After finishing law school, but before I started articles, I made a trip down to Boston, MA to visit an old roommate from undergrad. Between the beer and the baseball I made a special effort that week to visit an Allen Edmonds shop to get fitted for a proper set of shoes – walnut Strands. It proved to be a wise decision.
Since then I’ve purchased several more pairs of Allen Eddies on eBay – all “lightly used” and all at a fraction of the cost of new shoes. Prior to my Boston trip I would have never considered buying shoes online, but now that I’m familiar with the brand’s sizing I browse and order with confidence.
In the #menswear blogosphere I don’t think there is an article of clothing that is as rigoursly evaluated for its “value” as shoes. Countless digital inches of column width have been devoted to articles, blog posts and reader comments discussing and dissecting whether it is worth “paying more” for quality footwear. Interestingly this is at odds with the prevailing #menswear dogma that aesthetic appeal is in itself valuable, and therefore it is perfectly reasonable to pay more for a nice shirt, tie, or pair of shoes simply because it looks better.
Strangely there exists a chorus of cynics who paradoxically frequent websites like Permanent Style and Put This On yet still demand something akin to an actuarial report on the cost, lifespan, and maintenance fees associated with full grain, Goodyear welted footwear to justify their purchase over down-market models. While that level of analysis may seem excessive, the philosopher kings of #menswear who relentlessly champion the value of good shoes almost ask for it.
A new pair of Allen Eddies will set you back about $345. A similarly styled pair of shoes from Aldo, or a like brand, will cost you only $135.
So how do the proponents of quality footwear beat that $210 spread (assuming, for arguments sake, that it is not sufficient to leave it at “the more expensive shoes just plain look better”)?
I think based on my experience with buying both new, and used, Allen Edmonds I can answer that question.
Well-made shoes hold their value: Admittedly that is a weird statement. I don’t think most men shop for clothing with resale value in mind, and there are some guys that would never in a million years buy shoes from a dead guy. Nevertheless a few minutes on eBay will reveal a tremendous volume of used leather shoes selling for hundreds of dollars. More often than not these shoes are several years old, being sold long after they are available in stores or featured in advertisements. This speaks of the intrinsic value of properly built shoes.
The costs associated with manufacturing well-made shoes makes the business practice of dumping countless models on the market every season, with the expectation of deeply discounting them only months later, untenable. Goodyear welted shoes are built to last and are sold with a consumer in mind who will look after them. For these reasons Goodyear welted shoes tend to be conservatively styled; therefore they are a better value proposition over the long term.
I purchased my McAllisters on eBay for about $80. I’d be shocked if a worn pair of Aldos from a couple years ago had any value whatsoever.
Aging: Cheap shoes suffer from rapid aesthetic depreciation. Footwear crafted of dubious “leather”, rubber, and glue will never look as good as the day they were purchased. It may take a year or two, or as short as a couple months, but the veneer of a corrected grain leather will wear away or crack, glued seams will become unglued, and rubber soles will part ways with their synthetic uppers.
Although I have no idea how old my McAllisters were when they came into my possession (the McAllister was reintroduced in 2009), they nevertheless looked quite handsome. The creases in the leather from the miles they’d already travelled added to the appearance of an already commanding shoe.
The quality of the leather used to make a shoe will be the single biggest indicator of how a shoe ages: how it responds to the elements, to regular wear, and to the occasional or frequent polishing. While it may be a stretch to say that high quality shoes “only get better with age”, it’s certainly safe to say they age gracefully.
Recrafting: Leather soles do eventually need to be replaced, that is just the nature of the beast. How many years you get out of a pair of soles depends largely on personal variables. Leather soles wear quicker when wet, so that should be avoided whenever possible.
I wore my McAllisters for a full year before sending them to the Allen Edmonds factory for a “recrafting”. I opted for the “standard” package which set me back $125 (+ $15 extra for return shipping to Canada) and it included new soles, heels, and reconditioning of the uppers.
I was impressed with the recrafting experience. The form was easy to print off and fill out, and the shoes came back in about four weeks time looking practically brand new, and smelling of polish. The richness to the oxblood colouring of the uppers had been completely restored, and the shoes were buffed to a brilliant shine. They felt fantastic too. One doesn’t notice the wearing down of soles over time, until the sole gets so thin your feet are regularly getting cold and damp. Putting my McAllisters back on with thick full soles returned a firmness to the shoe, and a snug fit that had been missing for sometime (and having been purchased used, likely I never fully got to experience).
Based on the condition of the soles of my Strands, I’m expecting 2-3 years of regular wear on these shoes before another resoling.
Could you resole and recondition lesser quality shoes? Maybe. I’m sure most strip-mall cobblers could come up with some combination of glue and polish to prolong the shoes’ slow death, but they certainly wouldn’t be able to return them in “like new” condition.
So where does that leave us?
In a nutshell I consider the “recrafting” process a very good value, which underlines the merit of investing in good shoes, new or used. For $140 dollars I was able to return an $80 pair of eBay shoes to their former $345 glory. Even if these new soles only last me two more years, for $220 ($80 purchase price, plus $140 recrafting) I’ll have enjoyed three years (one year on original soles, two years on the new soles) of wear out of a very nice shoe, at an amortized cost of only $73.30 a year. Now that is a cost/wear ratio that cheap shoes just can’t compete with.