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The shoe fits, but what about quality?

Date

Jeremy Loadman

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Buckingham in tan by Loake. Click for more photos

It's all about the shoes

Men's shoes vary widely in style and price but many men are beginning to understand that paying extra for a good pair of shoes delivers quality, style and longevity. Here are 17 shoes available from local retailers. 

Picture the scene in a men's shoe store: a wide mix of customers browse, both young and old. Upon overhearing some young men discuss whether it was worth their money to purchase a pair of hand-made English shoes, an older gentlemen chimes in, “when I was your age I was never rich enough to buy cheap shoes”.

It is a true story that Scott Lewis, the co-owner of South Melbourne shoe store Beggar Man Thief, likes retelling. For he and business partner Marc Godfrey, the anecdote goes a long way to summing up a philosophy they have espoused with great enthusiasm to a growing, and more knowledgeable customer base.

“We definitely feel that guys are showing a better understanding that a shoe is not a shoe is not a shoe," says Lewis. "The result is that a lot more guys are realising that you really do get what you pay for.”

Crockett and Jones' suede Oxfords are as sturdy as they are distinctive.

Crockett and Jones' suede Oxfords are as sturdy as they are distinctive.

And when it comes to value for money and quality, Lewis and Godfrey are firm believers that more Australian men should be dipping their toes into a pair of hand-made, calfskin English shoes.

“With the English shoemakers such as Loakes, Church's, Crockett and Jones, and Barker, you may be paying between $400 and $600 but what you are getting for that money is a pair of shoes that can be well worn, but just as importantly a shoe that can be repaired and if need be, completely rebuilt,” Lewis says.

The key design factor that separates many high-quality leather shoes from their inferior cousins is the welt, a strip of leather that both the shoe's upper and sole are stitched on to. Known as Goodyear welting after the inventor of the original welting machine, the process is crucial for the life of a shoe as it enables its sole to be replaced, which can make a pair of shoes last years, even decades if well looked after.

While the long-term value of a quality leather, Goodyear-welted shoe can be easily demonstrated, Lewis believes that too often Australian men are drawn to a price point around $200-250 which they believe represents good value, but ultimately doesn't deliver.

“This $200-250 price point that Australians love is really no-man's land because you don't get good calfskin, Goodyear-welted shoes for $250, you just don't. It can't happen for that price,” Lewis says.

“We've been beating the drum saying either come up or go down [in price] because $250 is far too much to pay for a shoe that is made in China, has a chipboard heel and a sole that's been bonded with adhesive. You should be paying between $150-$180 for that shoe.”

In stride with Lewis and Godfrey about improving the knowledge Australian men have of what they're putting on their feet is Sydney shoemaker Andrew McDonald.

McDonald, who operates a store in Sydney's Strand Arcade, believes that more and more men are not only questioning the quality of the shoes they're buying, but also the practices with which they're made.

“Essentially you have a generation of people out there in their late 20s or early 30s whose whole lives have been dominated by cheap imported shoes that don't last. I think in response to that they're starting to think more about lasting value and also about sustainability. Part of that is wanting to know about the process of how good quality shoes are made in contrast to shoes that are probably made in terrible working conditions and don't even fit that well,” McDonald says.

McDonald speaks of a change in his clientele over the last five or six years that reflects this change in attitudes.

“I've been making shoes for 20 years and when I first started my customers were generally 30-plus businessmen, who already had a strong awareness of quality footwear. But in the last five or six years I've had more and more young guys wanting to buy into the experience of owning high-quality leather shoes ... which I think is part of the whole movement of men wanting to dress better.”

And while there are plenty of items a man can have in his wardrobe which will show that he's got style, for Lewis nothing indicates it more clearly or is more versatile than a pair of quality hand-made leather shoes.

“My thinking is that a really nice, characterful pair of high-end shoes will soften up a really sharp suit – it doesn't make you look like you're fresh out of the oven. And the reverse is also true; that same pair of shoes will lift a pair of chinos, or a pair of jeans. You get three of them in your wardrobe and those three pairs of shoes will do so many things for you and cover so many bases.”

According to Lewis, for those who become steadfast admirers of quality hand-made shoes, the great thing is their appreciation will only get stronger as their shoes stand the test of time.

“There's no reason why you can't get 10 years out of a pair of Goodyear-welted leather shoes,” Lewis says. “That's what a great pair of shoes will do.”

113 comments

  • After owning and wearing a large variety of shoes at all but the highest price point I concur with what the article reports - you just do not get a longer lasting shoe (one that still looks good and wears well) at lower price points. If you are after something cheaper (maybe something that you can walk a lot of kms in each day e.g.) then maybe get something cheaper otherwise you can get into a decent pair of Goodyear welted shoes for a price that actually represents value considering how long you can get out of them - especially if you look after them (do not apply silicone shine blocks) cycle them so you don't wear them everyday and try not to wear leather soled shoes on days of heavy rain.

    If you are loathe to spend upwards of $400 on multiple pairs then find shoes made on a last that fit you well and buy shoes built using that last from places such as Herrings - they will be $200 and upwards there.

    My vote is for the brands which give you a decent calf lining and solid construction and can take a good shine and provide for options like Danite soles - like Loake (not necessarily 1881 range either) - not outrageously expensive but still quite special.

    Commenter
    Stevo
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 5:51PM
    • Got a pair of Andrew McDonald brogues. Very good and I am heading to Melbourne soon to visit Brian Lester and get a pair or 2. I also wish I had heard of Allen Edmonds before I went to the US a couple of years ago. Goodyear welt for <$400

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 7:30AM
    • I agree with this article too...coming from the UK I would buy a new pair of gbp50 shoes from Next almost every year....sweaty feet, plastic soles, occasionally fall apart. Throw them away and start again.

      Then I bought some Goodyear welted Jones the Bootmaker shoes on sale reducd from gbp150 to 75....that was about 4 years ago or so...I'm wearing them now. They look almost new, they had a half sole replacement here in Aus and they are super comfy! So I am well up on those...I also have some Loakes wich are good quality but not as comfy, thinner leather sole that I have not yet replaced, 2 years old, look new. Lastly I have some Marks and Spencer Italian range leather soled that I took brand new to get a rubber half sole stuck on for wet weather. All of these shoes are great, comfortable and I have not needed to buy a pair in several years, they also did not cost the earth. Blame Australian prices and buy online at Pediwear (though sizing is massively important to teh whole experience).

      I also have some RM Williams Veal Calf Brandy boots. they scuff stupidly easily, RM could not repair them, painted them badly, had them back to strip, basically gave up and said take them elsewhere and we'll pay for the repair! On a $500 pair of boots! Rubbish! They don't even carry the polish colour anymore and they are only 6 months old! Granted they are comfortable but as the most expensive pair of shoes I have ever bought I am totally disappointed it the value for money stakes. Worth $300 Max.

      Notes: Safe leather soles with plstic toe taps, have a wet weather pair, use a decent polish regularly and use shoe trees.

      Commenter
      Tom1981
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 9:30AM
    • RMWs totally ignored. What a joke.

      Commenter
      Ollie
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 10:30AM
    • I feel dirty reading this, like looking at porn in the workplace. My wife teases that I have more pairs of shoes than her!

      Along with some lovely English and also German leathers, I have had 3 pairs of RM Williams in my life for many years. After the initial investment, sending them back to Adelaide for refurbishment every 8-12 months is cheap (you don't get long out of a leather sole in the city, but it makes that great clicking noise on the pavement). When the RM's return from Adelaide they are sealed in plastic, and when you open this plastic the entire room is filled with this incredible comforting smell.

      The saddest day of my life was when I found the dog in the backyard eating my favourite tan Hugo Boss's. They were onto their 4th set of soles, and so soft and comfortable.

      Ahhhhhh, shoe porn.

      Commenter
      Donovan
      Location
      Hawthorn
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 10:38AM
    • RMW are nothing like the shoes mentioned - ignored for good reason.

      Commenter
      Blake
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 10:39AM
    • All those shoes are revolting. I wouldn't be seen dead in any of them. Surely there's good quality shoes that also look good?

      Commenter
      Hugo Thundercrotch
      Date and time
      July 04, 2013, 2:15PM
  • Can you tell me of any equivalent women's shoe brands in Australia?

    Commenter
    Emma
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 6:02PM
    • Emma , well I could've but most bespoke makers were sent out of business by sheap imports as were us textile designers. I still know an amazing shoe maker but she like many others have moved on. There is a woman in Brunswick St an "apprentice" of George K? (forgotten his last name) but from Adelaide making shoes and good ones.
      google "bespoke shoes". Her business comes up when I last looked and was featured in the Age about two or three years ago. good luck, support her.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 3:10AM
    • Hi Emma,

      Wittner do really amazing shoes which are extremely comfortable! I have a pair of black suede heels that I wear everyday to work and they are amazing!
      I ended up buying 2 more of the same pair! I've been asked numerous times where I've bought my shoes from as well.

      They always seem to have a sale on, but I always shop at their online store.

      P.S I don't work for Wittner at all.

      Hope that helps :)

      Commenter
      Ally
      Date and time
      July 03, 2013, 7:09AM

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