On a similar topic, is it just me, or do "cheap" shoes nowadays look far worse on average than they did even just a few years ago? I am fully aware that I may just be used to seeing nice shoes and can't see past them, but periodically I will walk through regular shoe stores at the mall or department stores just for fun, and I really think that the shoe industry is becoming more polarized. Cheap shoes seem to be getting worse, only reinforcing the cost-effectiveness of decently constructed shoes.
I look at other men around me who are wearing dress shoes that are clearly cemented average department store quality leather shoes, but they don't look that bad per se. They are usually black or dark brown, have a decent shine, and have all leather soles. They just aren't high-end shoes. I used to wear them too. I don't tend to see these types of shoes at stores anymore.
I have a pair of shoes in a box in my closet that I keep for fun that I've had since I was 18 years old. They are bench-made, from Spain, deerskin, leather soles and heels with rubber inserts. They are Blake stitched. I bought them at a shoe store that carries shoes of average quality, and I paid an average price for them. I wore them for about 12 years as my Sunday and dressy occasion shoes. They still have their original soles, and the uppers are still in great condition. During the same time frame, I also had a pair of brown Bostonians made from some corrected grain leather, but they sure didn't look like plastic. They had cemented leather soles with full rubber heels. They were made in Italy, and were average quality shoes found at average department stores.
Now, however, there seems to be this huge void between the lowest cost high-end shoes (Allen Edmonds, Cheaney, Loake 1880, etc.) and "cheap" shoes. Johnston and Murphy and Cole-Haan make a few models that may still fit into that middle-ground category, but they charge as much as you would pay for a pair of Allen Edmonds seconds, and they are far inferior in quality.
If I go down to my local Macy's right now, I'll find Bostonians, Stacy Adams, Florsheims, and a few Italian named shoes. They will be absolutely horrible looking, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have even given them a second glance even before I knew what a nice shoe was. They truely do look like they have a plastic coating on them if they are in fact made from leather, which most aren't. Most have a synthetic "looks like leather" sole that is made of some leather colored laboratory product.