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Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?
The James whole cut by Crockett & Jones

Ever wonder why Wholecut oxfords cost more than other models of the oxford family? You might think to yourself that it is odd, assuming that because it is one piece, which when using logical deduction would/should involve less work. But the contrary is actually true. It involves more work and I will explain why below.

You see, the first stage of quality is when you go to cut the hide and how you cut that hide. That is the basis for upper leather quality and really what separates the novices from the experts. The higher in shoe price you go, the better that leather is cut (in theory). You are paying for that attention to detail, that fine eye and hand for cutting around the flaws while at the same time maximizing the use of the hide. This very idea, in my mind, is a form of art, to be quite honest. It really is what separates the greats from the so-so’s.

Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?

When making a wholecut shoe, you are cutting one large piece of the hide. Even when cutting into 1st grade it is not as simply as just slapping down the pattern and cutting around it. You have to mark that leather, find the flaws and then make sure that when you cut the whoelcut piece, that you are cutting the prime parts of the hide where there are little to no flaws. It is not easy as one might think, especially when cutting larger sizes. Therefore, you are also cutting only prime parts of the leather, which cost more. The lower sub-grades of a hide are less desirable and are usually saved for heel counters, piping, excess leather used for the underside when lasting etc. Skilled cutters can utilize the poorer areas to cut full brogues and thus save money. And that is why it is an art form and why wholecuts cost more. There is no hiding a flaw on a wholecut. But on any brogued shoe, flaws can be hidden through intelligent cutting. So you pay the premium for that supposed flawless leather. And you should pay less for models that are able to utilize lower grades of leather.

Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?

The second reason that whole cut oxfords are more expensive is that they are also harder to make due to the lack of tension that they possess in contrast again to another 5 piece model. This will be easier to understand if you are really good at physics or have lasted a shoe by hand but the reality is that when lasting a whole cut oxford, when you pull one end, the other side follows and that creates the challenge. That might seem trivial but it is not as trivial as one might think without truly understanding the difference in tension between a single piece and a piece with seams. You see, the seams allow you to pull one side while the other side stays more put as the seams give it more leeway whereas when it is just one piece, there is no leeway.

Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?

So lasting that whole cut upper is more challenging because if not done properly you will be left with a lot of excess space in the vamp which then leads to excess creasing. So the key to lasting a whole cut oxford in the lasting machine is actually little by little, pulling one side, then the other, then again on the first side, then again on the 2nd side, until you have it even and firmly placed on the vamp. If you just pull both sides at the same time with one large pull, you leave room for excess space being leftover. Those extra steps take time and time costs money. And lastly, a whoelcut should probably stay on the last longer as well to ensure it forms to the shape. All delays and extra steps add to the price of a shoe.

So when you are looking to get a whole cut oxford and cannot understand why it cost more, think of this post. And for the makers that charge the same as their other shoes, well you can look at that two ways. They are either overpricing their other shoes and/or underpricing their whole cut models and absorbing that cost for you. But without a doubt, they are not the same cost price.

All photographs courtesy of Crockett & Jones, except the top photo which is courtesy of @theHKShoeShiner of IG.

Another article that helps explore this idea in more depth in terms of price can be read HERE

Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?

10 thoughts on “Why Are Wholecut Oxfords More Expensive?”

  1. Nice article, but it seems counterintuitive to me that whole-cuts should be cheaper, but I guess I can see why some may think otherwise.

    1. Justin FitzPatrick

      Thanks JHS. They shouldn’t be, but I know how many people’s mind work so know that when they see one piece then think less work, hence me breaking it down

      1. Zohair Merchant

        Thanks again Justin, I always thought the opposite, but I’m glad you broke down the actual science of it.
        -Much Appreciated-
        Zohair Merchant

  2. I love this post! The art of wholecut shoemaking should be more appreciated. Indeed properly lasted wholecut and the leather quality really set great apart from the good and so-so. Thanks Justin~

  3. Thanks for the nice little article Justin.
    And all you said is without even mentioning seamless wholecuts, for which I can’t even start to imagine how skilled the shoemaker must be to give shape to a single piece of leather without even cutting it! 😮

  4. The tension when pulling parts of the leather makes a lot of sense, now that I think about it!

    Thanks for this post, Justin.

    Question: could this mean that breaking in for wholecuts will be harder/longer when stiffer leather and, au contraire, easier for softer leather, compared to 5-piece leather shoe?

    1. Justin FitzPatrick

      Hey Steve, actually wholecuts are always easier to break in and usually full/semi brogues are usually more difficult. The seams in this case actually create more rigidity

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