This narrows things down a lot - won't absolutely determine whether something will work or not, but it's one of the most important factors. I take the same size in all the lasts for the majority.
People assume much of the time that just because something is described as roomy or wider in the toe box, etc. that they will automatically need to adjust the size. This is not true. You will certainly feel the differences of each last but rarely will you have to stray unless you are moving from a lace-up to a loafer. The exception is when someone is kind of borderline between a couple sizes to begin with. A last could push you over the edge if it was especially roomy or narrow. If someone is dealing with a very high arch, extremely flat feet, orthotic inserts, an injury...sometimes extra adjustments occasionally need to be made as well, more than most at least. The average person is going to pretty much deal with the same size across the board from lace-up to lace-up. Most of the time when someone is jumping around from size to size he hasn't been properly measured. You can have something "work" but not fit. Some lasts are roomy enough to make the shoes work better than others.
Breaking them down a little bit -
65 - the last I love to hate. Contrary to the description, I don't feel like it is either the longest or the narrowest. Lots of people go down 0.5 sizes in length and up a half in width from brannock - same for me, going from 7.5C to 7D (if it makes things any more clear, I take an 8D in the Nike Free). People with high arches (like myself) often complain and have a hard time with the balmoral fit of the 65. The 65 toe box is actually fairly full, but the fit feels tighter due to a less accomodating arch fit. Personally, the balmorals feel overly snug and the bluchers feel overly large. Never tried going lower in width on a blucher - that could work. Other people might have a different experience, plenty might say TTS.
Bal Styles - McAllister, Strand, Park Ave, 5th Ave, Jefferson 1.0
Shell bals - Cambridge
Boot Styles (bal) - McAdam, 5th Street
Bluchers - McGregor, Shreveport
Rough Collection Bals - McTavish, Neumok, Rush Street, Strandmok 1.0, Buckstrand, 1776, Rudolph, Jingle Bell Mok
Rough Collection Bluchers - Black Hills, Badlands, Oak Street, Boardwalk
Rough Collection Boots (bal) - Cronmok
108 - tie for the first place I'd go if the 65 doesn't work. Steeper & more accomodating arch fit, tapered toe box, similar length. Some people say go with 65 size (I would), others say up a half size in length. Personally, going with the same 7D as I did with the 65 last has yielded the following results: With balmorals such as the Carlyle, I get a very comfortable fit with virtually total v-gap lace closure; With bluchers and slip-ons, I am uncomfortably overloaded with volume. So on the one hand, this last clearly takes care of high arch issues, but on the other hand, it may be a bit much for people on the narrow side.
Bals - Carlyle, Vernon, Nathan (5th Ave?), Hale
Bluchers - Delray, Lasalle, Clifton
Slip-ons - Bellerive, Sapienza, Steen, Mora 2.0
Rough Collection Bluchers - Clark St, Players 2.0
222 - a derivative of the 108 but even steeper and a lot narrower. I LOVE this one but I'd guess the majority of people would detest it. Also being phased out. Starting from a 65 size, I could see going up a length and possibly a width also, or some combination of the two. As a reference, I go with 7D here, and it definitely doesn't feel like I have a drop of extra width to spare.
Slip-ons - Carlsbad, Presidio, Norwich, RL Singleton (Presidio?), RL Shanley (Acheson?)
Rough Collection Bluchers - San Marco, Aberdeen
Boots - Eagle County
Bluchers - Players 1.0, Madison Park, Montgomery, New Orleans, Williams, RL Sanderson (Player?)
Chelsea boots - Ashbury
201 - tie for the first place I'd go if the 65 doesn't work. Literally like they took the 65 and made it accomdoate high arch people. The worse your arch issues are, the more noticeable it will be. 201 lined balmorals are awesome for me so far. 201 bluchers are a challenge - with something like the Rogue, I can reduce the volume enough by using heavy socks and tying the laces as tight as humanly possible. Most people I've heard stick with 65 size, some say down in length (I would advise against this). I've also heard people say that a D on the 201 feels like an E on the 65 - sort of. Depends how much the shape of the 201 affects your instep fit. It is possible for someone with flat feet (not me), the 201 might feel that much larger. Reference point - I went with a 7D here, but like I said, either down 0.5 sizes in length (maybe) or down a width might be possible for some people (from 65).
There have been people who would otherwise never be able to wear a balmoral who own the 201-lasted independence line and love them, but those who have thin feet have an issue here. If you have a thin foot (not necessarily narrow) and are already battling vertical negative space, you might experience sloppy creasing and laces that are completely closed together. This last just has a much higher cone.
Bluchers (reduced eyes) - Thomastown
Bluchers - Rogue, City, Union
Casual Bluchers - Shannon Drive
Bals - Jefferson 2.0, Hopkinson, Bartlett, Bloor St (PA), Richmond St (McA), Shelton 2.0
Rough Collection Bals - Overlord, Strandmok 2.0, Neumok 2.0
Slip-on/Monk - Warwick
Boot - 1st Ave, Sauk Drive
Chukka - Freiburg, Calgary
Casual Monk - Newberg
333 - this would be the next place I'd go, although it's being phased out. This is what I'd say was their longest last. With the same size as the 65, your foot sort of falls in differently - to me they feel wider and roomier. Some people might size down in length on this one, others would stick with 65 size. This is a great example that shows that last doesn't determine everything. The bluchers such as the Larchmont and Flatiron are a great fit for me in a 7D, a very comfortable fit. Same with the Franciscan. Roomy but not overly roomy. Great shape. With the balmorals such as the University, no matter what sizes I tried - 6.5E, 7D, 7.5D, I could never get them to work. With the 7D, the lace v-gap was wide but more notably very tight and painful and it just felt like I had a large amount of unnecessary room up front that I wasn't able to utilize. And with the 6.5E, the issue with the v-gap was better but I was just swimming in excess volume at that point.
People almost always had to size down a half size on this one. It just wasn't very true to size; very long, very tapered, very flat in the toe box.
Balmorals - Harrison, Rutledge, University
Bluchers - Larchmont, Flatiron, Boca Raton
Slip-ons - Franciscan, Neumora
Chelsea Boots - Haight
606 & 2042 - these were similar enough that I'm putting them together. If you can't get loafers to work, if you feel like no matter what you do the heel is too wide, give these a try, never felt a narrower heel. The toebox on the 606 is more full, the 2042 more tapered. I absolutely love the Patriot enough that I own two of them; the first loafer that I really felt worked for me. But that was after trying pretty much everything else. And by everything I mean everything. Bottom line - I would recommend the Randolph as a starting point. As a reference, I again went with 7D here.
606 slip-ons - Hyde Street, Patriot, St Thomas, Ascher
2042 slip-ons - Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Acheson, CM South Beach (Acheson?), Palm Beach, Sarasota
79 - This is one that just doesn't work for me. Feels wide overall, heel sort of standard, toe box larger than some others. Vamp just comes down low enough to bother me, much worse on the Cody but on both nevertheless. Since the Cody is sort of unique and I just loved the style that much, I went through some serious trial-and-error and decided my optimal size was 6.5D. I bet a 7C would have been better but that wasn't available. If you can get the size, I would recommend starting with the length of the 65 and going down one width to start.
Slip-ons - Randolph, Cody
Rough Collection slip-ons - Fairmont
1943 - A derivative of the 333. I actually found the AE description to be completely accurate. Literally like they took the 333 and chopped it off in length. The front of the shoe at the toe box feels quite wide due to the square shape but for a balmoral, but the fit at the arch was as actually better for me than the 333; the cone felt more raised here. If you changed sizes drastically to fit the 333, it probably won't be necessary here. Definitely a must-try though; the new shape may affect you to the point where the last won't work well at all regardless of size. It is hard for me to recommend sizing up in width - may be necessary, but the toe box really is quite wide already. Since the length is on par with the 65 now, I'd go with one of 3 options - 1) If you are on the narrow width side and really don't need the whole toe box on the 65, go with the same size as the 65. If you find that you fill up the toe of the 65 decently enough, I'd go +0.5 sizes in length to get your toes away from the chiseled area (this would almost recreate the feel of the old 333). Finally, if you can't handle the length but the chisel squashes your toes, I might try a width increase. Tough to say without trial and error.
Bals - Cornwallis, Exchange Place, Charles Street (Cornwallis), Washington Square
Bluchers - Yorktown, Leiden, Younge Street (Yorktown), Grantham
B34 - Very very full toe box, very roomy. Luckily the mini-lug heel on the Normandy saves the show (locking you in). The Darmstadt and Odenwald feel larger. I went with a 7D here, but I could see people having to size down in length or width.
Boots - Odenwald, Normandy, Sturgis
Rough Collection Bluchers - Darmstadt
809 - Biggest toebox and most voluminous fit I've experienced yet. The Gobi is sort of the limit on how large I can wear something. People might size down here in length or width. As a reference, I went with a 7D for the Gobi; I definitely could have gone with a 7B due to the tremendous amount of volume.
Chukkas - Gobi, Mojave
511 - This is actually where I'd recommend starting for most people. Most "standard" fit, sligthly elongated (but not much), full toe box. I would imagine most people would be able to get this to work. Some people might take their 65 size, but I could imagine having to go up 0.5 sizes in length from that, as this does run shorter. I went with a 7D here also.
Bluchers - Leeds 1.0, Leeds 2.0, Bradley
Rough Collection bluchers - Wilbert
Rough Collection Bals - Shelton 1.0, Holiday, Finch, Fullerton
Boots - Long Branch, Dalton, Saukville
Chukka - Dundee, Dundee 2.0, Bellevue, MD Chukka
Golf (Bal) - Redan
73 - A good, full-fit, similar to the 511 but even wider in the toe box. Wanted to clarify though - the fit is sort of different than the 511; the toe box itself tapers more, but the total width as the shoe extends back is greater. Little hard to explain. I feel like it provides a very easy fit that would likely work for most people. I'm surprised it isn't used as often as it used to be. 7D for me on this.
Bluchers - Walton
Boots - Shaker Heights
Chelsea boots - Knightsbridge
Bals - Central Park, Broadstreet
1757 - A derivative of the B34. I found it to have a similarly large toe box but coupled with a reduced (65-last like) heel area. The overall shape was slimmed down, and I felt like the vamp came down a little lower. I went with a 7D here; definitely roomy, but a very comfortable full fit.
Bluchers - Boone, Tobywing
Chukka - Rothsay, Leawood, Cascade
Boots - Higgins Mill, Sutter Mill
97 - A sort of strange fit where the toe box is extremely narrow and the heel is quite wide. Like the 65, playing with the size, a lot of people manage to get this one to work, some better than others. I find this one so-so, not bad. I went with a 7D here also, but I have heard people say they go up 0.5 sizes in length and down a width; I personally haven't tried that.
Balmorals: Boardroom (Park Ave?)
Bluchers - MacNeil, Hancock, Sanford, Atlantis, 6th Ave, Jodox, Riverside
Slip-ons - Grayson, Adams, Westchester, Manchester, Jermyn
Rough Collection slip-ons - Lake Shore Drive
Golf (Blucher) - Fort Worth 2.0
234 - Another one that just doesn't work for me. A derivative of the legacy 000 last. Imagine the 97 but with a wider squared off toe in place of the narrow pointy toe. To me, they're way overly wide. I have not been able to get this to work in any size.
Slip-ons - McGraw
Rough Collection Slip-ons - Dornoch, Addison
Rough Collection Bluchers - Banchory
444 - If I was blindfolded I'd say this was identical to the 234. They don't use it much anymore, only in the "dressier" DR-produced styles. They did use this for two of the Road Warriors.
Bluchers - ORD
Slip-ons - Ann Arbor, Lincoln Park, Eugene
Road Warrior Slip-On: SFO
511G - Described as the 511 with an insert, wow does this insert take up volume. Very tight fit. I'd probably recommend TTS or even more on this (as in up a half size in length or up a width).
Sneakers - Voyager
Bluchers - LGA, LAX, ATL, MSP (?) Winter Park
Slip-ons - MKE
Golf (bal) - Double Eagle
678 - Described as the 234 with an insert, it actually felt kind of like the 73 with an insert. If you need an orthotic, I'd say this will be more accomodating than the 511G, more room. I'd start with your normal size here (7D for me).
Bluchers - Ashton, Benton
2321 - No idea; haven't tried it yet, but it appears to have characteristics in common with the 1757. If I decide to try it, I would start with 7D. The description states that it is a narrower version of the 1757.
Bluchers - Academy, Alumnus
Rough Collection Bluchers - Thousand Oaks
943B - Also haven't tried it yet but notice that it does feature a chisel toe, so maybe very similar to the 1943?
Chelsea boots - Liverpool
JN9 - Used for golf shoes. Felt very similar to the 511G. Tight fit, recommend TTS or more.
Golf (sneaker) - Renegade 2.0
Golf (blucher) - Valhalla
Golf (bal) - Muirfield Village 2.0, Anaconda
114 - Another last I love to hate. A real classic look & fit, probably the shortest length of any of the lasts AE has to offer. If you are in between sizes and routinely have trouble with length fit, this last will not be your friend. The one last where my normal 7D sometimes doesn't work. I've gone 7.5D, sometimes 7E and sometimes have had to pass altogether. I will note, suede seems to ameliorate some of the issues caused due to the low vamps used on most styles.
Slip-ons - Cavanaugh, Lowry Hill, Concoard Ave, Woodstock, Maxfield, Walden, Thoreau
Casual - Nashua
2592 - Supposedly the 114 but with extra length. I find that this one varies widely from one style to another. Sometimes I feel like the description is accurate, other times I feel like it's as short as the 114, other times I'd be hard pressed to even tell what last a style was produced on. Lots of variation, not easily predictable.
Drivers - Ventura Highway, Interstate 90, Interstate 80
Slip-ons - Haley, Concordia, Desoto
Boat Shoes - Eastport, South Shore
Chukka - Baja
547 - Used for the Sojourner sneakers. Described as similar in fit to the 511G by the AE site but whoa...that couldn't be further from the truth. Hard to describe - the toebox is squarish in shape and large, quite large, quite roomy. Think of the 511G, with the insert removed, and with even more room than that. Almost like the Gobi for the toe box, if you can imagine that. The heel on the other hand, has so much padding that it feels quite narrow, almost like a Patriot. In addition, the back of the shoe, at the heel, rises up abnormally high so that it hits against your ankles. Really tough to describe this.
555 - They're increasing the usage of this one, and I can sort of see why. To me they feel wider than some of the others. Still on the short side but slightly longer than the 114. 7D has worked for me so far on this last without a problem.
Casual slip-ons - Sea Island, Kirkwood, Maritime, Sequoia, Daytona, Northland, Westbrook, Bates, Bar Harbor, Ely
Slip-ons - Sannibel 2.0, Schrier
800 - Similar in length to the 555 (meaning slightly longer than the 114) but steeper and more accomodating to high arches. A tricky fit like the 114 last; I found the 7D to be optimal, but definitely on the short side.
Slip-ons - Kenwood, Sanibel 1.0
Casual slip-ons - Flagstaff, Sedona (new version), Doubleday
Drivers: Highway 1, Sedona (old version)
145 - Sort of weird. More elongated compared to any of the others. Sort of widish at the toe, widish at the heel and more tapered/narrow in the rest of the shoe. For drivers this actually works better for me than the 2592. A 7D works very well for me here due to the elongation not found on most of the handsewn lasts.
Drivers - Grand Cayman, Boulder, El Paso, Tampa
2148 - Used by the new sneakers. They recommend rounding up to the next closest length. I disagree. WIth a 7D, the fit in general was very "standard" overall, with a very large & roomy toe box. Most importantly I found the length to still work ok. Similar to the Sojourner, this last's toebox was also among the largest I've ever tried, almost like a Gobi. Sole was surprisingly very supportive.
Sneakers - Brisbane, Cheetah
"Small Italian" - used by the Urbino, Modena, Bergamo. Picture the 114 last but with softer more flexible slipper like leather. Very similar fit, and very similar short length.
"Medium Italian" - used by the Verona. Picture the 511 last. Slightly elongated, full toe.
Includes - Verona 1, Verona 2, Lucca. I believe the Arezzo falls into this category but it feels substantially "larger". This works very well for me.
"Large Italian" - used by the Positano, Brindisi, Fiesole, Firenze, Capri. Very elongated, I'd say by a full size. Since they start at 7D, I've never been able to get this to work for myself; I feel like a 6D would work if it was available.
Italian Cemented Last - used by the Lake Como. Never tried it, but has the feel of a driver almost.
Lace-up / Slip-On
Kind of obvious, but a slip-on / loafer has to fit absolutely without the adjustability of the laces. A lace-up on a particular last might fit great while a loafer might be terrible.
While it is good to use the person's size that they normally take as a control, it is not at all uncommon (although not definite) to have to size down for a loafer. For some, slip-ons are a really tough time, especially for someone whose heel to ball measurement varies greatly from the length of their foot. When someone has a really hard time with loafers, it is because what works in the toe will slip in the heel, and what doesn't slip in the heel crunches the toes. Widths can be adjusted and "real estate" can be played with and sometimes this works, but other times...not so much. There is little to no room for compromise here.
Bal / Blucher
Mainly a factor for high arch people, balmorals will always be tough.
Some (not all) boots run larger & roomier than shoes on the same last.
Material - Calf, Shell, Suede, CXL
Suede & CXL can fit much looser than calf. People say shell fits looser - I'd agree with that, but after break-in and wear, I wouldn't get a different size due to shell vs calf. These more flexible materials can make a big difference in terms of the "give" at the vamp if you're a high arch person.
Some of the newer styles like the Thomastown & Malone have fewer eyelets. This can make a huge difference in terms of how tight something can be laced up.
The poron insoles they use can make a big difference in fit, more to some people than others. As a high arch person, a standard park ave might fit nicely after a sufficient break-in period. The BB version on the other hand may never break-in and always be too tight and have too much pressure at the v-gap, due to the amount of volume taken up by the poron insert. Very important consideration. Some of the "2.0" styles produced by AE are also using this poron now. Couple examples - The Leeds 1.0 fits me extremely well in a 7D; I'm very crunched in the 2.0. Very similar situation with the MacNeil. And for some reason, the odd combination of going up to an 8, down to a B-width and including the poron works for me (with my BB Strand). Finally, I couldn't figure out how a Delray could be slightly loose while the Lasalle was spot-on being stylistically so similar; turned out it was the poron. So definitely something to take into strong consideration.
Lined / Unlined
Unlined can feel much roomier overall. The example that jumps out at me here - like I said earlier, the lined balmorals provide a great fit for me on the 201 last. I recently tried a Neumok 2.0 (7D, CXL). I was literally swimming in excess volume; I didn't realize the shoe was unlined until I actually tried it. Bottom line is all factors must be taken into account.
What last would work for me in the handsewns?
There is much less variation between handsewn lasts than there is between the welt lasts. Handsewn styles are very much a trial and error type of deal.
Which lasts would you say provide roomy toe boxes?
Roomy toe box lasts I'd say were the 511, 73, B34 & 809. The new 2148 and 547 lasts used by the sneakers are among the largest I've ever tried, on par with the 809.
I can't get any loafers to work due to the heel being too wide
Narrow heel fit would be the 2042 & 606.
Where should I start?
AE produces the most on their 65 last, but I feel like the 511 would probably be the most accomodating as a start. If the 65 isn't working for high arches but at the same time feels roomy enough up front, consider the 108. If the 65 isn't working for high arches and at the same time feels too narrow, consider the 201.
Where should I start for loafers?
For loafers I'd probably start with the 97 or 79. If you're an E or greater width with sort of lowish arches, you might luck out with the Randolph; it's a great looking shoe and will probably fit a majority of people. Otherwise I might go for a Grayson. If the heel slip is present but not bad, stick it out. If it is terrible and despite all lengths and widths you can't get a good fit and you find yourself really struggling with the heel, consider the 606 or 2042. My hunch is that the Arezzo would probably be the loafer that would be the easiest for people to fit overall but I can understand the Italian style complete with silver bit isn't for everyone.
I got xxx and it is slightly snug
Widths will stretch out over time. Even arch area will stretch. I have been tempted to go to E widths when the D caused enough pressure at the laces/v-gap area but with more and more wear, this does work itself out. However, NEVER get something that is too short in length - length is length, it won't expand over time.
I got my 17 pairs of Strands and Park Aves in every color and want to branch out a little, what else is there?
Some that are often overlooked - the Walton is a great fitting comfortable shoe, too bad only the black is left. The Normandy and Overlord are both amazing - supersoft material, very supportive sole. Kirkwood/Maritime is surprisingly good - pretty hefty, soft, much nicer than a standard Sperry or Sebago. The Arezzo runs sort of large/wide, but if it fits you, also a good choice - the mini-lug holds up like iron.
Is xxx recraftable?
Not if it's made in the DR factory. Yes, that includes the Sea Island.
I can't tell if my 65 lasted balomorals fit.
How is the V-gap for the laces? Snug but not crazy too tight? Can you close the gap about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way? How much area is there at the heel? If the V-Gap is extremely wide, the fit isn't the best. Similar situation if the heel area is way too roomy and there is pronounced bowing. Playing with length & width, if nothing pans out, consider trying a different last for better results. Don't feel locked into the 65.
Bowing happens for one of two reasons. The shoe is either too wide and a poor fit, or the person is super flat-footed. Some styles do this more than others, and the more liberties a person takes with the fit, the more pronounced the bowing will be. If a person has excess bowing, he is likely flat-footed and hasn't been properly measured. Might be good to try a different last to cut this down. The Exchange Place will bow less than a Park Ave; the sides dip lower. It isn't good when the laces close all the way because that is often an indication of poor fit, and you run the risk of it not being functional later once the leather inevitably gives. There is a an exception to the rule; being the person with a very very thin foot. This person is battling a huge amount of vertical negative space, eventually making it shorter and shorter, or narrower and narrower to get the laces to have a perfect gap and will compromise the actual fit in the instep/ball/toe area; and it isn't work it. Sometimes when dealing with messy creasing due to a thin foot, switching from something like a Park Ave to an Exchange Place helps because of the flatness in the toe. Everyone is different though, so this is very much YMMV, not a clear black-and-white answer.
The issue of a thin foot is super overlooked. In addition to heel-to-ball measurement, the shape of the foot is extremely valuable. A person may be able to handle a roomier shoe, but he might need to be prepared for a break across the instep that isn't as clean as with a shoe that is flatter in the toe. The Carlyle might close up on him all the way. The 201-lasted Independence line will probably crease more. They are probably better suited for a balmoral than a blucher. A lot of this is trial and error because everyone is different.
As a person with a narrow width but lots of high arch issues, what are your personal recommendations?
So this is going to vary a lot from one person to the next, but for balmorals, the 65 usually gives me a ton of trouble. Not that there aren't exceptions - unlined shoes like a Neumok and things that just plain run wider like a McTavish fit great. 108 for me is like a crap shoot - the Lasalle fit me spot on like a glove. Others like the Clifton are way too roomy. The 222 is my best fitting last - very narrow but very steep. I haven't tried anything on it that I didn't like right away. The 97 seems to accommodate high arches very well but the strange fit introduces other issues. Any of the lasts mentioned above with the larger than normal toe boxes seem to work ok - as long as the shoe itself doesn't get overly wide, I can sort of use the large toe box to compensate for high arches. Seems to work. Another obvious choice would be the 201.
What do you think is on the bad side for high arches?
Anything stiff calf leather on the 114 jumps out at me first. The Randolph and Cody would definitely be on this list also.
So you're greatly in favor of support over comfort, what would you suggest?
Mini-lug all the way. Close second would be double oak / double butyl. My favorites. The single oak & danite aren't bad, but they're just a lot less supportive. The full vibram is really good but it is very visible if you know what I mean - profile look, people might ask you if you're going mountain climbing. These others are more "hidden." Things that definitely do NOT provide my desired level of support include the hamlet, Othello and vibram gumlite - my legs ache with any of this stuff.
So why do you hate on the 65 so much?
The 65 is like one of those all-purpose utility knives - it tries to accomplish a lot, but winds up falling short in everything. Like everything else, some people will love this - the fit will be spot on. For me, the bluchers run too big and the balmorals can be tight due to high arch / instep. Lots of high arch people have a ton of trouble with the balmoral fit even though the last is described as good for high arches. People are going way up in width to accommodate and just go along with the resultant bowing/gaping. Some people sort of find the middle to heel portion of the shoe to run narrow, but the toe is actually quite roomy. The last isn't what I would consider a standard fit, yet most of the timeless/iconic styles are all produced on it and the SAs steer a lot of people into these. Ultimately, due to the extensive selection of styles & sizes, it is likely you will get something to "work," but not well. If you find yourself really struggling with the 65, please consider jumping over to the 108 or 201, you may be very happy you did.
How would you compare xxx handsewn last against xxx welted last?
If you've tried as many as I have (which is to say, a LOT), it's really an apples to oranges comparison at that point. You can come up with similarities & differences but as a whole, the handsewns just fit differently. Comparing them to each other, they are very similar, but compared to the welts, they are pretty different, if that makes sense.
I was really interested in xxx style but the reviews on the website are terrible.
Take those AE website customer reviews with a serious grain of salt. Most of them (even the positive reviews) provide no supporting detail whatsoever. "The shoe is good" doesn't say anything to back up the claim. Many of the negative reviews have to do with the particular last or style not working for them fit-wise. That shouldn't constitute a negative review. When reading these, if a significant majority posted about some kind of structural defect that had to be addressed, then I would be alarmed. Beyond that, I tend to ignore the reviews altogether. I have posted a few of my own (should be easy to spot, they're pretty lengthy).
I got a Park Ave, Strand, McAllister and Fifth Ave in the same size and xxx fits differently than the others.
It shouldn't - I would wear them around on carpeted surfaces and get a better idea, but it might be good to get an exchange. I have three pairs of McTavish - one of them started out tighter all-around than I had expected but I "knew" it would loosen up, and it did. Second one started out sort of on the looser side but I knew the shape was "correct." Last one, the left shoe was clearly much narrower than the right - like a B vs. a D width. That went back for an exchange. It just takes experience & trial-and-error to know when something isn't right.
I got xx on the 201 last and it just feels too long; is it?
This is a tough question; bottom line is you just need trial-and-error to find out. Personally, a very specific combination (a fully lined balmoral) works excellent for me with the 201. Everything else feels on the large side. Large meaning volume-wise. In some styles I definitely feel the sensation of too much length, but on the other hand, I'm really lined up correctly with heel to ball, etc. so I know dropping in length would just worsen that. Tough to say really - some people might benefit from the length change, others might not. I'd love to be able to drop down from a D width but the sizes just aren't there.
I know you said you can't compare welts to handsewns but I want a comparison on length, not fullness of toe box, but pure length. Which are just plain shorter than others?
Fair enough. Like I said before, on the brannock I measure as a 7.5C. I can wear as low as a 6.5 on the 65 last. With the 114 last and "small Italian", there's no way I could go past a 7 in length, even with that I'm pretty close to the front of the shoe. With the 2592 and 800, I'm still very close to the front, but have a touch more room than the 114 in most cases. With the 555, I may have the same amount of room as the 2592 & 800 or I may have the same amount of room as the 114, you can't be sure until you try the specific style. The only last that has been consistently longer is the 145 used for the drivers. A 7D on that still has ample room. If I was "blind" buying something without trying it, I would typically avoid the 114 for this issue.
There are just too many lasts to deal with, I'm confused.
They're definitely doing away with some, and coming out with others. There are still what I would refer to as "complementary" - the 65 and the 201 go hand-in-hand. They are very similar in fit; when a particular style (i.e. balmoral) doesn't work with the 65, I would definitely check out the 201. Similarly with the 222 and 108, and with the B34 and 1757. The 1943 is definitely a revamp of the 333. Not sure, but I would venture a guess that the 2321 definitely is part of the B34/1757 family also. The 114, 2592 and 800 are also very similar. The 97 and 234 definitely have a lot in common too.
I am a size XX on the 65 last; what should I get on the YY last?
Very common question, and the answer always depends on how the 65 fits overall. Do you fit the 65 last very comfortably (meaning very full, and TTS), or do you have room to go (i.e. do you have room past the toes)? Many of the lasts run shorter but also much more full, so depending upon your personal 65-last fit, you may be able to go with the same size in a shorter last such as the 511 or 1757 and still get by, because even though the length is shorter, the toe box is so much more full you still have sufficient space up front. For some people who utilize the majority of the 65's volume, the length in some of these other lasts won't be sufficient and a size increase would be necessary. This will be especially true in the handsewn loafer lasts.
The stores don't carry anything, what should I do to try something?
Unfortunately for a loafer it's hard, you never really know until you try it on. With lace-ups, I'd recommend going for the lined balmoral as a baseline. I tried a University in my standard size of 7D - terrible arch fit, bad lace gap, too much room in the toe. But I just knew if I could get past the arch fit, they would be really good. I own a Larchmont; very nice fit, practically no break-in period at all. Recently picked up a Cornwallis. It actually felt like a squashed down version of the University. Better arch fit and now the excess room up front was gone. After a brutal break-in, I managed to break these in. But I have no doubts the bluchers, boots or basically any of the others (and even the balmorals in casual leathers or suedes) would work without much trouble.
Anything you think is missing from the lineup?
So this being a fit guide, I'm sticking to what is missing from a last/fit perspective, although there is plenty I'd love to see added style-wise. They have a pretty good boot lineup now. As a high arch person, I find myself gravitating towards the 201 since the 511 doesn't work as well for me. But the fit is far from optimal. The boots just never feel quite right; like there's just a little too much excess volume. I felt this in my Freiburg and Sauk Drive. Much less so with the 1st Ave - the huge amount of padding succeeds in taking care of the heel area, but the toebox is still like those others. I would love to see a 65-lasted boot, and not a balmoral like the 5th Street. I am happy to see the re-releases of the Broadstreet - the 73 last is very good and I don't want to see it disappear. I am also happy to see another shoe (Sedona) produced on the 800 last.
Negative space in the toe for boots can be pretty normal. All the boot lasts are roomy to accommodate for thicker socks.
Another note on people with flat-feet:
If someone measures a 10D but the heel-to-ball measurement calls for a 10.5D, Whereas normally 10.5D would be square one, the ball speaks to the arch, which they won't have in this case. So normally, we would accommodate the toe length instead while keeping any big variances in the ball in mind. If the ball measurement is accommodated on someone with flat-feet, slipping occurs. This isn't always the case, but it is often the case. The ball measurement should be kept in mind, but is often not as important when dealing with a person with flat-feet.