So, guys, some of you may have read my blog and remember the How to Thrift series I did a few months ago. The one missing piece in that series I always meant to do is on shoes. I thought about it several times, but always got a bit stumped. I mean, I can list brands to look for, but part of the value in what I did with suits was helping folks learn to look past the label and recognize quality. But I feel like quality in shoes is kind of hard to define and hard to give easy things to look for. Quality leather is just something you sort of learn to recognize with time, and quality construction is difficult too - glued crap can be made to look like a Goodyear welt, at least well enough to fool noobs.
So, help me out: aside from brands/makers, how would you tell a beginning thrifter how to look for quality shoes?
Pick them up. Quality shoes are heavier and feel more substantial.
Look at the soles... If the soles are rubber and moulded to the shape of the shoe they're probably glued on. If they're real leather soles, they've got a better chance of being good. If they're rubber but made to look like leather (for instance where they're worn you can see the black rubber underneath) then they're definitely crap. Nails in the heel are a good sign. See if the soles have any life left... Resoling isn't too expensive for good shoes, but it's too expensive for mediocre shoes.
Feel the leather... does it feel too smooth and plasticy? Not good (but could be shell if they're not familiar). Also look at the vamp for signs of damage like cracking. That's not fixable.
Look at the writing on the inside... Made in England? Made in the USA? Made in Italy? Made in Spain or Hungary? Keep looking. Made in China, Vietnam, Mexico, etc. you can stop. Handwritten? A very very good sign.
How is the stitching on the upper? Is it real stitching or just for show? Is it even and consistent distance from the edge of the piece of leather? Poorly made shoes are made by unskilled labor and the stitching will be sloppy and uneven.
That's some quick things to look for