsole. Break in period is a little bit longer than the Blake Stitch. Almost opposite to the Blake Stitch, the Good Year Welt with it’s multiple stitching makes the shoe more water resistant and is easier to resole.
I learned about quality through trial and error. “Buy cheap, buy twice” is a saying that is prevalent in my household and has proven to be true over time. I like to save money and the idea of “buying twice” or more doesn’t sit well with me, so why not save up the cash and invest in a quality product that may even outlast me. That’s not to say quality = expensive, take Beckett Simmon for example, quality shoes at a fair price. But you should make your dollar stretch and get more bang for your buck. A little research can save your pockets.
BTW to shop these Hoyt Double Monks Straps click the link below