How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?
One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking.  
It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).
The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns
There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.
In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.
After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.
The Emergence of a More Competitive Market
The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.
The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.
(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?

One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking. 

It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).

The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns

There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.

In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.

After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.

The Emergence of a More Competitive Market

The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.

The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.

(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

Reviewing Two New Shoe Companies

I’m genuinely amazed at how many new footwear companies have cropped up in the past few years. Every six months there seems to be a new entrant, which makes me wonder how anyone is making money. It’s good for consumers though – more choices, more competition. It’s been particularly good for consumers on the lower end of the price spectrum, whose options have opened up pretty dramatically.

Two such companies recently asked if they could send me some shoes for review (I took them on loan). Here are the results.

Beckett Simonon: Is Cheap Worth It?

The first is Beckett Simonon, who is offering two lines of affordable footwear. The first is a Goodyear welted collection made from vegetable-tanned, full-grain leathers (which are sourced from Poland). Those are available for pre-orders at $115-130, and come with a one-year warranty (which is nice). They also have a line of rubber-soled shoes that’s priced between $80 and $90.

I received a pair of their Goodyear welted loafers and some brick soled chukkas. The chukkas are comparable to what you’d get from Bass or Clarks, but are offered at a lower price. I like the shape of Clarks’ Desert Boots a bit better, as it’s a bit narrower in width, but the difference is so small that it’s barely worth mentioning. Quality wise, they’re pretty similar, though at that price, I suspect the suede options will be safer than the leather ones.

At $115, the loafers are a particularly interesting offering. The Beckett Simonon shoes are considerably better in construction and style than the similarly-priced John Doe shoes I reviewed two months ago, and they’re certainly a step up from the department store competition. Of course, there are trade-offs here, too. The leather, in particular, isn’t of the quality you’ll find on more expensive shoes. The shapes are also a bit boxy.

So are they recommendable? I think there are still better options out there for the budget conscious consumer (I made some suggestions here), but those will cost at least $75 more. Still, if you find a style you like, and can’t swing the extra money, these are certainly worth considering.

Paul Evans: More Competition at $350

I also looked at Paul Evans, whose shoes, like a lot of the new footwear companies we’ve seen, price out at about $350 a pair. As the price might suggest, the quality of materials here and construction are considerably better than the inexpensive Beckett Simonon. But how do they compare to their direct competitors?

There was a time when the $350-tier was the sole domain of Allen Edmonds, but these days, there are more options. I don’t have Allen Edmonds’ calfskins here to compare, but I do have some Loake’s 1880s and Meermin’s Linea Maestros. Both of those seem to be made from nicer leathers that don’t crease as easily, and I found them a bit more comfortable just under the heel. 

The upside to Paul Evans, however, is the design. These simply look very nice and the shape is much more appealing than what you’d typically find in an Allen Edmonds’ store. The toe box is slightly sleeker and the waist curves in more to hug the foot. They’re sharp shoes.

In any case, shipping and returns are free, so if you’re on the market for $350 shoes, there’s little lost in checking them out. 

(First photo, moving left to right: Beckett Simonon suede chukkas, Beckett Simonon calf loafers, and Paul Evans Grant cap toes)