So Part I covered some of the basic considerations when it comes to starting a collection of decent shoes. In Part II, I’m going to look at season appropriateness, price considerations, and some good places to buy from.
This is somewhat related to intent of use covered in part I. Some shoe styles are seasonal. For example, you wouldn’t wear fur-lined LL bean duck boots in the middle of summer, and you shouldn’t wear boat shoes in the middle of summer (some people would say you should not wear boat shoes at all but that’s another story). When starting out a new shoe collection, you would probably want to go with the year-rounders. So you’d probably stay away from most wool/fur lined shoes or boots, loafers, and boat shoes. Some other moccasin styles like blucher mocs can be worn all year round, and although a camp moc is sometimes considered more of an autumn shoe, it can be worn all year round as well. This still leaves basically all the dress shoes and the unlined boots, which is a lot to choose from.
For some reason the most common figure I hear from guys buying their first pair of decent shoes is $200. It’s probably a psychological thing – you go from buying shoes in the $50-100 range, so surely spending DOUBLE will get you sometime good right? Unfortunately $200 is a bit of a no-man’s-land when it comes to shoe prices. Honestly most $200 pairs of shoes are built not much better than a $50 pair of shoes. The leather quality might be slightly better, but the sole would still be cemented (glued) on, and you will still have to throw them out once the sole wears down. For a brand new pair of decent quality, goodyear welted, blake, or blake rapid construction shoes (see this post for the differences), you are looking at about $300 (this is Australian dollars). Your immediate reaction will be to balk at this but think of the money equation. You buy a pair of shoes for maybe $50-100 and it wears out or starts peeling in a year or two and you have to throw them away. A $300 pair of shoes will last about 20-30 years with the occasional resole if you take care of them. And you will want to take care of them because you invested in them. Plus a cheap pair of shoes will look cheap from the moment you buy them, whereas a good pair of shoes will look fantastic even when it’s old. If you don’t want to pay full retail, then second-hand and vintage is the way to go (I have bought some bulletproof vintage shoes for less than $100) and I will be writing an entire post on buying on eBay soon. But as I read on a post on putthison.com, you are going to need to be patient if you want cheap AND good.
Where/how to buy
My wife calls me eccentric but you could call me an enthusiast. I have made a lot of mistakes and have bought some pretty badly-fitting shoes in the past. The first thing you should do is go to a physical store to have your feet measured by a brannock device, which will give you your size in length and width. Go later in the day after some walking so your feet are more swollen. A Loake stockist is a good one to start with because at least you can try them on. RM Williams is another physical store but they have increased their prices recently and they are quite expensive for a first pair of decent shoes these days. Double Monk is available in Sydney and Melbourne but the shoes stocked tend to be more middle to high tier. Unfortunately there just aren’t that many decent quality shoe brands being sold in physical stores in Australia.
If the model you are after can only be bought online, then you need to do your research. There is a whole subreddit called goodyearwelt devoted to shoes and there is a lot of information about sizing for particular models/lasts. Usually in Australia, you would get your brannock size in US sizing – so for example I am a 9D. If I am interested in a pair of Alden Norwegian split toes made on the Barrie last (the last is the wooden plug that the shoe is made around and it gives the shoe its shape – generally all models made on the same last will fit in a similar way. Each company will have a different range of lasts), then I would google how the barrie last fits in comparison to brannock sizing. The Barrie last usually runs a bit large and the general consensus is to go a half-size down and use the brannock width or go up a width if you have very wide toes. So I went for the 8.5D. Other shoe enthusiasts will also post information across different brands – so for example Allen Edmond’s 511 last is a similar shape to Alden’s Barrie last but with a sleeker toebox so the general advice is to go true to size i.e. for me a 9D is fine. UK and European sizing is different again. The process is a bit hit-and-miss but that is the disadvantage with living in Australia. In general I find work/military boots to have more bulbous toe boxes and tend to fit a bit larger to accommodate thick boot socks so they are more forgiving to buy online. Shoes with laces are also more forgiving on width as you can obviously tighten them less or more. If the shoes arrive and the fit is a little tight, you can buy a shoe stretcher for cheap on eBay or get a cobbler to stretch them for you. You can only stretch the width of the shoe, not the length, and you can usually go a half or full size up. If its beyond salvage, you can always resell it on eBay.
Now some brands/shops (aside from the physical stores mentioned above). I have included these ones because they have shoes at a good starting price/have frequent sales.
For dress shoes:
Pediwear.uk – huge huge huge range and because we’re in Australia, no 20% VAT – sweet!
Allen Edmonds – huge range and if you are American, basically your go-to for your first pair of decent shoes. Shipping from their website can be a bit expensive but they often go on sale from other retailers like Nordstrom.
Meermin – a spanish company and the darling of goodyearwelt subreddit. Sizing can be tricky so do your research!
Loake – can be bought from the Australian site or pediwear.uk. You’d generally want to go for their 1880 line.
The guys from putthison.com also recommended Beckett Simonon but I have no experience with this brand.
For work/military boots (from cheaper to slightly more expensive):
Chippewa (I have a pair of these and the quality is good, some of the quality control is a bit off and the leather quality is not as good as something from Horween or Red Wing), Thorogood, Wolverine, Red Wing.
And then there is eBay, grailed.com, and etsy, but that’s for another day!