What makes a shoe good is not always easy to answer. It can be quite subjective. So allow me to share my view on that question in the hopes that you can educate yourself into buying the right shoes for you.
Many regular people not engulfed in the online shoe world will not necessarily know what to look for when they go to a department store and want to try and find a ‘good’ shoe –Not that department stores have them but that is another story– I have tried to explain time and time again what to look for, like small construction/aesthetic details that show quality or attention to detail, etc. but the reality is most people will miss these things or easily get fooled by a fake stitch or other superficial detail intended to only trick the eye. Or more commonly by some bullshitting salesman there just to gain his commission. And again, I can say that as I was that salesman who sometimes said stupid crap just to make a sale. Long before I knew any better.
So I have been thinking about what makes a shoe undeniably good. Something that maybe you cannot see but you can feel. And of course, the answer is fit. Now, this is not to be confused with fitting you well (personally) but ‘good’ in the sense that the last has actual shape. The last has contour. It is not a generic blob intended to fit everyone. And this will not be easily explained or understood until you actually feel it. Trust me. I know.
I remember when I was in London, working inside Gieves & Hawkes and I was starting to get into suits. I had some RTW ones that fit well (after good tailoring/altering). I have MTM ones that fit even better. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How can bespoke get better than MTM?’ So my good friend, Lee Webb, the best cutter I know offered to make me a suit at the cost of production which just meant the cloth/materials and any outside work that he does not do i.e. sewing it all together. I remember vividly how it felt when I first put on that suit. How the trousers hugged my thighs the right way and did not buckle by my messed up “soccer” knees. How the sleeves hugged my armpit area without restricting movement. How the jacket looked like a million bucks. It was a learning point about what quality gets you: good and/or great fit.
Shoes are the same as suits to a degree. As you go up the echelons of price in footwear, one of the things you will notice, or rather feel, is a significant difference in how the shoes fit or hug your feet. As I touched on in the post yesterday, the feet are complex and have many varying factors that make it essential to create a good fit. Good shoemakers know this and attempt to make lasts that move to those lines of the foot to create a fit that ‘belongs’ rather than just being ‘there.’ And what I mean by that is anyone can stick their feet into cheap, generic shoes. The fit will be crap but the purpose of that cheap shoe is mass production. And to sell mass production, everyone (or nearly) has to be able to fit into that shoe. The fit is just ‘there.’ A fit that belongs, hugs your feet in all of the right places. You feel supported in that shoe. It feels good. And despite being hard leather, you can walk all day on concrete in them. And that is a good shoe.
But, and of course, there is always a ‘But’, that does not mean good shoes will fit YOU. So there are two things to look for. Shoes that have a good fit i.e. real shape. And then within that brand, try to find the last that fits you best, that follows the contours of your feet.
Cheaper shoes will never have a good fit. You might think they do but I can guarantee that it is because you have never actually had a good fit. That is one factor that separates different lines of shoes. Don’t believe me? Make a test between any brand that has two lines of shoes i.e. benchgrade and handgrade and without a doubt, the handgrade or “better” line will have a better fit and feel. It is a part of what you are paying for. It is harder to make shoes on lasts that are actually contoured. It is easy to make blobs of junk.
So when going to find good shoes, go try them on, and when you find that actual good fit i.e. feels like it was made for you (or close to it), then you know you got yourself a good shoe. If it just fits onto your feet but does not offer a hugging sensation in the right places, then keep it pushing!
—Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob