A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers
Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.
The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 
If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:
Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.
(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers

Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.

The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 

If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:

  • Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
  • Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
  • A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
  • Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.

(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

That Time I Designed a Pair of Shoes

I designed a pair of shoes. Well, boots to be exact. Two years ago, I asked Meermin if they had any plans for shell cordovan wingtip boots, as I’ve wanted a pair for a while now. They said they didn’t, but that if I were up to the task, they’d let me design one.

Who could say no to that?

As it turns out, designing shoes is incredibly difficult. Even with a straightforward style such as this one, it can take a while to get the details right. The “wings” on a wingtip, for example, have to be executed with just the right angles and curves in order to look good, and the broguing has to be done with just the right size punches in order to suit the style of the shoes. It took Meermin and me about a year and half to design these – partly because we had to coordinate our schedules, and partly because it takes a while to get prototypes from the factory, which we would then use to make design changes.

Some things did go smoothly, however. I knew that I wanted a pair of smart casual boots – something I could wear with jeans or heavy wool trousers, and pair with anything from casual outerwear to tweed sport coats. Which meant, a lot of the details for the boot came naturally. Meermin’s Rui last, for example, was an obvious choice. It’s shapelier than what you’d find from Alden (thus, a bit “dressier”), but not so sleek that it looks out of place with jeans. The eyelets have visible, untreated brass rings, which give the boots a slightly more casual look than blind eyelets, and the soles are made from two stacked pieces of leather, so that they’d have the visual heft to support the ruggedness of shell cordovan. Being a long time boot wearer, I also knew that speed hooks and pull-tabs were necessary. Boots are worthless when they sit in the back of the closet, and that’s where they end up if they take too much time and effort to put on. 

I’ve worn these for about six months now, and couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. The shell is from Japan, rather than Chicago’s Horween, but the material seems just as good as any of the other shell cordovan shoes I own. The only difference is that it has a slight mottling in its color – sort of like the antique finishes on John Lobb’s antique calf, but much more subtle. I think it gives the leather a really beautiful look.

This past week, Meermin put the design in their general catalog. Those are made from Argentine shell cordovan, which I unfortunately have no experience with. There were early reports of the color on Meermin’s Argentine shell lightening, but some people found the issue to go away once they applied leather conditioner. In any case, the price is about $430 once you deduct for VAT (European taxes). They’re not inexpensive, but they’re much more affordable than any other shell cordovan boots on the market (about half the price, depending on where you go). Like everything else I’ve seen from Meermin, these shoes hit just the right balance between price and quality, which is why I continue to think that the company offers some of the best value in footwear right now. 

(Note, although I designed these boots, I’m not getting any commission off their sale. I did receive a discount on my purchase, however).  

It’s On Sale: Edward Green Shoes

Edward Green is my favorite shoe brand, but they are very expensive. At Brooks Brothers, for example, they go for about $1,300-1,500 a pair. Are they worth it? Well, they won’t last you any longer than the ~$250-350 shoes you might buy from Allen Edmonds, Paul Evans, or Meermin, but they do look very, very beautiful. They use great materials and have exceptionally nice finishing techniques. What that effectively means is: the interior will feel slightly nicer, and the uppers will be colored in a way that gives them some visual depth. 

Unfortunately, they’re rarely discounted, which makes Ashton Marks’ sale on them notable. Included is a very useful black cap toe (in two widths), some brown wingtips, and a couple of loafers. Shipping is free, and with the discount, you’re looking at about $750 a pair. Not cheap, but about half the price of what they go for in the US. 

If you haven’t ordered Edward Greens before, know that the general rule of thumb is to go a half size down from your Brannock size. That is, if you normally wear a 10D, then you’re probably a 9.5 in most of Edward Green’s shoes. The only exception is maybe the 888 last, which is tighter at the toe box, so some people take their regular US size. 

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)

Improvements at John Doe

John Doe recently loaned me a pair of their latest oxfords so I could check out the improvements they made since my last review. The shoes arrived last month, and they’re indeed much better. The new leathers are sourced from a different tannery, and feel much more supple and natural than their previous materials. The linings are also better attached, so there’s no more bubbling from an uneven application of glue. Additionally, the stitching is straighter, and without the punched brogue decorations, there are fewer places for something to go wrong. All in all, it seems they’ve upgraded their materials, tightened up their quality control, and are better at working with their factories.

I think readers will find there’s still a significant jump in quality as you go from these to brands such as Allen EdmondsLoake, and Meermin, but those will range anywhere from $200 to $350 at full retail. There are, of course, things such as Allen Edmonds’ factory seconds and the companies that Loake privately produces for (such as Charles Tyrwhitt), and those will sometimes go on sale, but none will match the very competitive price of John Doe at ~$150. For people with a hard budget of ~$150 or less, there are really only a few options.

The first, of course, is to go second hand, which you can get through thrift stores (using Jesse’s very useful thrifting guide) or our eBay roundups. I really like Ralph Lauren and Jesse likes Florsheim, but Allen Edmonds, Loake, and Brooks Brothers are also good names to search for. Just be discerning, as not all shoes from these companies are worth buying.

If you’re not comfortable with buying used shoes, then there’s suede, where you can “by-pass” the manufacturer’s need to cut back on quality materials. In comparison to “regular” leathers, the difference between low- and high-quality suede will be much smaller. Whereas corrected grain leathers can develop unsightly “cracks” over time, low-quality suede can stay pretty consistent if you know how to take care of it.

Outside of that, there are a number of shoe companies who sell products very similar to John Doe. The difference? John Doe uses a Goodyear welting method to attach their soles, instead of gluing them on like other manufacturers. This allows you to more easily resole your shoes over and over again, which can extend the life of your shoes considerably (assuming you take care of the uppers). That translates to better value for your money and less junk in landfills. I think everyone can applaud that.

Three Events in New York
I love the Bay Area with all my heart, but sometimes, on very rare occasions, I wish I was in New York. Like this week, when these three events are happening:
Nov 14th-16h, Meermin Trunk Show: Meermin is holding a trunk show from November 14th until the 16th. The location will be at 481 Broadway (cross street Broome) in Soho, with opening from 10am until 6pm each day. At the event, you’ll be try on different sizes and lasts, so you can become familiar with Meermin’s range; buy samples of newly released styles (including some that were exclusively produced for the show); and check out samples of previous made-to-order shoes, in case you’re interested in trying out their customization program. 
Nov. 15th, Gentlemen’s Vintage Show: Additionally, the Gentlemen’s Vintage Show will be happening on November 15th, from noon until 7pm, at 110 West 19th Street. Many of the big names in vintage menswear will be present, including Heller’s Cafe, Strongarm Clothing & Supply, and Peter Schubert. Expect everything from rare vintage denim to hand tailored suits. Admissions is $15 at the door, and $10 online. You can get more information at Manhattan Vintage. 
Nov 16th-17th, StyleForum Trunk Show: Lastly, StyleForum will be holding a trunk show for some of their affiliate vendors, including No Man Walks Alone, Kent Wang, The Hanger Project, Yellow Hook Neckties, JP Marcellino, Franco Ercole, and more. Stop by to see some really great clothing, shoes, and accessories. While you’re there, you can have a drink, eat some food, and meet some really nice people. The event will be taking place on November 16th and 17th (Saturday and Sunday), from 12 pm until 7pm, at the Third Streaming Gallery (located at 10 Greene Street, on the second floor). 

Three Events in New York

I love the Bay Area with all my heart, but sometimes, on very rare occasions, I wish I was in New York. Like this week, when these three events are happening:

  • Nov 14th-16h, Meermin Trunk Show: Meermin is holding a trunk show from November 14th until the 16th. The location will be at 481 Broadway (cross street Broome) in Soho, with opening from 10am until 6pm each day. At the event, you’ll be try on different sizes and lasts, so you can become familiar with Meermin’s range; buy samples of newly released styles (including some that were exclusively produced for the show); and check out samples of previous made-to-order shoes, in case you’re interested in trying out their customization program. 
  • Nov. 15th, Gentlemen’s Vintage Show: Additionally, the Gentlemen’s Vintage Show will be happening on November 15th, from noon until 7pm, at 110 West 19th Street. Many of the big names in vintage menswear will be present, including Heller’s Cafe, Strongarm Clothing & Supply, and Peter Schubert. Expect everything from rare vintage denim to hand tailored suits. Admissions is $15 at the door, and $10 online. You can get more information at Manhattan Vintage
  • Nov 16th-17th, StyleForum Trunk Show: Lastly, StyleForum will be holding a trunk show for some of their affiliate vendors, including No Man Walks Alone, Kent Wang, The Hanger Project, Yellow Hook Neckties, JP Marcellino, Franco Ercole, and more. Stop by to see some really great clothing, shoes, and accessories. While you’re there, you can have a drink, eat some food, and meet some really nice people. The event will be taking place on November 16th and 17th (Saturday and Sunday), from 12 pm until 7pm, at the Third Streaming Gallery (located at 10 Greene Street, on the second floor). 

Shoe Terminology

Yesterday’s post on shoe construction seemed to be popular, so I thought I’d do something similar by going through some more terminology. Pictured above are three of my favorite shoes, with some labeling of their different parts. Click each photo to enlarge them.

Aglet: A small plastic or metal sheath used to protect the end of a shoestring, cord, or drawstring. 

Apron: Some sort of visible stitching or edge that forms a sort of “lake” at the front of the shoe. You typically only see this on derbys or loafers.

Blind Eyelet: See eyelets.

Brogueing: The small perforations and small punches used to decorate a shoe. It’s been said that these were historically done to help country shoes drain out water, but nowadays it’s just for decoration.

Burnishing: A bit of darkening of the leather, usually at the toe or heel. Sometimes it’s called antiquing, especially if it’s done all over the shoe.

Eyelets: The holes through which you stick your shoelaces. Metal rings called grommets are usually used to support these holes. If the grommets are on the exposed side of the leather - the side that you can see - and they’re in a different color than your uppers, then they’re called agatine eyelets. If they match your uppers, they’re called matched agatine, and if they’re on the underside of the leather, they’re called blind eyelets. Generally speaking, blind eyelets are more formal than matched agatine eyelets, which in turn are more formal than agatine. Essentially, the less visible the grommets, the more formal the shoe.

Eyelet tabs: The tabs on a derby that are used to hold eyelets.

Heel cup: A strip of leather on the outside of the heel used to cover the seam joining the quarters.

Heel lifts: Two to four pieces of leather stacked to form a heel. The sides are then usually painted black or brown, depending on the color of the upper.

Insole: The layer of the sole that goes on top of the outsole and midsole. This is what the bottom of your feet touches when you wear your shoes.

Instep: The area of the foot between the toes and the ankle. Much of this is covered by the shoe’s vamp and tongue.

Lining: Most leather shoes have a leather lining that helps the shoe maintain its overall shape. You can see the lining here, and read about unlined shoes here

Medallion: An ornamental detail at the toe created by punching or perforating the leather.

Outsole: The exposed part of the sole that actually touches the ground.

Pinking: Zig-zag edges on leather, done for decoration. Sometimes this is called gimping because a shoemaker does this with a gimping machine, in which steel tools with various patterns can be fitted to achieve the desired effect.

Quarter: The part of the upper that starts at about the instep and goes back towards the heel. Every shoe will have two quarters - the parts that cover the inner and outer sides of the foot.

Quarter rubber: A hard, non-slip piece of rubber that’s inserted into the top piece of the heel. Sometimes it’s protected by plastic “heel protectors,” which a cobbler can put in for you.

Scalloping: Like pinking, but instead of a saw-toothed edge, you’ll see a wavy cut.

Sock: A small piece of leather used to hide the nails that keep the sole together. A sock can be full length, three-quarters, or just cover the heel section. The last is most common.

Sole: The entire part of the shoe that’s below the wearer’s foot. These can be single or double leather, or even HAF (double tapering to a single). The upper and sole make up the whole of the shoe.

Throat: The central part of the vamp that dictates the maximum girth of a shoe. The throatline is the seam that joins the rear part of the vamp to the front part of the quarter.

Toe cap: A piece of leather that covers the toe area of a shoe.

Tongue: The piece of leather that comes between your foot and the shoelaces. When I was a kid, we used to pump these to make our shoes inflate, because it was somehow believed that inflatable shoes would increase our athletic performance.

Topline: The opening of the shoe, where you’d stick your foot in. On athletic shoes, this area is typically padded and referred to as the collar. On women’s shoes, you’ll sometimes see the top most part of the topline decorated with a thin, rolled piece of leather (usually in a contrasting color to the upper). That’s called French binding.

Top piece: The part of the heel lift that actually comes in contact with the ground.

Upper: The part of the shoe that you see that’s above the sole. The upper and sole make up the whole of the shoe.

Vamp: If you take a bird’s eye view of your shoe, this is the center front part of the upper.

Waist: The area of the shoe that supports the mid-section of your foot, where your arch is.

Welt: A strip of material that holds the upper, insole, and sole together. Here we see the welt seam, though it’s important to note that just because you see stitching here doesn’t always mean the shoe has been welted. Sometimes stitches are glued here for decorative purposes.

(Shoes pictured: Edward Green Malvern in Chestnut Antique calf, 202 last; Edward Green Dover in Dark Oak antique calf, 606 last; Meermin Linea Maestro plain toe blucher in dark brown Annonay naturacalf, Hiro last)

We Got It for Free: Kent Wang and Meermin’s Antiqued Shoes

Top-end manufacturers such Hermes’ John Lobb have long used Ilcea’s antiqued leathers for their products. The beautifully mottled, full-grain Italian calf leather has been made into shoes, belts, and wallets, and while the resulting products are very handsome, they’re also very expensive. Shoes can cost as much as $1,500, while accessories typically hover around $300.

Recently, Kent Wang and Meermin introduced their own line of Ilcea antiqued calf shoes, but at a lower price point. Kent has four models, including the semi-brogue pictured above, while Meermin just finished a quarter-brogue specially made for certain StyleForum members.

Though both use materials from the same tannery, they’re very differently designed. Kent’s is a bit more aggressively styled with larger punch perforations and more apparent antiquing. His model also has an elongated toe box (which tapers to a soft square), a narrower waist, and a more angular silhouette. Meermin’s on the other hand, has more subtle antiquing and the last (here being the Hiro, though StyleForum members received the Olfe) is a classic round toe with a conservative sensibility. Meermin’s leather is also a bit shinier and polished, something like what you’d find on John Lobb’s antiqued calfs, while Kent’s is matte. I like the richer finish of Meermin’s, personally, but of both are handsome in their own right.

Both shoes are made in East Asia, but to high standards (Kent’s are produced in Laos and Taiwan, while Meermin’s are made in Shanghai, then finished in Spain). Kent’s are Goodyear welted and Meermin’s are handwelted. Both mean that the soles are easily replaceable, thus allowing these shoes to potentially last for decades if they’re well-taken care of. The soles are also channeled, which means that the stitching at the bottom is hidden, and there are brass nails at the soles’ toes and heels to help slow their wear. Nice little details, such as the slightly curved waist on Meermin’s and the more visibly shaped fiddleback on Kent’s, finish them off.

At the moment, Meermin’s model is not yet available. This quarter-brogue was made on special order only for certain StyleForum members. However, the company is working to introduce this antiqued leather to their ready-to-wear line. If they do, they’ll include the quarter-brogue you see above and a double monk. They may also have the leather available for their made-to-order (MTO) offering, which means you can have any of their shoes made from this material. I’m told that the price for the ready-to-wear shoes should be about $320 for US customers, while MTO will vary depending on what’s requested. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a more handsome shoe for ~$300, and I somewhat doubt I ever will.  

Kent’s is a bit more expensive, with prices ranging from $450 to $525. However, his are available now and feature a bit more handwork, such as the fiddleback waist you see on the sole. It’s purely a stylistic detail, but a nice one, I think.

For those interested in Ilcea’s antiqued calf, but can’t afford these prices, check out Chester Mox. They use the leather for their wallets, and can specially make any of their models from this material upon special request. Prices aren’t cheap, but they’re a fraction of the ~$300 that John Lobb charges. 

Finding Affordable Shoes
Shoes may or may not be the most important part of a man’s ensemble, but they can certainly be the veto point. A man can look sharp as a tack in a well-tailored suit, but if he’s wearing dull, square toe shoes, everything was for naught. Unfortunately, nice shoes are expensive. Even the ones commonly recommended as “entry level” brands will retail for $350 or more. So, in an effort to direct readers to where they can find well-made shoes for less, I’ve compiled a list of every place that I know of.
eBay: The most obvious is eBay. We have a customized search link you can use, but you can also employ other methods. Last week, for example, I talked about how Ralph Lauren shoes are some of the hidden gems on eBay, so long as you know how to look for them. The same goes for shoes made by Brooks Brothers. Theirs don’t get as bad as some in Ralph Lauren’s range, but you would still be wise to look for indicators of quality. You can also check out sausages234, an eBay seller who specializes in footwear.
Thrift stores: These will take a little more work than doing a search on eBay, but you could potentially walk away with some better deals. The key is in knowing where to thrift and how to spot quality. Use Jesse’s series on thrifting as a guide.
Good online retailers: There are two online retailers who consistently have some of the most competitive prices around - Pediwear and P.Lal. It would be smart to check with them before you purchase anything, as they’ll often offer price-matching guarantees. You can also check out A Fine Pair of Shoes. They sell really nice English models, and will discount much of their stock at the end of each season. Finally, Franco’s will often have shoes on sale. Right now there are a bunch of Rider Boots, which are very well made.
Online discount houses: Likewise, there are a bunch of online discount sites. Classic Shoes for Men, Shop the Finest, and Virtual Clotheshorse come to mind (though the last two focus more on the Italian variety). Sierra Trading Post also regularly stocks Trickers. You can knock 30% off or more if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter. Different coupons are released every day.
Affordable brands: There are probably more brands than ever before selling well-made, affordable shoes. Here’s a list:
Loake: Loake makes a few different lines, but the one that’s generally worth buying is their 1880 range, particularly the ones that are Goodyear welted and made with hard-bottom leather soles.
Charles Tyrwhitt: Many of Charles Tyrwhitt’s shoes are made by Loake or equivalent factories. Ignore the lure of sale prices, however. Charles Tyrwhitt’s stuff is always on sale.
Herring: I have no first hand experience with the line, but my understanding is that many of their shoes are also made by Loake (or, again, equivalent factories).
Meermin: One of my favorites of the lot. Their shoes are handwelted, which is believed to be a better construction method than Goodyear welting, and they have a semi-affordable made-to-order program. You can read a review I did of them here.
Shipton & Heneage: Shipton & Heneage sells shoes made by various well-respected manufacturers in England and Italy. Sometimes you’ll find shoes here selling for less than what the original manufacturers would have you pay. Sign up for their Discount Club to receive coupons.
Made in Maine: There are a bunch of quality shoe manufacturers in Maine. The first that comes to mind is Rancourt, who sells handsewn shoes at a very reasonable price. There’s also Town View Leather and Arrow Moccasins, both of whom also sell handsewn shoes, but mostly of the moccasin variety. Those give less foot support, but they can be good for short walks. Additionally, there’s Eastland’s Made in Maine collection. I bought one of their boots last year, and on the inside, there was a strip of reconstituted leather covering the back (where the heel cup would normally go). The leather fell apart after my third wear, and customer service wasn’t terribly helpful, but to be fair, the shoes still wear fine. Finally, a reader of ours suggested Dexter 1957, but I have no first hand experience with them. Reviews online are scant and mixed.
Kent Wang and Howard Yount: Both these companies can usually be relied upon for selling decently made things at lower-than-average prices.
Markowski: I have no first hand experience with this line, but their customers have given positive reports on StyleForum. The shop is based in Paris, but the shopkeepers speak decent English. They also hold sales, which knocks their prices down somewhat even further.
Andrew Lock: Jesse gave a good review of them here (he even had a shoe expert take them apart).
Allen Edmonds factory seconds: The term factory seconds just means shoes that haven’t passed the quality control process, but often the “defects” are incredibly minor (like a very small nick). You can contact Allen Edmonds’ “shoe bank” store in Brookfield, Wisconsin to make a purchase. Their number is (262) 785-6666. 
Suede: Let’s say all the above are still out of range to you. If you can’t afford higher-quality shoes, at least aim for suede. They’ll generally look better with age than a pair made from corrected grain. Perhaps the most affordable suede shoes I know of are Clarks’ desert boots, which sometimes go for as little as $60 on sale. Once you get them, know how to take care of them well, so that you get as much out of your purchase as possible. 

Finding Affordable Shoes

Shoes may or may not be the most important part of a man’s ensemble, but they can certainly be the veto point. A man can look sharp as a tack in a well-tailored suit, but if he’s wearing dull, square toe shoes, everything was for naught. Unfortunately, nice shoes are expensive. Even the ones commonly recommended as “entry level” brands will retail for $350 or more. So, in an effort to direct readers to where they can find well-made shoes for less, I’ve compiled a list of every place that I know of.

eBay: The most obvious is eBay. We have a customized search link you can use, but you can also employ other methods. Last week, for example, I talked about how Ralph Lauren shoes are some of the hidden gems on eBay, so long as you know how to look for them. The same goes for shoes made by Brooks Brothers. Theirs don’t get as bad as some in Ralph Lauren’s range, but you would still be wise to look for indicators of quality. You can also check out sausages234, an eBay seller who specializes in footwear.

Thrift stores: These will take a little more work than doing a search on eBay, but you could potentially walk away with some better deals. The key is in knowing where to thrift and how to spot quality. Use Jesse’s series on thrifting as a guide.

Good online retailers: There are two online retailers who consistently have some of the most competitive prices around - Pediwear and P.Lal. It would be smart to check with them before you purchase anything, as they’ll often offer price-matching guarantees. You can also check out A Fine Pair of Shoes. They sell really nice English models, and will discount much of their stock at the end of each season. Finally, Franco’s will often have shoes on sale. Right now there are a bunch of Rider Boots, which are very well made.

Online discount houses: Likewise, there are a bunch of online discount sites. Classic Shoes for Men, Shop the Finest, and Virtual Clotheshorse come to mind (though the last two focus more on the Italian variety). Sierra Trading Post also regularly stocks Trickers. You can knock 30% off or more if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter. Different coupons are released every day.

Affordable brands: There are probably more brands than ever before selling well-made, affordable shoes. Here’s a list:

  • Loake: Loake makes a few different lines, but the one that’s generally worth buying is their 1880 range, particularly the ones that are Goodyear welted and made with hard-bottom leather soles.
  • Charles Tyrwhitt: Many of Charles Tyrwhitt’s shoes are made by Loake or equivalent factories. Ignore the lure of sale prices, however. Charles Tyrwhitt’s stuff is always on sale.
  • Herring: I have no first hand experience with the line, but my understanding is that many of their shoes are also made by Loake (or, again, equivalent factories).
  • Meermin: One of my favorites of the lot. Their shoes are handwelted, which is believed to be a better construction method than Goodyear welting, and they have a semi-affordable made-to-order program. You can read a review I did of them here.
  • Shipton & Heneage: Shipton & Heneage sells shoes made by various well-respected manufacturers in England and Italy. Sometimes you’ll find shoes here selling for less than what the original manufacturers would have you pay. Sign up for their Discount Club to receive coupons.
  • Made in Maine: There are a bunch of quality shoe manufacturers in Maine. The first that comes to mind is Rancourt, who sells handsewn shoes at a very reasonable price. There’s also Town View Leather and Arrow Moccasins, both of whom also sell handsewn shoes, but mostly of the moccasin variety. Those give less foot support, but they can be good for short walks. Additionally, there’s Eastland’s Made in Maine collection. I bought one of their boots last year, and on the inside, there was a strip of reconstituted leather covering the back (where the heel cup would normally go). The leather fell apart after my third wear, and customer service wasn’t terribly helpful, but to be fair, the shoes still wear fine. Finally, a reader of ours suggested Dexter 1957, but I have no first hand experience with them. Reviews online are scant and mixed.
  • Kent Wang and Howard Yount: Both these companies can usually be relied upon for selling decently made things at lower-than-average prices.
  • Markowski: I have no first hand experience with this line, but their customers have given positive reports on StyleForum. The shop is based in Paris, but the shopkeepers speak decent English. They also hold sales, which knocks their prices down somewhat even further.
  • Andrew Lock: Jesse gave a good review of them here (he even had a shoe expert take them apart).

Allen Edmonds factory seconds: The term factory seconds just means shoes that haven’t passed the quality control process, but often the “defects” are incredibly minor (like a very small nick). You can contact Allen Edmonds’ “shoe bank” store in Brookfield, Wisconsin to make a purchase. Their number is (262) 785-6666. 

Suede: Let’s say all the above are still out of range to you. If you can’t afford higher-quality shoes, at least aim for suede. They’ll generally look better with age than a pair made from corrected grain. Perhaps the most affordable suede shoes I know of are Clarks’ desert boots, which sometimes go for as little as $60 on sale. Once you get them, know how to take care of them well, so that you get as much out of your purchase as possible. 

Meermin Opens E-Commerce Store

Meermin just opened their e-commerce store. Now you can purchase their shoes directly online instead of having to email them to place an order. They sent me a free pair of dark brown derbys over the summer and I was so impressed with the value that I recently bought a pair of their suede double monks. After European tax deductions and shipping charges, most of their shoes come in at about $210, though they come down to a bit if you buy multiple pairs in order to combine shipping.

Note that some people on StyleForum have reported being hit with customs, which is about $50 for each pair of shoes (at least for US customers), but whether the government decides to tack on customs is hit or miss. Kind of comes with the territory of ordering from overseas companies. Still, even at $260, I think these are incredibly well priced. 

If you’d like to get a better sense of Meermin’s lasts (i.e. shoe shapes), you can refer to this. For sizing advice, email Meermin.