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what makes a good shoe and why they cost so much

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by DWFII, Nov 8, 2009.

  1. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    DWF...can you comment a bit on how bootmaking is the last remaining area of American shoemaking that, with only a few exceptions perhaps, aims at the best traditional standards?
    I can comment at length (as you have perhaps noticed) on "western" (aka "cowboy) bootmaking, but perhaps not so much on other forms of bootmaking.. Western bootmaking has its own standards and traditions. Most of them are derivative or closely related to the wider, older shoemaking traditions that are shared among European makers. But historically, there are three factors that work to alter...distort, change--pick a word...the traditions. First, western bootmaking as a separate branch of the Trade (and some do think of it that way) grew up and came of age after the Civil War (traditional shoemaking goes back much further than that--10,000 years by some accounts). Industrialization was in full swing in all the Trades. The spinners and weaver were nearly up in arms, ready for revolution, claiming that the mechanized loom was making "wage slaves" of working men. But bootmakers readily adopted the new technologies and machines. To this day we still use machines which many shoemakers may be familiar with but which most would say are not necessary. Second, a good portion of the bootmaking Trade was centered in the border areas where new, burgeoning factories employed cheap, cross-border labour...who often went home and started their own businesses. This, in turn, not only forced wages down but introduced many factory-centric techniques that are, in my opinion, both contrary to the concepts of quality and the older techniques. But competition will do that. Celastic as a toe stiffener (rather than leather) is one example, although there are any number of supposedly high end shoemaking firms in Europe (and many more in the USA) that have recently gone to it, as well. And third, bootmaking went through a stage, when it was still in its formative years, during the Great Depressions when master shoemakers refused to pass on their knowledge or abandoned time honoured techniques and materials in favour of faster, cheaper, less onerous. Hard times and competition will do that. There are more than a few bootmakers in this country who try to preserve and honour the techniques of the past...techniques that are described in Rees and elsewhere and that their fathers and grandfathers practiced. But more than one has simply decided that such skills and materials are old hat and decided to move on. "That's the way we used to do it," to quote one wag.
    For all the reasons above. I really admire the older techniques---to use them requires infinitely more skill, a better eye, and a certain refined sensibility. All that equates to more time...and that is almost the antithesis of today's modern "factory mentality." Plus it's just the challenge of something new at my stage of life...it's almost like re-inventing yourself. Starting a new career without all the awkwardness and uncertainty.
     


  2. srivats

    srivats Senior member

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    Very, very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    If I ever visit Oregon, I'll come by and see you in person.
     


  3. Lovellum

    Lovellum Well-Known Member

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    Very informative. I'll keep some of those points in mind when I'm next shopping for shoes. But may I ask, what do you mean by "visible thread" on the shoes' outsole? When I look at the bottom or top of the outsole of practically every shoe I see, the stitching is rather noticeable. Am I just completely misunderstanding what you're saying?
     


  4. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Thank you all for the kind words.
    Good stuff DWF, great 'stache too!
    Thanks...that photo was taken about 20 years ago. Back when I was still limber and the facial hair did what I wanted it to do. Nowadays the mustache is a little more subdued but still as expansive as ever.
    If I ever visit Oregon, I'll come by and see you in person.
    Do that you'll be welcome.
     


  5. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Very informative. I'll keep some of those points in mind when I'm next shopping for shoes. But may I ask, what do you mean by "visible thread" on the shoes' outsole? When I look at the bottom or top of the outsole of practically every shoe I see, the stitching is rather noticeable. Am I just completely misunderstanding what you're saying?
    If the stitching is visible on the bottom of the outsole, the makers just aren't trying. You will, and for the most part should, see the stitching on the welt. But as I mentioned, even if the manufacturer is using a machine...assuming the maker does not want to take the time to either master the technique of hand stitching or just doesn't want to offer hand stitching in a particular model...the machine (which is about the only alternative to hand stitching for a Goodyear welted shoe) can be set up to automatically cut a vertical channel in the outsole and drop the stitches into that channel. Done correctly...and it takes very little effort to do it correctly...that channel can be closed up so that the stitches are completely hidden. And more importantly, embedded in the channel in this way, they are protected from wear. Look carefully at a G&G or a Lobb. Or even the chukkas referenced in the link I provided above.
     


  6. antirabbit

    antirabbit Senior member

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    Wow a three year waiting list!

    Your shoes are amazing, as are your boots.
    I love it when we have input from artisans such as your self.
     


  7. apropos

    apropos Senior member

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  8. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Wow a three year waiting list!
    I'm semi-retired now...meaning I only work eight hours a day and five days a week [​IMG]...so my waiting list is less than half of what it was when I last updated that part of my webpage.
    Thank you. Some years ago a number of us were sitting around at a Guild meeting shooting the breeze over some Quarter Cask, and lamenting the way the Trades were dying out in the States . We decided that the only remedy was to educate people about shoes and boots and what made one pair stand out from the crowd. I may have yet another part to add to this little essay but my ultimate hope is that it will provide a touchstone for folks who are looking to step up to something a little better than commonplace.
     


  9. Wes Bourne

    Wes Bourne Senior member

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    I'm semi-retired now...meaning I only work eight hours a day and five days a week [​IMG]...so my waiting list is less than half of what it was when I last updated that part of my webpage.

    Then LK, Fuuma and Vox should get in line for a pair. Super serious.
     


  10. Lovellum

    Lovellum Well-Known Member

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    If the stitching is visible on the bottom of the outsole, the makers just aren't trying. You will, and for the most part should, see the stitching on the welt. But as I mentioned, even if the manufacturer is using a machine...assuming the maker does not want to take the time to either master the technique of hand stitching or just doesn't want to offer hand stitching in a particular model...the machine (which is about the only alternative to hand stitching for a Goodyear welted shoe) can be set up to automatically cut a vertical channel in the outsole and drop the stitches into that channel. Done correctly...and it takes very little effort to do it correctly...that channel can be closed up so that the stitches are completely hidden.

    And more importantly, embedded in the channel in this way, they are protected from wear.

    Look carefully at a G&G or a Lobb. Or even the chukkas referenced in the link I provided above.


    I see. Way to make me feel bad about my Loake Kemptons [​IMG] I'm actually walking on stitch now with them.
     


  11. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    DW:

    Very interesting and educational post, as always. I have a few things I might add, particularly relating to the 'why' as opposed to the 'how.' In other words, what are the benefits to the customer, in addition to the enhanced durability that you describe?

    There are numerous benefits to a bespoke shoe. First and foremost, of course, is fit. Bespoke shoes should be made on a personalized last, preferably on lasts carved specifically for your feet -- both shape and measurements -- and styled to accommodate your desired toe shape, heel height, type of shoe, and preferred fit. For most customers, a bespoke shoe will fit better than virtually any RTW shoe, and the materials and construction of the shoe also mean that the bespoke shoe will mold to your feet better than a RTW shoe.

    Next, there is the unlimited range of styles and designs that a bespoke maker can provide. In addition to the typical decisions, such as shoe type (i.e. oxford vs. derby vs. loafer/slip-on), style (wholecut, plain toe, wingtip, cap toe, u/'adelaide' throat, etc) and amount and type of brogueing and edge treatment (plain vs. gimped), there are options such as matching linings, contrasting piping/collar, number of eyelets, and treatment of facings (should the front of the shoe meet when laced, or do you want a space -- and, if so, how much -- between the two sets of eyelets?). You also can choose the thickness of the sole, the width and visibility of the welt/sole on the finished shoe (not showing, just showing, full showing), the waist/sole treatment -(plain vs bevelled, with or without a fiddleback), the bottom finish (color and design of the sole staining), the spacing of the outsole stitching (8, 10, or 12 SPI), sole edge color, and even the heel shape (square vs angled/'cuban').

    Of course, quality bespoke makers also offer an almost unlimited range of leather options, as well as custom finishes.

    Finally, bespoke shoes are generally lighter and often more flexible than their RTW counterparts, which can offer substantial benefits in terms of reduced fatigue after a day of walking about.

    For some people, some or all of these advantages make bespoke footwear a luxury worth paying for.
     


  12. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I see. Way to make me feel bad about my Loake Kemptons [​IMG] I'm actually walking on stitch now with them.
    I am sorry I made you feel bad. I'm sure you can get lots of wear and be comfortable in your Loakes for many years to come. But next time you go to buy a pair of shoes, hopefully you'll remember this essay and will not only be conscious of what goes into making a high quality shoe but also be able to justify (to yourself) stepping up a notch...or three. I have to remark that all of us tend to be blinded by a name every now and again. Lobbs has a reputation that they earned...in spades...many years ago. Are they riding on that reputation and letting quality slip? I don't know. [Mind you stylishness has nothing to do with what I am talking about.] But if they are, they wouldn't be the first company that decided they wanted a bigger piece of the pie and didn't care what had to be sacrificed to get it. So how do you know? You educate yourself...and you think about how much more skill is required to make a shoe with a channeled outsole than one that is stitched aloft. And why that might be important. With deep regrets, I have to suspect that if Loakes are stitching aloft, then they have seen better days. And maybe don't deserve your dollar...especially if you are paying it thinking you are buying best quality...or even better (good, better, best) quality.
     


  13. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Shoefan, Very good point(s) ...and thank you for contributing to this discussion. As your remarks imply there is so much more that could be highlighted...so many little niggling techniques as well as more critical ones, that set really high quality shoes apart from the mundane. In this next photo you can see the stitching, done by hand at 11 spi (the thread is black so you have to look for it) and you can also see the "wires" on the top and bottom edges of the outsole, as well as the "jigger" bevel on the edge of the welt. The wires and the jigger are often considered purely ornamental (erroneously) but they indicate that wax has been burnished deeply into the edges of the outsole and welt. If this were not done the edges of the welt and outsole would be more apt to soak up moisture simply because these are edges--raw fibers. I sometimes run across folks who think that a round edge is more attractive. I can't speak to other people's personal preferences or aesthetics but a round edge, even if burnished, has neither the protective properties nor the crisp lines of the traditionally finished outsole. Just an example of one of those niggling little techniques.... [​IMG]
     


  14. Doc4

    Doc4 Senior member

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    So how do you know? You educate yourself...and you think about how much more skill is required to make a shoe with a channeled outsole than one that is stitched aloft. And why that might be important. With deep regrets, I have to suspect that if Loakes are stitching aloft, then they have seen better days. And maybe don't deserve your dollar...especially if you are paying it thinking you are buying best quality...or even better (good, better, best) quality.

    The first time I saw a pair of shoes that had a channelled sole, I thought ... "hey, these supposedly expensive shoes don't even have a stiched sole ... just glued on!!" [​IMG]
     


  15. ajv

    ajv Senior member

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    Thank you DWFII,
    Like most of your posts, i will have to bookmark this thread. I know a few things about the techniques you explain as i am often around shoe-makers in old Europe. But there is always to be learnt, and even better so, my knowldge of the english language or vocabulary in respect to shoe making is vastly improving.
    You mentioned about your desire to have people better understand shoe-making and be able to value a shoe-maker's work. By doing this, IMHO, you are not only helping the people in the trade in the US, but worlwide as that artisan's knowledge is getting forgotten by many.
     


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