It’s true: the shoes make the man. But today, the price tag inaccurately reflects quality and many salesmen advise without adequate knowledge. Luckily, this comprehensive guide and some practice are all you need to master the craft of ready-to-wear shoe shopping. Of course, if you have the money, consider investing in a proper pair of bespokes: diligently maintained, these glove-fit luxuries will last a lifetime.
Examine the vamp (top) of the shoe for the quality of the leather, which should appear supple and natural. A high gloss means that the leather has been treated to hide imperfections.
Bend the shoe backwards a couple times to simulate walking and notice the wrinkling on the stress points – these should be minimal.
Turn the shoe 360 degrees and look at the overall and sole’s shape. Refined lasts (“molds” for the shoe) produce shoes with beveled waists and an elegantly sloped top that closely matches the shape of the foot.
The lining of the shoe (it should have one!) should be leather for better ventilation and better handling of moisture, not to mention comfort. Points added for invisible stitching, indicative of a more precise fabrication.
The outsoles should have at least two layers and the heel three. These should be made from layers of leather and rubber, never composite plywood. While the most luxurious shoes will have leather soles, rubber also has its place on those wet days.
A Word on Construction
The debate over the best type of construction has dragged on for too long, and, in our opinion, been counterproductive. For example, some shoe fanatics hold that the Goodyear construction provides greater durability than the Blake, an outdated dogma that only hurts the shopper. You have to take into account the quality of shoe construction you are getting. A quality pair of Blake-constructed shoes will last much longer than a sloppily produced pair of Goodyears, which means a lot when many manufacturers are skimping on the craftsmanship of their Goodyear constructed shoes. The main points to consider are your exposure to moisture (a high exposure calls for a Goodyear or Norwegian construction) and the weight of your outfit (Bologna or Blake soles are much sleeker than Goodyear or Norwegian ones). No cement construction please.
Because your feet swell with use, try on shoes later in the day (with proper weight socks) after having been walking for a couple of hours. Don’t get too concerned with marked sizes, which varies with the label.
Put the shoe on with a shoehorn rather than your index finger, stand up, and notice a couple of things. Your heel should lie comfortably but securely against the back, your toes should not feel squeezed and be able to wiggle a bit, and the tongue and arch of the shoe should hug your foot without single-point pressure. Note that depending on the style of the shoe, the distance from the tip to your longest toe will vary. The standard is about half an inch.
Walk on a hard surface, not a carpeted sales floor, and feel for any pressure points where blisters are likely to develop. Any point besides at the heels will not “break in” with wear: move on to the next pair.
Flashes of Brilliance
Beyond the basics of good craftsmanship are certain aesthetic flourishes characteristic of the proudest artisans: quality leather cut according to grain, hand stained and patterned at the edges; a strip of inset leather that hides the stitch to the sole; hand-applied antiquing that gives the shoe unique character. These are the qualities that transform the shoe from accessory to a vital color in the art of dress.