Florsheim may still be the most famous men’s dress shoe brand in the United States. For decades, “The Florsheim Shoe” was the standard for the American business man. My grandfather wore Florsheims to his job at Fox Theaters, and your grandfather may well have worn them to his job, too.
Somewhere along the line, though, Florsheim shipped production overseas and started using low-quality leather. Head into a Florsheim shop today and for the most part, you’ll find corrected grain shoes, made in India or other points abroad. They’ve made a few moves towards restoring quality, with the Goodyear-welted Veblen model and a designer collaboration with crazy-color-enthusiasts Duckie Brown, but they still don’t make great shoes.
But as a reader named David reminded me when Derek posted his affordable shoes roundup, the vintage models are still a great value. These are genuinely classic shoes – unchanged in design for sixty or seventy years. Often they were made in shell cordovan – like my pair, pictured above – and with heavy double soles, they last forever.
Enthusiasts look for the v-cleat, a small metal piece in the heel which protects it from wear. Be warned, though, that while it does indeed protect your heel from wear, it doesn’t protect you from falling on your rear when walking on a hard, smooth surface like marble, and it certainly won’t protect your wood floors from getting beat up by metal.
Vintage Florsheim Imperials and Royal Imperials are rife on eBay and in thrift and vintage shops. They were popular and essentially never changed in their design, so they can be found pretty readily. Watch out for damage around the eyelets, where the leather can stretch and sometimes tear, and try to look for barely-worn or unworn pairs. Prices generally range from $50 or so for pebble-grain calf to a hundred or two for shell cordovan in great condition. Buy a pair, and wear it for the next fifty years.