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The Art of Making and Fitting quality Footwear


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Mar 15, 2005
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It has been a long long while since I have posted anything on this forum, at least not in great detail that is. So I have received many requests in the meantime to do another detailed post on some subject of menswear and I was in fact thinking about doing one for a while. The topic of the post is of vital importance because as always (those who have read my pervious posts in the past) know that I stress on writing about something that is at least somewhat pragmatic within our times. Naturally with this post the process was no different but this time I also wanted to discuss something that I haven’t touched on in a while or not at all.

Two topics were of most interest to me this time- hats and shoes. It was a tough decision deciding between these two. On one hand I have done a post on hats some 2 years ago but haven’t ever done anything exclusively on hats. I had good material on both of these subjects and eventually I found myself leaning towards footwear primarily because it is much more relevant in a way to our times than headwear.

Plus what really got me interested in footwear was an article wrote specifically on a good fitting shoe rather than focusing all on mere construction. To me that was of interest because when it comes to the “ye’ good ole days” i.e. 20s 30s and who-ha, there is an awful lot of misinformation out there and it is further propagated by sources who take 20s and 30s as their inspiration but never really describe what, where and how exactly. That was one of the main things I had in mind when I picked the subject of footwear for this post.

There are many great article on footwear construction out there and many that describe shoes from 1930s and so on but almost none of them ever touch the subject of the proper shoe fit, at least not even nearly as in detail as we discuss some of the other things like fit of a jacket or Neapolitan Clothing for that matter. So I looked deep within my books to find something direct from those times that dealt with not only construction, materials but also fit and what was considered a “good fitting” RTW shoe back then as opposed to now.

So, without further delay let us get down to business at hand. This post is divided into 2 sections. The second section deals with the process of skin treatment in a tannery before being made into a shoe. The first section is the main feature! Detailing both aspects- construction and good fitting for shoes in 30s with lots of pictures.

Now, few minor things before getting started…

These articles are written to provide some useful information about quality shoes aspects back in 30s. Please don't step into a shoe shop today expecting your sales person to attend you in that particular manner. It is an obvious enough point but I still feel like it needs be pointed out. This post is written with the assumption that you DO understand the rules of proper and improper footwear. As such in here we are not going to discuss them. If that is not the case with you, please use the link below to read the footwear post in there FIRST before reading this one. It is about footwear also and from 30s. It will go about the rules and some other details that you may need to know.


Just as a side note. This post (hrough the link) above was also on Styleforum 3 years ago but disappeared in the Great Style Froum crash of 2005.

Look, it is not important that you follow these old rules and you must strictly abide by them in our times. I have no problem with people discarding old rules anytime they feel like it. For example you may like to wear plain black oxfords with your formal wear. Why? If for nothing else you just don’t care or give a hoot about what is correct or incorrect, as long as it looks good to you its okay. That is perfectly fine, in fact wear flip-flops with black-tie if you like the look and enjoy life and be happy!

However, I have a HUGE problem with someone wearing black calf oxfords with formal wear not because they like them but because they think that is “correct” or that’s what they are “supposed” to wear. Another one of my favorites is like showing the belt buckle underneath the vest because that is the way you are “supposed” to wear it.

That is exactly the kind of behavior these posts are to help repel.
So here we go! Just take this easy and try to go over this slowly. I have explained things wherever it seemed necessary. The italics are direct from the source and other are my comments.

This post was written for "elsewhere" but I honsestly think it would be just not right to do something shoe heavy and not post it at style forum.

Another thing to bear in mind before reading it is that this was written for RTW shoes IN US NOT European RTW Market. Back then US footwear Industry was much ahead in RTW quality than its European counterparts.

To all you shoe loving Egg heads!


This is the article I have been meaning to put out for past 2 years but for some reason never got around it. This will go over what they back in 30s considered a good fit for an RTW shoe as well as the construction. Plus it is going to over some of the other finer aspects of various types of common leathers used back in 30s, their sources, leathers derived and uses.

So take it easy and go over it slowly. I have included many rare pictures that were with this and elsewhere to help you understand this article better.

From AA Advanced Fall 34’

The Art of Selling quality Shoes

No matter how smart the style, no matter how expensive the leather, no matter how fine the workmanship — if a shoe doesn't fit, it is worthless. Bearing upon the subject of correct fit are the three main points covered by the photographs and sketches above.

The first is the matter of measurement. It is not sufficient to measure only the left foot because, while the left foot is usually larger than the right and the larger foot determines the size, it might be the right foot which is the larger. Again, it is not enough to take measurements for length alone, since the width is of vital importance. Further stressed is the fact that inasmuch as an individual's foot is actually longer when he is standing on it than when he is not, measurements should be taken with the customer in a standing position to secure maximum length of foot.

The second point is that which relates to the three basic types of feet, demonstrating that for true fit the shape of the last should provide for these three major variations in the shape of the foot. While not all shoes take this factor into account, it is at least an item of information concerning the anatomy of the foot which all shoe salesmen should know.

The third point is covered by the eight photographs which illustrate eight checks for insuring correct fit. Given a pair of hands, the willingness to apply these checks and a little practice, any salesman can make certain that no man he waits on will ever walk out of the store with a pair of incorrectly fitted shoes. And that, in itself, is at least half the battle.


1.Measuring the left foot for length—the customer is in a standing position because it is his standing or "walking weight" which determines the maximum expansion of the foot. Note how salesman holds down the toe to secure full length.

2. Measuring right foot for length—the salesman measures both feet in order to take into account any deviation in size. The same points apply concerning "walking weight" and position of sales-man's hand as at left.

3. Measuring left foot for width—often overlooked, but none the less important, is the fact that both feet should be measured for width as well as for length. Again measurements should be taken while the customer is standing.

4. Measuring right foot for width—this completes the measurement of both feet for both length and width. By exerting light pressure on the foot with his thumb the salesman measures the foot at its maximum width.

5. After measuring the feet, the salesman should analyze them for type, there are three basic types of feet with respect to shape, each require-differently shaped last for exact fit. The first type of foot, illustrated at the left, is that which flares to the outside, with about three-fifths of the foot to the outside of an imaginary line drawn through its center. The second type, center, is a straight foot with an equal portion of the foot on each side of the imaginary line. The third type, right, flares to the inside with about three-fifths of the foot to the inside of an imaginary line drawn through its center.

6. Checking to ascertain whether the ball of foot and ball of shoe coincide. The salesman runs both fingers over the ball of the shoe, as shown, to determine whether the customer may require a longer or shorter arch shoe than he is wearing.

7. Checking to determine whether the shoe provides a sufficiently smooth and firm support under the arch. If the support is not firm, the foot requires a shoe which provides a more rigid support to the arch.

8. Checking to ascertain whether the fore part of the shoe is comfortably filled. By running his thumb over the vamp of the shoe, the salesman can easily determine whether the customer may require a wider or narrower width shoe.

9. Checking to determine whether the outline of the sole of the foot coincides with the outline of the shoe's innersole. The salesman runs his fingers along both edges of the shoe in the manner illustrated.

10. Checking to insure that there is sufficient room between the end of the great toe and the end of the shoe to allow the foot to expand in walking, considerable pressure must be applied on a hard shoe to perform this check correctly.

11. Checking to determine whether the shoe lies smoothly over the instep and whether the lace opening is sufficiently wide to take up the natural stretch of the leather. The salesman pinches up his fingers over the instep, as shown.

12. Checking to insure a snug fit around the top of the quarter of the shoe. If the top of the shoe gaps after the salesman has firmly gripped the counter, the foot may require a last with combination measurements.

13. Properly creasing the shoe by running a stag bone or buttonhook across the vamp, as indicated. This also provides a general check on fit, since if a shoe is correctly fitted it will crease straight across the vamp.

Now below some of the important shoe styles back when the article was written are depicted below along with their suitable use.

We have gone in great detail in past (about 3 years ago to be exact) about the merits of a punched cap patent leather oxford. If you are not sure about this shoe in formality spectrum I suggest you buy the plain tip version that is… if you are getting a patent leather shoe formal wear shoe. This tradition of punched cap patent leather shoe hails mainly from its use as daytime formal wear. Instead consider this version below, which indecently back in fall of 34’ was being introduced the very first in RTW market .

The shoes shown above are not intended as constituting a fashion review, although each model is correct for the occasion with which it is identified, but are illustrated rather to establish the basic styles as an approach to the subject of fashion in selling shoes. Space does not permit the showing of the many other models which, varying from the styles pictured above, are equally correct for the occasions mentioned.

It goes without saying that the salesman must be in a position to recommend the correct shoe for any purpose specified by the customer and be currently informed at all times in order that he can offer authentic fashion counsel. The customer who has been incorrectly advised about style and finds himself out of place as a result of misinformation given him by the salesman is not likely to provide the salesman a second opportunity.

An important point is that additional sales may often be attributed to the intelligence of a salesman who is abreast of the fashion trends. And even an understanding of the basic styles alone will enable a salesman to cover all phases of the customer's shoe wardrobe, discover in which respect it may be lacking and suggest an additional purchase.

Aside from this, the salesman should not only be able to suggest the correct shoe for the occasion but also give the reason why and back up his advice with authenticating information pertaining to the style he has recommended. Naturally he must continually supplement his knowledge of the basic styles with current fashion news as it reaches him.


Presenting a New (and Different) Dress Shoe Which Recommends Itself for Far More than its Novelty

SOONER or later all trends in fashion turn back on themselves and get a fresh impetus from old sources. The velvet knee-breeches of Beau Brummell are not yet in our midst, but the increased popularity of the tailcoat and opera hat have been recent indications of the return to formal sartorial perfection. In making these concessions to true formality, however, we have found the standards of today on an even higher level in regard to ease and comfort, without detracting from the element of fashion correctness.
Hard have been the trials of those seeking ease in wearing the formal evening shoe—the pump. Exact fit is essential in the wearing of the pump, and even then the tendency to catch at the instep uncomfortably and the looseness at the heel have discouraged the otherwise strong in heart. The majority have fallen back on the conventional patent leather shoe.
Pictured here for the first time is a new dress shoe which combines the formality of the pump with the comfort of the ordinary patent leather shoe. Side-stitching has been omitted, and a single piece of patent leather has been modeled upon appropriately light soles to fit the foot securely and correctly. The pinch of the pump has been altogether avoided, achieving the ease of the brogue.

Unbroken smoothness is the final touch in elegance to the perfect dress ensemble, and this new dress shoe with its suave exterior is, on that score alone, a noteworthy .contribution to the craft of footwear fabrication. APPAREL ARTS presents it to both retailer and manufacturer at the very beginning of its importation to this country. It provides a new story to tell the buyer of any item of formal attire, and certainly no man who is thinking in terms of formal wear could fail to be interested in this smartly comfortable version of the dress shoe. The pump will always be considered a correct dancing shoe, but the features of this new mode should make it unusually popular.

Elsewhere in this issue we have recounted how the undergraduates in the college and university centers have shown a decided inclination toward increased formality in their attire. This has brought about a brisk pick-up in the demand for the various accessories of formal correctness, sending the collegian scurrying for just that little touch of swank that would lead individuality to his attire. Here is the next item for him, and for everyone who, prizes personal appearance. For any alert merchandiser on the lookout for something new, this dress shoe is an entry well worth his attention.

Before going into leathers and constructions we will look at pictures at some of the other shoe styles as they were presented through various years of 30s.

The first two are the correct shoe for formal day wear and business wear oxford.

Just to be perfectly clear I am not advocating the use of the first one, only the second. Black straight tip punched cap oxford will fill 99% of your business and semi-formal (day) needs.

Below are two of the more casual models and best suited to non-black colors, especially the last one.

The full brogue (technically speaking) should not be executed in black calf but then again we don’t care for these matters in this day and age, do we?

Shoes and Hats from March 38’

Note that the full brogue is executed in brown instead of black.

Shoes & hats again from March 39’

Now, below is a small section about various important leather s of the time, their sources, and sub-leathers derived. This list is by no means comprehensive.




Continental Europe
Chicago and New York Packer Skins
Country Skins


Suede (Suede is a small calfskin with the
flesh instead of the grain to the outside.)
Patent Leather (Enameled finish on the
grain side of the calfskin.)
Grain Leather (Constituting, as a rule,
the heavier weights of small hides printed
in designs with plates.)
Buck Finish Calfskin (Calf leather of
the larger skins tanned on the flesh side to
simulate buckskin.)

Calfskin may be divided into three classifications. Calfskin proper comes from small animals which, as a rule, are killed before they are weaned. Those animals whose skins run from 15 to 20 feet are called kips; these skins are not so choice as the small calfskins, being slightly coarser. The third classification includes skins which run above 20 feet, called small hides.



India—heavier hides
Spain—used principally for women's shoes


Kidskin Cabaretta Kid Suede (Used women's shoes.)

for cheaper grade

Kid leather comes from an animal which is a species of goat. Those animals whose pelts run up to 7 feet are classified as kids, while cabaretta skins are usually larger and are used principally for the uppers of cheaper shoes and for linings. Kid leather has a very fine grain, is extremely soft and flexible and is therefore ideal for all soft shoes. Under the heading of kid, may be placed the classification of sheep whose skins are used in large quantities for linings. Sheepskins come from both domestic and imported lambs.



Australia New Zealand


Kangaroo Suede Kangaroo

Contrary to general opinion, genuine kangaroo does derive from the animal of that name which abounds in Australia and New Zealand. The skin makes an ideal shoe leather because it combines lightness with strength. The skin of the kangaroo differs from calfskin in that instead of being layer upon layer of fibers the entire skin is made up of one series of interwoven fibers. It is for this reason that kangaroo leather is 17% stronger for its weight than any other leather.



Brazil—for men's shoes
China—small skins for women's shoes
Java—both men's and women's shoes



Buckskin comes from an animal in the deer classification and differs from other leathers in that it has no grain and no flesh side. It is very soft and, as a result,-very comfortable to wear. It may be tanned in one of two ways—by an oil tannage which provides a yellow back buckskin or an alum and formaldehyde tannage which provides a buck-skin that is white through and through.



France Domestic (US)


Patent Colt (Lacquered horsehide.) Regular Colt (Used principally for work shoes as it is tough and long wearing but not very slightly.)

The actual shell cordovan is not a leather but derives from the muscle of the horse. This muscle, located at the rump of the animal, rather than being a part of the skin proper is a layer under the skin.





Box Toes

Sole leather comes from steers and cows, with the various leathers being cut from different parts of the hide. Outsoles come from the middle of the back and insoles from the hind shanks, shoulders and belly. Counters and box toes are cut from the fore shanks and hind shanks while weiring comes from the shoulders and heels from the shanks. The choicest animals in this classification are found in Argentina and those ranked next are found in this country.

Next we will go over the critical steps that were involved in producing a quality shoe back in those days. You can compare that with our times.

Good Shoe Construction

FROM the day that the leather for a quality shoe is cut until the day that the finished pair is packed, a shoe will go through as many as 155 separate operations. Naturally, then, any attempt to picture the step-by-step construction of a shoe must weed out not only such minor operations as marking the uppers and sewing on the labels but also some of the relatively more important processes. The photographs on this and the opposite page necessarily represent only the highlights in the construction of a shoe. Yet from them can be traced, in comprehensive outline, the evolution of a shoe from leather to finished product. The method of shoe construction depicted here is the Goodyear welt system, which accounts for some ninety-five per cent of all men's quality shoes. Among the other methods of construction, the McKay system is the most extensively used next to the Goodyear welt system. In the McKay process, the outsole and insole are stitched together through the inside of the shoe, with the complete elimination of the welt. This enables a less expensive, and less satisfactory, type of construction, due to the elimination of the cost of the welt plus the cost of stitching the welt. It may be said that all men's shoes made by the McKay process are cheap shoes but not all cheap shoes are made by the McKay process.

A comparatively small number of men's shoes are also made by the cement process in which the outsole is cemented to the insole, holding the upper in place at the same time. This process is employed especially in the construction of lighter weight shoes.

Shoes made by the cement process may be either high grade shoes or low grade shoes.
As a guide in following the process of shoe construction portrayed above, the operations may be broken down into the following general classifications. The first scene of operations is the leather sorting room, then follow the upper leather cutting room, the skiving room, the stitching room, the lasting room and the Goodyear and finishing rooms. For each of these stages of construction the major operations have been represented in the series of photographs.

But one phase of quality shoe construction which the photo-graphs do not cover is that of inspection. It may be taken for granted that in a factory where high grade shoes are made the product will receive a complete and rigid inspection at every vital point along the line of operation.

Another element which enters into the making of a fine shoe and which cannot well be represented photographically is the number of operations involved. As mentioned before, a good shoe will undergo as many as 155 individual operations. That figure becomes more significant when one balances it against the 115 to 120 operations which suffice for the cheaper grade shoe. An additional factor which seriously affects the quality of the finished product is the length of time taken in construction. Where a quality shoe may be made on a schedule of from two to three weeks, the cheap shoe is often rushed through the factory in less than half that time.

Major Steps involved in Quality Footwear

1. Sorting Leather—Here each skin is minutely inspected and re-inspected by trained sorters. If accepted, the skin is classified as to grade, color and weight and stored awaiting orders. If rejected, back it goes to the tanner who will probably sell it to a manufacturer of cheap grade shoes

2. Cutting Upper Leather—Here the upper leather is cut by hand around individual patterns for each style, size and width for each section of the upper. Some manufacturers cut their upper leathers by a machine process which is called "clicking."

3. Skiving— Here a knife-like rotating disc skives or bevels down the edges of the various sections of the upper so that when they are later stitched together there will be no trace of bulky, uneven seams. Edges are skived wherever two pieces of leather are to be stitched together.

4. Stitching Linings- Here the linings are stitched to the uppers with fine quality silk thread. At this point the upper, after being cut and skived, have entered the fitting room where its various portions are stitched together and begin to be assembled in a finished shoe.

5. Vamping- here, in this fitting room operation, the finished vamp is being attached to the finished quarters, making a completed upper. After emerging from the fitting room the uppers are sorted in lots and are ready for the operations in the lasting room.

6. Pulling Over- Here the upper is tightly pulled over and temporarily tacked to the last which gives it its shape and size. On this last, in a quality factory, the uppers will remain a minimum of seven days to ensure conformity to the last and to allow the leather to dry out thoroughly.

7. Staple Side Lasting —Here the edges of the upper are pulled over the sides of the last and stapled to a channel which has previously been raised on the insole and to which the welt will be attached. The insole has been tacked to the bottom of the last in advance of the pulling over operation.

8. Bed Lasting—Here the shoe is placed in a sort of bed, a wire is stretched around the toe and tightly fastened and the heel seat is firmly nailed down. Before the upper is placed in the bed laster, it is steamed to make it softer and more pliable.

9. Inseaming—Here the welt is attached to the channel on the insole. Afterwards, the surplus portions of the upper leather and lining are removed, the welt is beaten down, a steel shank is inserted and the concave portion of the insole is filled with a light weight cork and tar mixture.

10. Rounding — Here, after the sole laying process in which the outsole has been pressed on to the bottom of the last, the excess leather is trimmed off the outsole and welt, A channel is later raised on the outsole in order to facilitate the next operation of outsole stitching.

11. Goodyear Stitching — Here, in this operation which constitutes the essence of the Goodyear welt system, the outsole is stitched to the welt. The machine has two threaded needles, which penetrate the sole from top and bottom. The threads meet and are locked in the outsole.

12. Leveling —Here the shoe goes under a concave roller which moulds the outsole to the exact contour of the bottom of the last. Dipping from side to side as the shoe passes under it, the roller shapes the outsole with almost human intelligence plus an exerted pressure of a ton and a half.

13. Heeling — Here the heel is firmly nailed to the outsole. If it is a leather heel, the section or base is first attached and then the top lift. If it is a rubber heel, the same machine serves the same purpose, holding the heel in place and nailing it to the outsole.

14. Slugging— Here rolls of wire or wood are cut into small sections which are driven through the top lift and into the base of leather heels. From this operation derive the rows of "slugging wire" which stud the edge of the heel and help prevent it from wearing down.

15. Heel Trimming —Here the excess leather or rubber of the heel is cropped around the edge to give the heel a smooth, trim appearance. There is always more leather to trim off than rubber because in leather heels an extra mar-gin must be allowed as a safety factor against shrinkage.

16. Edge Trimming —Here the edges of the sole are trimmed, preceding their visit to the edge setter who irons and smooths out the edges. In the above extremely delicate operation all that the worker has to guide him in trimming the sole to the proper width is his eyesight.

17. Bottom Sanding —Here the rough surface of the sole is sanded and smoothed, preparing it for the finish which is later applied. Following this operation the last is pulled out and the shoe completes its period of seven days or more on the last.

18. Treeing —Here the shoe is cleaned of all dirt which it has accumulated during its two to three week journey through the factory. Dressings are then applied; the shoes are laced, given a final inspection, packed and dispatched to the retailer and through him to the consumer.

4 Critical Aspects of Good Footwear

Leather —Any footnote to shoe quality logically starts with leather since any quality shoe either starts with high grade leather or never starts at all, regardless of what happens to it in the factory after that point. Good leather is a vital factor in the appearance, the durability and the comfort of a shoe. This leaves little to add concerning the importance of leather.

Lasts —A good last (i.e., a last made of well seasoned wood in accordance with precise measurements) is the foundation of a good shoe. Quality shoes are made over a last of the exact size and width stamped on the finished product—they require no juggling or camouflaging of size markings. And, a further point, the upper of a quality shoe remains on the last at least seven days.

Patterns —The wearer never sees the patterns from which his shoes are cut. But the patterns can make or break a shoe, for over them the upper leather is cut—and it must be cut accurately. A quality factory may have on hand well over a million different patterns one for each size, half-size and width so that there need be no skipping of either widths or half sizes.

Workmanship —Who makes it is al-ways a good guide to how it is made. And the word "who" represents not so much an inanimate corporation as a group of individual workers. That these individual workers must be each a craftsman in his own right has been true of quality shoe making ever since its earliest days—and it is likely to be still true as long as good shoes are made.

AFTER a salesman has schooled himself in all the elements of measurement and fit, fashion, leathers, construction and the art of "trading up," his self-education is still not finished unless he has taken a post-graduate course in the subject of completing the sale. Or, to express it differently, after he has sold the customer one or more pairs of shoes, his job is still not done until he has seen what he can do about also selling the customer some of the accessories which are associated with shoes.

In this category come such articles as hosiery, slippers, belts, suspenders, garters, shoe dressings and shoe trees. They may represent a classification of merchandise aside from shoes and subordinate to shoes, but they net enough profit to pay the rent in more than one store. The point is that the overhead goes on regardless of whether you sell accessories or not, and therefore every time you sell one of these articles your gross profit on it becomes net.

Before going any further I want you to have a look at the basic 10 RTW shoe construction methods that were present at that time. Each of them will have its own labeled picture so you know what they are talking about next time you heard the phrase “stranded screw” for example.

The 10 basic construction methods back then were called; 1. Goodyear Welt, Pegged, Mackay, Cemented and Silhouwelt, Turned, Pre-welt, Standard Screw, Stitched Down, Moccasin, and Littleway. Below are their pictures. Have a good look at them!

I guess that settles anything about construction and fit and maybe a bit more here and there. All that remains in the process of leather tannage and properties of skin which we will discuss in next section.



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In this section below you will read about what was the general process for skin selection and treatment back in 1930s, what were some of the things they considered important and what not so important.

From AA Fall 33’


From the death of the animal to the sorting of the leather—A tabloid cyclopaedia of tanning

TANNING is older, even, than agriculture. Man felt the discomfort of bitter winds, one must assume, before he felt the first inclination to accumulate foodstuff. Accordingly, with the animal's hide, plus the animal's fat and brains, plus the crude cure of the sun's rays, he first tanned skins into leather. Thus clothing was born. Thus the first crude shields, the first primitive sandals.

To indicate how recently tanning has "come of age", from a technological standpoint, to show how recently science has begun to take a hand in finding some more exact means of conversion than the old rule of thumb methods, it is only necessary to mention one change of process that has come about since the turn of the present century. Only thirty years ago tanners still used the manure of chickens, pigeons and dogs for that portion of their conversion process which, following the soaking of the skins in lime, is used for a preparatory softening (technically known as "bating"), prior to the tanning which transforms the skin to leather. Today, less picturesquely but more scientifically, the tanner uses a ready prepared mixture of pancreatic enzymes. In the dyeing, too, other days meant other ways. For no good reason beyond that familiar one of "our fathers always did it so", tanners used the product of human micturition in their dye drums. The tanner's wagon was a familiar sight on Main Street corners, where it stopped at every saloon to pick up a barrel of the tradition-specified ingredient. Finally, it occurred to someone to question the reason. Since then, tanners have used ammonia.

TODAY the leather industry, as represented by a few of its more progressive members, both here and in Europe, is definitely research-minded. Scientific study of what goes on in the traditional process of tanning, in terms of what action that process has upon the constituent fibers of the animal's skin, has given tanning a greater impetus of progress per year, for the last five years, than it has had for the last five centuries.
Today, for example, we are able to take you behind the scenes and show you things that were unknown and unguessed at, just a few years back, in that microcosm of tiny cells and fibers which makes up the hide of the animal and which constitutes the every-day covering of the average man's feet, hands and waist.

You can read the whole story in pictures; it really leaves nothing untold. It will tell you, as you follow it step by step, not only what things are done, and how, but also why, and with what effect upon the skin. In the plant photographs showing the successive operations to which the skin is subjected, you will find the facts about leather; in the photo-micrographs you will find the truth about it—the inside story of that which is invisible to the naked eye, which determines so largely the difference between quality and the lack of it.

The process, as revealed in this parade of pictures, is typical of that in use in the most modern tanneries today. With minor exceptions, too technical to go into and concerned chiefly with leathers that are little used, it is the story of almost all shoe uppers, some sole leather and a majority of garment leathers. It is the story, too, of some, though by no means all, of the differences between good leather and poor —the story of the hazards of leather making at those points of the process where, through lack of skill or knowledge, the tanner fathers a failure.

Thanks to research carried on for the benefit of the industry as a whole, tanning is now very close to being a scientifically controlled process. Time was when the tanner attributed a thirty or forty day run of poor grades to nothing less inevitable than the proverbial "act of God". His methods were comparable to those of a dog trying to get through a fence— strictly trial and error. Today, thanks to such inside knowledge as these laboratory specimens reveal the tanner can tell, in very short order, whether-he is getting all the quality that the worth of the skin affords. He still can't, and probably never can, overcome nature. But at least, and at last, he can understand it.

It is safe to say that American tannage is at least as good as that of any other country. It is not possible, however, to say the same thing for American hides and skins, and perhaps it never will be. Various things contribute to the grading of skins. The European skins, as a general rule, are better than the American, in the case of calfskin. The European farmer is prone to take better care of his cattle than of his children, with resultant benefit to the quality of European skins. Another reason is that America is a beef-eating country, whereas the European countries are veal-eating. Aside from the matter of geography, the calendar, too, has a bearing upon quality. The season of the year in which the animal is slaughtered makes a big difference. This seasonal variation of skin quality can hardly be generalized, however, since it is also subject to such variables as climate and geography.

AMERICAN calf leather is the finest that is made, but the biggest part of the American supply of calfskin comes from abroad. Almost all of it is chrome tanned, although the tannage varies, say, between the light suede finish calfskin for a windbreaker and the full grain calfskin for the better grade shoe uppers. (Sole leathers are, for the most part, vegetable tanned.) Bull calfskins (made from the skins of bulls-to-be, from a few days to a few weeks old) constitute about ninety per cent of all calfskins tanned. Cattle hide is used for all shoe soles, and for uppers of heavy shoes, such as work shoes and shoes for various outdoor sports, as well as for luggage and belts. While calf is by all odds the most widely used leather for men's shoes, goatskin and kid may be expected to increase in importance as the trend toward light weight shoes follows as a natural consequence of the trend toward lighter clothing. It should not be assumed, however, that all calfskin is heavy.

Featherweight calf is made, and is increasingly popular, for summer shoes for men and is, of course, virtually the only weight of calf used in shoes for women. Kid and goat are sometimes differentiated from calfskin by the fact that the skin pattern is marked by tiny pores in groups of three in a row. In general, the smaller and finer these pores are, the higher the quality of the leather and this applies to all skins and leather. While the coarseness of grain is influenced to some extent by tannage,- it is chiefly determined by the type and origin of the skins. For example, skins from China are generally coarser, while skins from India are generally finer. Sheepskin, which is an excellent leather for garments and gloves, is less and less used (except as linings) for men's shoes in fact, may be regarded as the sign of a very cheap shoe. Yet it is the source of cape, suede, chamois, doeskin, mocha and flesher, among the glove leathers. Buckskin, always popular for gloves, has had increasing importance as a shoe leather, rising on the tide of favor for sportswear. The skin that has been improperly soaked, limed or bated, or improperly tanned, results in a leather of inferior quality. It may be of faulty quality either inside or on the surface—and in either case it will crease more quickly, and soon split or crack along the creases.

Good tanners' "seconds" usually represent only natural skin defects, bad spots that are cut out in manufacture. But the layman has no ready means of knowing, except to his sorrow after the test of actual use, whether the tanner has done his job properly. For that matter, even the average manufacturer, to say nothing of the average retailer, must make leather quality largely a matter of trust. The cheapest product, hurriedly or faultily processed from the poorer skins, is often given a dressing treatment sufficiently ingenious to simulate, for a while at least, the firm lively texture of the better leather. There are various rule of thumb tests, enjoying vogue now and then among buyers who fancy themselves as amateur detectives, by which they swear they can "judge leather". In general, they are too fallible to be worth passing on to you. At best, they can do no more than enable you to tell in a fairly haphazard and inaccurate way, which leathers come from the cheaper, and which from the better, skins. You would still be at a loss to tell which, though coming from the best skins, represent poor grades through faulty process.

Trite as it may seem to say so, there is better, way to insure leather satisfaction than to see to it that it represents a tannage that can be trusted—that it is the product of one of the progressive leaders among the tanners who are known for a high grade product. Today, when buyers at wholesale as at retail are feeling less than ever inclined to buy on trust— to rely upon the seller's good faith and honesty of practice—it is more necessary than ever. For tanners^ like all other producers, have been subject, these last few years, to an unexampled pressure. Some have met it by increased efficiency and improved process. Others have met it, much more than half way, with a cheapened product. Stick to the standard few who are above suspicion — until times, if not human nature, change for the better.

Steps Involved in Tannage

1. This is the way the skins appear as received by the tanner. They have been cured, shortly after the death of the animal, by the slaughterer. This curing which involves treatment with salt, arrests the decomposition of the skin which begins, as a result of bacterial action, very soon after slaughter. Research has shown that an animal's skin actually lives from three hours (in the case of a lamb) to eleven hours (in the case of mature steers) after slaughter.

2. The cured skins are trimmed, the unusable portions being cut off be-fore the process of con-version from skin to leather is begun. This process begins after this point, with soaking of the skin in water or a solution of a chemical for anywhere from six hours to four days, the soaking time varying with the skin's condition and the class of leather desired. This soaking, when properly timed, restores the skin to the moisture con-tent it had when on the living animal.

3. All dirt, hair, scraps of flesh, and foreign substances must be removed before skin can be-turned into leather. Thus begins a series of alternate scrapings and soakings—the former being given by knives and by machines that look like a cross breeding between an over-grown clothes .wringer and a gargantuan pencil sharpener—while the soakings are performed in pits and in drums that resemble the old family washing machine. Shown here is a second trimming, between soaking and liming.

4. "Leather is made in the lime" according to an adage of the tanning trade, which means that, after soaking, the immersion of the skins in a solution of lime brings about necessary chemical changes which have a direct bearing upon the skin's ultimate quality as leather. The lime solution acts as a depilatory, dissolving the structures adjacent to the hair, thus making it easy to de-hair the skin. More important still, it adds further swelling of the fiber bundles— it is their ability to swell that indicates ultimate quality of leather.

5. After the skins have been taken out of the lime pit they are trundled over to an unhairing machine which has a whirling circular blade (the pencil sharpener principle) which removes the hairs that were loosened in the lime pit. Additional un-hairing must be given by hand, by the men in the background who stand at beams like those shown in photographs 2 and 3 and remove the remaining hairs by scraping the skins with two handled knives. Now the skins are ready for "bating".

6. The skins arrive at that stage of the process, preparatory to the actual tanning, known as "bating". The skins are placed in vats which are rotated by a revolving paddle. These vats contain a liquid which is a mixture of pancreatic enzymes. The action of the enzymes is a digestive process difficult to demonstrate, or even define, which results in a softening of the skin. This is where the leather's ultimate pliability is largely determined, although at this point the skin has not yet reached the tanning stage where it becomes leather.

7. Now the tannage be-gins. In the chrome tanning process, tanning is accomplished by treating the bated skin after it has been fleshed (by going through the machine shown at the extreme right in photograph 6) with a mineral salt. This solution of chromium sulphate is thoroughly drummed into the skins in the drums which are shown in the background. When they come out they are light bluish green color. Twice again —for fat liquoring and for dyeing—the leather will be put in revolving, drums like these.

8. Setting out, which involves putting the skins through a pressure ma chine like a huge clothes wringer, makes the tanned skins dry enough to be workable. Then splitting and shaving reduce them to the desired thickness. Dyeing follows, then the skins are set out again to dry and fat liquoring takes away their stiff hardness. After successive soakings and dryings of this kind the leather lacks mellowness and possesses excessive "give"_ or stretch, A massage imparted by this staking machine imparts mellowness and equalizes the stretch

9. Now the leather is ready for final drying. It is toggled upon these drying frames so it will not shrink out of shape in the dryer. After the toggles have been clamped, as is being done by the men in the foreground, the frame is stood erect, as it appears in the background, and then slid into place in the dryer.

10. Now the finishing operations begin. This is the first one, which is known as the buffing. This is done by hand on wheels covered with abrasive coated paper. In the case of good' leathers, this is done only on the flesh side, to give it a nice feel and look. Only the poorest, cheapest leathers are buffed on the grain side. With poorer skins this must be done either with a knife or an emery wheel.

11. Now the leather gets a series of seasonings, consisting of alternate applications of thin layers of seasoning compound and drying, until it is uniform in color and affords a proper foundation for the glazing operations that follow. This same spreading on of finishing materials is also repeated again, some-times more than once, after the glazing. Al-though this material is spread on at several different times, each layer is exceedingly thin.

12. This is the glazing operation which puts a bright finish on the seasoned leather. This is accomplished by the rubbing of the glass cylinder up and down on the surface of the leather. The operator moves the leather around so that each portion of its surface is struck and rubbed by the glass cylinder which is attached to a swiftly moving arm. Leather comes to the glazer with a dull lackluster surface —leaves it with a bright high finish.

13. To impart a final smoothness, removing all wrinkles and making the edges lie perfectly flat, the glazed leather is now ironed by hand. This is the last operation in the making of fine leathers; it is one that is only very seldom skipped, even in the making of leathers of mediocre quality. Note how the finished leather now gleams under the light—it is soft, mellow, pliant but firm. Now the leathers go to a sorting room for grading.

14. This is the final show-up where the good, the bad, and the indifferent must be segregated in a very accurate grading. The best leathers, of course, simply represent the best skins—since no tanner can improve on nature. By scientific control of the tannage, however, the most progressive tanners obtain a remarkable uniformity— getting out all the quality that nature put in. After this point the skins are measured on an ingenious machine (light leathers are always sold by the square foot), then packed and shipped.


I have partially destroyed my books (all this scanning and photocopying crap) for the sake for your education. I have put it up there and now it is in your hands. Make sure whatever you do that this does not disappear in some great cosmic internet glitch or something cause I sure ain’t doing it again!

Take it easy…

P.S. To Read a super detailed version of this post with many more pictures and Footwear history click on this link below. Once there you want to read Section I. Section II and III are same as here.

VOL. IV NO. 1 (Aug 08') On Footwear...

This post would have never been possible without help from Dopey so 3 big cheers for him!


Well-Known Member
Apr 11, 2008
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Very interesting.

And this one really cracked me up:

Originally Posted by tutee
The European farmer is prone to take better care of his cattle than of his children


Senior Member
Jan 5, 2008
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Thank you for your work. Extremely informative!!! I love shoes even more!


Stylish Dinosaur
Mar 10, 2006
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Truly spectacular resource. Thank you!

The section on correctly fitting shoes was very interesting and I have not come across such a detailed explanation before.

Two (related) questions arise -

The intense detail associated with checking correct fit implies that it is actually possible to find a RTW shoe that fits so correctly. How practical is this in today's age? Is this why shoe assistants no longer check so carefully?

Secondly, the deliberate pre-creasing of the vamp before wearing the shoes - this is something I sometimes wonder about doing but never have. Is this a wise practice, or is the risk of incorrectly placing the crease and thus compromising shoe comfort too high? Or are modern leathers soft enough that this step is unnecessary (certainly my shoes seem to crease OK without pre-creasing).


Stylish Dinosaur
Apr 24, 2008
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Dude, your commitment to provide us with this information blows my mind. Thank you very much.


Oct 19, 2004
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Amazing. Thanks for posting all of this fascinating information.


Senior Member
Dubiously Honored
Mar 15, 2005
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Originally Posted by Holdfast

Two (related) questions arise -

The intense detail associated with checking correct fit implies that it is actually possible to find a RTW shoe that fits so correctly. How practical is this in today's age? Is this why shoe assistants no longer check so carefully?

Is it possible? Yes but is it likely? Probably no. It is definitively practical I think because people need to know what is considered a good fit especially when you are purchasing these high end RTW shoes (ones that offer various lasts). Now, it is certainly not pragmatic to walk into a shoe store and expect this from a sales person. Not going to happen!
One of the biggest reasons why sales people or footwear brands don't follow this is because of the customer. I mean why spend all this time when it is neither appreciated nor needed? If I a customer is satisfied with the fit after two steps, do you really need to go that far? In theory one could say yes... It is needed but in reality isn’t going to happen.

It is customers responsibility to be educated also (even more so) when buying these high priced and (I hope quality) items so when shopping it forces the sales staff to be on their toes. Not just doing it for merely the heck of it but truly know and buy what good fit is. It is kind of a very broad topic that is often discussed in tailoring subjects but not so much in footwear.

One of the biggest reasons why I want to put this out was because there is not much like this on the net or even in the books. When it comes to shoes 90% of the time we are more than happy with just the construction details and that is where much is written about. I honestly think that a proper fitting shoe is probably even more important than a well fitted jacket because an ill fitting one can hurt the foot.

Originally Posted by Holdfast
Secondly, the deliberate pre-creasing of the vamp before wearing the shoes - this is something I sometimes wonder about doing but never have. Is this a wise practice, or is the risk of incorrectly placing the crease and thus compromising shoe comfort too high? Or are modern leathers soft enough that this step is unnecessary (certainly my shoes seem to crease OK without pre-creasing).

Yes... indeed we don't follow this practice in RTW these days. Honestly, I have never purchased any footwear directly while at shop and I am guilty of that. Most of mine are special orders that arrived via mail. I have purchased few pairs at US Allen Edmonds from the stores but it would be childish to expect the sales staff to know about this let alone properly execute it. The only time I had this happen to me was at Lobb St. James, where the last maker actually used a button-hook to do this.



Distinguished Member
Jul 30, 2007
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WOW. Thanks for providing.


New Member
Aug 20, 2008
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Double wow. Two new bookmark categories on my computer: Sartorial Splendour and Shoeology; not bad for my first day cruising this forum!


Distinguished Member
Mar 25, 2008
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What a great post. Thank you!


Distinguished Member
Nov 12, 2003
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Kudos tutee (and Dopey).

like slt, I too was amused by the comment:
Originally Posted by tutee
...... The European farmer is prone to take better care of his cattle than of his children...
Does that explain why classic Eastern European shoes look the way they do, for kicking cattle?

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