What are the best cheaper shoe brands?

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*UPDATE: Carmina say they do not use plastic heel stiffeners. Jesper's information was based on information by two Carmina retailers. That point has been removed until it can be proved either way. 

Last month, Swedish shoe brand Myrqvist (above) sent me a pair of their loafers to try. 

To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. Everything from the finishing, to the thick upper, to the last shape seemed cheap and unattractive. 

But in the same moment, I realised this was unfair. It’s a long time since I’ve worn shoes at that price level, and I simply have no frame of reference. 

Everything I have is at the level of Crockett & Jones Handgrade or above, and most are Edward Green. Of course a €200 shoe is going to look and feel cheap. 

So in order to create a frame of reference, I phoned Jesper Ingevaldsson, who writes the website Shoegazing.com and now works in the industry, for Swedish shop/brand Skolyx. 

This article, then, is an analysis of the market for men’s dress shoes below the Crocketts Handgrade level - all informed by Jesper. The quotes throughout are his. 

We start at the top end of that market, and then gradually work our way down. This means the number of brands to cover increases, as they do at the bottom of most clothing categories, so towards the end we divide into regional sections instead. 

Crockett & Jones and Carmina

€490 and €395

These are two of the best known shoe brands internationally, with Crocketts a British mainstay and Carmina (above) coming to prominence in the past 10 years. They’re a good place to start: a baseline of quality.

The two brands are roughly the same level of make, with the price difference largely coming down to costs of labour in the UK and Spain. But there is also some variation in what you get. 

“Crocketts uses good quality raw materials, particularly the upper, but the make is a bit simpler. With Carmina you can get a more refined shoe - closed-channel stitching, a more bevelled waist and so on. 

“Another area where a lot of the English makers fall down, at this price level and below, is the soles, which aren’t as good as Spanish brands in general. They wear down quickly.”

Throughout this commentary from Jesper, it’s worth keeping in mind that some of the points are objective, some more subjective.

No one wants their sole to wear down quickly, but points like the shaped waist are more aesthetic, and it’s up to you whether you care about them. You might also care more with a dress oxford than a casual loafer. 

“The other thing about Carmina is they have increased prices and reduced quality in some areas in recent years. So for example, they now only curve the waist line on the inside of their shoe, and not the outside."

Spain 1: TLB, Yanko, Septieme Largeur and Andres Sendra

€365, €299, €275 and €269

TLB (above) is a good example of how much more dynamic the Spanish shoe market is than the English. 

TLB is from Mallorca, like Carmina, but is only a few years old and is trying to gain a similar reputation. It’s a comparable quality level, at a slightly lower price, and uses leather-board heel stiffeners. 

The heel stiffener is a piece of the internal structure of the shoe, which sits inside the heel cup. If it is plastic, it means it can’t adapt to your heel shape over time, improving the fit. Leather board can, and top-end shoes use pure leather, which adapts even more. 

This is more important for those that don’t find heels fit them well, generally. But if the heel is good to start with, it doesn’t matter so much if it can flex and adapt.  

TLB also has a new line called Artista*, which is a higher level of quality than any in this article. The shoes have a slim bevelled waist (stitched all the way to the heel), a close-cut heel and a leather heel stiffener.

I’ll be reviewing them separately, as they’re more similar to other shoes we’ve covered. 

Other brands in this range include Septieme Largeur, Andres Sendra and Janko. “These are all a pretty similar level of make, though you lose a little in the raw-material quality among the cheaper ones, such as Septieme Largeur." They’re all Spanish except Septieme Largeur, which is French but made in Spain.

Sweden: Myrqvist, Morjas and Skolyx

€220, €230, €220

The next level of price is below €250. Here there the number of brands increases, particularly with start-ups. We’ll start with three Swedish ones, all making in Spain or Portugal.

Myrqvist, which we mentioned at the start, is one of these and uses fairly good raw materials - sourced from well-known tanneries like Du Puy in France. 

“However, always be careful about brands that give the impression their leather is the same quality as the top makers. There are many levels at tanneries, and cheaper brands don’t get the same quality or the first selection. There’s a lot of marketing in this entry-level market: everyone says their shoes are handcrafted, using the best materials.”

That’s a point worth emphasising. Start-up brands are often good on marketing, on styling and photography. But it’s worth being sceptical about claims on quality. 

Particularly annoying is when they talk about cutting out a middle man, and going straight to consumer. Not having a physical shop makes a small difference, as does not selling wholesale or using an agent, but that doesn’t translate to a shoe that’s twice the quality. 

This is particularly true in the shoe market, given there are few designer brands spending big budgets on marketing and advertising. And it’s one of the few industries where you’re likely to be buying direct from the manufacturer. So if there is a middle man, it’s often the brand. 

“Put simply, if you pay €250 for a shoe you cannot get €500 quality. It’s just not possible.”

Alongside the quality of the leather, something that’s lost at this lower price level is consistency. Cheaper shoes will often have small mistakes, such as little splits in the sole or heel stack. The shoes might look good on the feet, but if you pick them up and look closer, you’ll notice little errors. 

Jesper thinks Skolyx (above) is better in this regard than the others, though he is biased*. “With Skolyx the price is cut down by making a basic shoe, but clean and consistent. They also have thin rubber soles throughout, which some people like more, but is cheaper as well.”

Morjas is similar in having a cleaner make, and is a touch more expensive than the other two.

England: Loake and Barker

€250 and €250

The English brands at this price level are Loake (1880 range, above) and Barker, both of whom make their uppers in Asia to cut down on costs. 

They use plastic heel stiffeners, and the make is solid and English - not that refined. But they are still good value for money. 

“Overall - and this all has to be generalisation - with English shoes you get a solid make and good quality control. You know what you’re getting. It’s a standard Goodyear shoe, with no fuss. There might be a wide heel seat, for example, but then even some expensive English shoes like John Lobb have that.”

Other than more subjective things like style, it's fair to say this is the most consistent difference between English and Spanish shoes.

On an industry level, there’s also more variation among the Spanish brands, not least because a lot of them are younger, changing, and trying to fit into an increasingly competitive market. 

Spain level 2: Berwick, Sendra and Meermin

€200, €240, €170

This is the next level down of Spanish brands, more on a par with the Swedish start-ups in terms of quality, but much bigger organisations.

“Sendra is a factory that makes for a lot of cheaper start-ups, because they’re so flexible and have no minimums. Most shoes that say they’re made in the Almansa area of Spain are made by Sendra.”

Sendra has its own brand as well as making for others, which is a little more expensive than Berwick or Meermin. 

Berwick has become very popular in recent years, particularly in Asia, Russia and elsewhere. “For €200, it’s a really solid shoe. They're also very flexible to work with. When you go to shoe shows like Micam, the Berwick stand is always the one that's crowded.” 

Meermin (above) has also become big, mostly in the US. “They’re good at marketing and following trends in particular, and have done very well in recent years. The only issue is that the classic range is very stiff, and hard to break in. 

“I’m always trying to promote Goodyear-welted shoes, but it’s not easy when someone has just tried Meermin, and thinks all proper shoes are that hard. Especially compared to other Spanish or Italian shoes, which are also a bit softer than the English.”

North America: Spier & MacKay, Allen Edmonds, Cobbler Union, John Doe

€220, €349, €349, €140 

The US has several brands that fit into this discussion - some old, some new. 

Allen Edmonds is perhaps most similar to Loake or Barker. “They’re a solid make with a little paid for the brand, and decent value in the States - though not elsewhere, where duties make them much more expensive.

"The quality control isn’t quite as good as the English as well.”

Cobbler Union (above) is a newer brand, and more similar to TLB or Carmina, while Spier & MacKay is a clothing brand with a line of shoes at €220 which is decent for the price. The former is made in Spain, the latter in Portugal.

“After that in the US you get down into much cheaper brands, like John Doe which are made in Mexico. But they belong in a different category, a quality level down.”

France, Germany, Italy: Loding, Orban’s, Velasca, Shoepassion

€160, €160, €200, €250

France doesn’t have the shoemaking tradition of the UK, Spain or Italy, and its brands like Loding or Orban’s are all made in Spain and Portugal.

Orban’s (above) is a brand started by Marcos Fernandez, who also started Septieme Largeur and other brands in France. They’re perhaps most similar to Skolyx, in being a very simple make but with good materials. 

Velasca is an Italian brand that has become popular (they opened on Chiltern Street recently) as has German brand Shoepassion (which makes in Spain). “Those two are quite similar, in that they both have pretty large marketing budgets, run their own retail, and have ridden the wave of classic menswear in the past few years. They’re both very big brands now.”

Velasca uses a Blake/Rapid construction, so not Goodyear welted - but remember Blake/Rapid is more similar to Goodyear than it is to normal Blake. The only major disadvantage compared to Goodyear is that the stitches come through on the inside of the shoe.

Japan: Scotch Grain, Otsuka, Miyagi Kogyo, Oriental 

Japan is the biggest market in Asia for dress shoe brands, but a lot of the cheaper shoes (below €200) are made elsewhere in Asia and just finished at home (similar to Italy). 

The level above that is made in Japan, and includes brands like Scotch Grain (above) and Otsuka, with brands like Miyagi Kogyo and Oriental on a level above that. Scotch Grain is particularly big and has its own production and stores, as well as being in department stores. 

The problem with the Japanese brands is they’re rarely available outside the country. That may change in the future though, with the higher-end ones like Miyagi Kogyo trying to make it abroad. 

Asia: Cnes, Bridlen, Fugashin

€240, €250, €240

It's other Asian brands that are likely to become known in the West first, though.

Cnes (above), for example, has been exhibiting in various fairs around Europe, looking for retailers, and is very nicely made, with a bevelled waist and otherwise refined make. “Cnes also has great hand-welted shoes too, about €350 I believe, which look a lot more expensive.”

Fugashin is similar: the two are competitors in Vietnam. 

In India there is Bridlen (below), which makes a very solid, classic-looking shoe. “They’re not as refined as the other Asian brands, but stand out for making Goodyear in the old-school way, stitching directly to the insole.” So, rather than the gemming method that most modern Goodyear shoes have, where a canvas ribbing is used instead. 

In general, I think this breakdown demonstrates that you still largely get what you pay for with shoes. The big differentiating factor is not business model, but location of manufacture. You pay less for a Spanish shoe, and still less for a Vietnamese one. 

Below that, there are smaller differences created by new entrants to the market. As Carmina did when it first became popular, and as TLB Artista (below) is perhaps doing now. The question there is how long such value lasts, when the company grows or takes on new costs.

Jesper concludes by saying: “You can’t expect to get a really premium shoe for an entry-level price, and you shouldn’t get too excited at places that promise that.

"But at the same time, I do think you get better value now for a €200 shoe than you did 10 years ago, despite inflation, because there’s so much more competition. 

“And all the time there are new makers trying to offer quality for a little less, for a saving of €50 perhaps - or trying to up their quality at the same price. It’s a good time to be a consumer in this area.”

 

Jesper’s site is shoegazing.com. I’d highly recommend it for more detail all of these brands, particularly on the technical side. In particular, if you're interested in this price bracket, check out his buyer's guide here

*Although I trust Jesper’s impartiality, it needs to be stated that he now works for Skolyx, which has its own shoe brand and sells other shoes. He was also involved in the development of the TLB Artista range, so there is a financial relationship with all of those brands. 

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JamieMcP

Where does the G&G clasic range sit?

Anonymous

Thanks, which makes them a bit of a bargin at the moment with 20% off

Joshua

Interesting selection. Being from the UK my first ‘proper’ pair of shoes at University were a pair of Loake 1880s – they were fine and really all I needed at the time. Meermin’s have also been fine, especially for suede loafers.

I’ve found having slowly worked my way up the chain that in terms of value for money, it’s Cheaney, Tricker’s and Alfred Sargent which have ultimately paid off. Trickers are by no means accessible by price point (especially in the US) but get a pair from the outlet and you still have a pair of tanks that will last you for at least a decade. I’d love to step up to Crocketts as I’ve heard great things. Sadly brands like Edward Green, Lobb and Cleverly are now so beyond my price point that I wonder if they’re now in the realm of diminishing returns? I’m sure PS readers would disagree!

JDV

Look our for slightly used or shop worn EG, Lobb and St. Crispins on ebay. From time to time you find great deals for +/- USD 600.

Bob

For what it’s worth Joshua, (with plenty of experience of both) I wouldn’t necessarily consider C&J a step up from Tricker’s. Tricker’s town shoes, especially the wonderful Belgrave adelaide, top any C&J shoe I have in terms of comfort and build. Where C&J excels is in the breath of their offering, but the overall quality wouldn’t differ significantly between the two.

Kenny

I beg to disagree. The soles on the Tricker’s town shoes wear down quickly. A couple of years ago, I returned two pairs of Oxfords that needed resoling after less than ten wears each. The manager gave me a significant discount for resoling them but, even after three decades as a loyal customer, I would be reluctant to buy from them again.

The quality Crockett & Jones is now significantly better than Tricker’s, both sole and uppers. Tricker’s appears to have a wider breadth to me, especially in country shoes and boots in lots of leathers and colours. My issue with C&J is that the range of G fits has been reduced significantly.

I’m going to give Cheaney (great value in the sales) a try instead.

Taylor

As someone who generally purchases shoes in this price point – and has experiences with Carmina, Loake, Allen Edmonds, Berwick and Meermin.. I have to say from personal experience I found Berwick to be the most incredible value. I purchased a pair of chocolate brown suede chukkas from AFPOS a number of years ago, and the suede is a beautiful colour and has maintained it’s nap really well. They’re the only pair from this collection that I got out of the box and went wow.

There are some good value pick ups in this range, especially when you’re figuring out what you like and don’t like and building up your wardrobe slowly over time..

Mattia

Hey Simon,

Thanks for the great article as always.

I would also recommend Thomas George Collection (based in Melbourne) and Crownhill Shoes (Spain), two quality brands who sit at the same price range of Morjas/Velasca and they do great bang for the bucket GW Shoes.

Andy

Im surprised not to see JFitzpatrick in the Spain list. Will it be in Spain 1 or Spain 2 in your list?

Jesper Ingevaldsson

It’s just a selection of brands, and focus were on cheaper shoes than J. FitZpatrick (although he has a new lower-priced range coming). JF main line would definitely be in Spain 1.

Zo

This is very useful, thank you. Brands like Cheaney, Church’s, Trickers and Grenson dont feature here? i would think they sit somewhere between C&J and Loake/Barkers.

Angus

I’ve purchased a few Grenson pieces this year.

It’s probably confirmation bias but I do think they are good value – especially with their very regular sales.

Alan

Finally somebody else who has experienced Meermin shoes as very hard to break in. I have given up after several wears as the blisters aren’t worth it. A very nice pair of black cap toes on the Eton last but far to hard to break in.
My Yanko boots I enjoy in the winter months here in New Zealand (about now). Maybe a little wide fitting but enjoyable and no breaking in required. The double monks a little harder but getting there.
Simon as always your articles are informative and an education.

Robert M

Try Saphir Shoe-Eze, it actually works. It won’t make them extremely soft, but should help in the process.

Anonymous

Thank you

Martins

I have 3 pairs of meermin and they are not hard to break in (aside from heel). However, when I visited meermin pop up in London, I don’t think I would ever get a black box calf from them! Hard as rock! Any other leather I handled was absolutely fine!

Anonymous

Yes literally hard as rock but very nice looking in their box…..

Bob

Agree Alan, buyer beware that they are extremely hard to break in. I ultimately gave up on mine.

Robert M

I’ve mostly moved to bespoke now due to my weird feet, but I do own a pair of Morjas suede chukkas that I use in bad weather. Chunky, comfortable, and with nice make – but the suede itself is nothing special, certainly worse than Crownhill in the same price range.

Actually I’m surprised Crownhill wasn’t mentioned here, I thought they were quite popular. The last of their chukka didn’t fit me, but the suede felt surprisingly good for the price. And they are one of the very few brands offering something for the ladies. My girlfriend values their classic oxfords because they are not Goodyear and have soft insoles – making them very comfy. She tried Orban’s but they were stiff as hell.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Crownhill is decent stuff as well, especially the material level for the price is good. I have a review of a pair of them here on Shoegazing: https://shoegazing.com/2016/08/12/review-crownhill-shoes-the-stewart/

As been mentioned by Simon, don’t see it as a complete list of brands, it’s just a selection of ones to highlight, there’s plenty of good brands not mentioned (and plenty of less good ones as well).

Robert M

Hi Jesper, thanks for the clarification. I do know and enjoy your blog, lots of useful information!

Julius

Thanks Simon, great work as always. A very useful piece for me as I’m slowly getting into the joys of proper shoes. I do appreciate your recommendations to other blogs/websites/magazines as it’s not always easy to spot good work in the vast numbers of style websites.

Robin

Brilliant article … I really enjoyed that .
Honest , relevant and informative.

The honesty of the first 4 paragraphs bring home why , having read this blog for 8 years, at times it feels less relevant to myself .
Simon, I doubt even your wealthier readers walk around every day in £500 plus shoes.

Also, I don’t think you’ve ever written about painted patina on shoes . The sort of thing that Septieme Largeur really excel in .

Similar articles on suits, jackets, shirts etc are desperately needed.

Adam

My personal experience – I can unreservedly recommend Allen Edmonds (the Strand in particular). I can’t comment as to what anything is like higher up the scale but they are both the best looking and most comfortable shoes I own (more than my hiking boots or running shoes). I have a pair of Berwick chukkas and they’re pretty decent – but they also don’t feel as good to wear as the AEs (personally I wish I’d spent more money on a higher quality make, but the store was out of C&J chukkas at the time). I also have a pair of Loding chelsea boots (and other Loding things) – I think in the end they’re too narrow for me. They look good, a bit more fashionable than the others, but I also can’t say I’ve worn them enough to really get a sense of their quality.

Simon, I really appreciate the articles lately with a focus on quality at a more approachable price point. I definitely enjoy the articles with the highest quality makes – but it’s nice to have a change of pace as well, especially if it’s going to help me make a decision on something I’m likely to buy.

Rob

Thanks for the informative post. Probably also worth mentioning the Carlos Santos brand from Portugal in this price bracket. They can be found on many websites for less than £300( e.g. Herringshoes.com). The Santos shoes that I own are comparable in quality to my Carmina, Cheaney and C&J mainline shoes. The main concern for me is finding a last shape that fits my high instep and once I find that last I stick with it.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Focus were on shoes below €300, Carlos Santos nowadays is a bit above that, but definitely good for the price. Not least their finer ranges are really nice IMO.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Can add that you can find a review of Carlos Santos here on Shoegazing: https://shoegazing.com/2015/09/06/review-carlos-santos-7201-braga-cognac/

Parker

Let’s be honest here, what can you realistically expect from a 250€ pair of leather shoes made in Europe, when a pair of sneakers produced under questrionable conditions in some third world country already cost as much if not more?

Unlike tailoring where fashions and preferences can change over time, given your taste and understanding of fit also develops, shoes are mostly immune to change. A pair of EG Chelseas bought today are just as good as a pair bought ten years ago as will be a pair bought in ten years time. People need to understand that expensive shoes will always give you your best return over time, especially when they’re taken care of properly.

JFF

Hi Simon,

I’ve only been reading PS for a few months, and I immediately got hooked to the point that I spend my free time reading past articles in order to catch up. I’ve been reading a lot of menswear sites/blogs for years and this is one of the few that does not feel like sponsored content when you read it. I was very impressed with the integrity of your website after reading “IS THIS AN ADVERT? REGULATION AND US”.

Seeing an article like this is refreshing, it’s nice to see PS being more inclusive by discussing products which are more “budget friendly.” I own several of the shoes mentioned in this article (Meermin, Allen Edmonds, Loake 1880, Carmina) and if there’s one thing I learned, it is that: you cant buy Gold for the price of Copper. The $200 Meermins (while being good value for money) is nowhere near the equivalent of a pair of Carminas, and they would be quite far from the likes of G&G or EG.

Even so, I do believe that the Meermins are the best value-for-money among the shoes mentioned. Yes they do take a while to break in, but once they were, they ended up being just as comfortable as all my other GYW shoes. It’s also (if i’m not mistaken) the only brand that advertises the fact that they use full-grain leather from reputable tanneries on all their shoes (admittedly, based on the price, they probably use the cheaper cuts of leather, but from those tanneries nonetheless). The close-channel stitching is also a plus, you know you’re getting more handwork for the soles. Berwick uses corrected grain for some of its models (this is what stopped me from buying a pair). Allen Edmonds on the other hand has been declining in quality. I was about to replace my decades old AE McAllisters with a new one, but upon inspection, the newer shoe (same model) had wonky stitching and sloppy finishing. The shoe also felt very light, like it was cheaply constructed. For the price of a brand new AE I’d rather get a pair of C&J or Carminas for a little more.

I believe shoes like Meermin have a place in Menswear. Either as a good value buy for one who is unwilling or unable spend more, or, as a gateway purchase into the world of fine men’s shoes.

My next purchase would probably be one from G&G’s classic collection, but I can hardly justify buying another shoe when I have 2 brand new pairs (another Meermin and Tricker’s) which remain unworn due to quarantine.

I would also like to mention that apart from PS, I also read Jesper Ingevaldsson, who was featured in this article, (www.shoegazing.com) and Justin FitzPatrick (www.theshoesnobblog.com). They both have a very knowledgeable blog dedicated to shoes.

Michelle

I would like to recommend Trading Post in Japan. I don’t think it is available outside of Japan though. Their last is made for the Japanese feet, which are flatter in general with a smaller heel. As I’m a women who is looking for well made leather shoes, I have even smaller heels than the male feet in comparison to feet length. European lasts just don’t fit well as they have heels that are way too big. After trying on shoes in Trading Post, the fit is so much better than any western brands I’ve ever tried.

If you also have small heels and struggle to find well fitting good year welt leather shoes, I wholeheartedly recommend Japanese brands who have leather shoes that are specifically designed for the Japanese feet. Their prices and quality is a good balance.

Panagiotis P

Carlos Santos are another example of value shoes of great quality to price ratio. Check the Noble Shoe eshop for several decent ones.

Lars

Thank’s for an informative post.
Can you please comment on the poor quality of English soles mentioned. Does that refer to leather- or rubber ones?

Peter K

Thank you for this listing Simon. Very useful for us who buy shoes in this price range.

A couple of corrections on your US list Simon. It’s “Spier and Mackay” not “Spier McKay”. And they are a Canadian brand not American. Maybe this section could be titled “North America” rather than “United States”.

Jason

The best made, best value quality shoe on the market is ‘Joseph Cheaney’ by a country mile.
Off sale they come in at about £380 per pair (sale price £225) and they have a great re-furb service where for £80, they’ll send them back to you as good as new.
Frankly, I wouldn’t wear anything else. I have four pairs from them that cover all my needs and they are definitely as good as John Lobb who charge you over twice the price.
‘Joseph Cheaney’ are undoubtedly the thinking flaneurs cordonnier.

JDV

I have to disagree. To put JC on the same shelf as JL, EG, STC and the like is certainly a stretch. If you’re better of with 2 pairs of JC than 1 pair of JL is another question. Maybe even a philosophical one.

Jason

No stretch sir. I own a pair of JL ‘Lopez’ loafers (£995) and a pair of Cheaney ‘Lewisham’ (£380) and with the exception of the fact that JL ‘claim’ a hand stitched apron, I can’t see any qualitative difference whatsoever.
They are both leather lined with a full leather insole and both have a Goodyear welted single leather sole.
The quality of the leather is identical. Indeed, stylistically they are even quite close.
The fact is that Cheaney have one flagship store and the vast bulk of their business is on line whilst JL are paying for expensive locations and staff explains all – at the end of the day it’s not so complicated.

Omar Asif

I have experienced Cheaney a fair bit, my first two pairs of English shoes were from Cheaney main line (I still have one of them), plus I have worn Cheaney’s imperial range as well as C&J mainline shoes.

While I like the imperial range, I disagree that Cheaney are at a similar level to C&J; even to my untrained eye the upper leather doesn’t seem comparable (scuffs more easily) and is thinner. Additionally the soles of Cheaney aren’t as hard wearing either, I have needed more frequent resoles.

LIAM

I appreciate it doesn’t work for everyone geographically, but most of the famous English brands are still manufactured in the Northampton region. Crockett & Jones, Church’s, John Lobb, Joseph Cheaney etc. all have factory shops if you are looking for a classic style but at a price closer to a discounted Loake. I can only speak for Cheaney, but the staff were very helpful and there was a good range when I visited around 7 months ago. I brought a pair of black Oxford brogues in a classic last for €109 that were from the previous season and a pair of Dark Leaf Calf Oxfords for €150 that had a negligible fault (even the staff had to look it up as it wasn’t obvious). The equivalent shoes are both online currently for €400 each. I must admit, my original motivations were more around my budget limitations, but I think I am also strangely more attached to them having visited the factory (the same site since their manufacturing started in the late 19th century) and learnt about their provenance. Like I said, it won’t work for everyone, but might be an option if on a budget.

PeteJ

I’m a long term Crockett and Jones customer – I buy main line and handgrade (I prefer the handgrade for the softness of the leather and the whole leather inner, which feels lovely). I’m thinking of trying something different and the George Cleverley Ready to Wear line has a whole cut I particularly like the look of.

Would you have any insight into the quality of the GC ready to wear versus C&J handgrade please?

Felix

One think really don’t understand is why GC dilute their brand with the C&J RTW line instead of focusing on the Anthony Cleverley line which I hardly see being sold anywhere. Foster & Son get this so much better with their RTW.

Did you ever talk to them about what is the rationale behind this strategy? And do you know any retailer in continental Europe who sells Anthony Cleverley? (And btw, do you know anything about the quality of this “Kingsman” line they sell on Mr. Porter?)

Other than that, interesting article. I’m happy I earn enough now to not care about this market segment any longer. While I have no problem wearing RTW tailoring that is cheap relative to the bespoke stuff you discuss on the website, with shoes I found it impossible to go back to cheaper brands once I got my first EGs.

anonymous

It is my impression that, notwithstanding Cleverley’s arm-waving and misdirection regarding their provenance, the Cleverely RTW are made by C&J. Thus, not likely to be much different from your C&J in terms of make, but the last and the leather may differ.

Omar Asif

GC RTW are made by C&J so they are likely to be quite similar. They are slightly cheaper than the C&J handgrade line, though I am not sure what drives the difference

E L

Simon: I understand that there are certain differences between more expensive shoes and less expensive shoes. The last is generally nicer, finer finishing elements are nicer, fewer corners are cut in certain areas, etc.

Putting that all aside, what do you think is the difference between mid-range makers (e.g. CJ or Alden or even something slightly lower end like Lof & Tung that is made more tastefully) and higher end makers (e.g. Edward Green)? Do you think there is a difference in comfort? In durability? Do you think a knowledgeable observer like yourself could tell the difference in leather quality when they are being worn on someone else’s feet (can you spot the difference in leather quality between CJ and EG when someone else is wearing them and your eyes are 6 plus feet away)? Are there other difference? I know last shape and design are the most obvious differences. I am just wondering if there is anything else I am missing.

I am asking because this difference has never really been clear to me. You talk a lot about nicer shoes on PS and how they are much nicer. And in pictures I can see a difference in appearance, at least in terms of shape and design, but I am not sure if there is much of a difference elsewhere (I get that bespoke and such will fit nicer).

E L

Thanks for the response. I guess I was just wondering whether some of those extra things were actually noticeable in terms of comfort, durability, etc, especially because a number of mid-range shoes now have some of the things you mentioned: closed channels, oak-bark soles (or if not, that is always something you can get on the resole), a wide range of leathers, etc.

I appreciate that there are differences, I just care more about some differences than others. For example, I don’t really care about super fine handwork on a shirt. I appreciate that it takes time and skill and thus affects cost, it just doesn’t matter a ton to me as it doesn’t have a meaningful effect on how the shirt wears or looks. I guess I was wondering whether the differences in finer shoes were of this sort, especially because you have said before that you find your Aldens to be among your most comfortable shoes (but maybe that was more about lack of structure than anything else).

Thanks again!

Anonymous

There is a great day out to be had (or was) visiting the factory shops of the main makers in and around Northampton. Although classed as “subs”, most of the time you would be hard pushed to see why.

Why spend £400 retail when you can get a great pair of shoes for half that?

Of course choice is more limited, and it’s more pot luck, but who doesn’t love a bargain?

DB

Thanks for this, Simon. It’s a helpful round up, especially since I find this price bracket to be a sweet spot for my own purposes. I still end up with shoes that are markedly higher quality than the vast majority of what’s sold, and the more reasonable prices allow me to accumulate a broader range of options. For me, that’s the right balance: There are diminishing returns to the higher quality make you can get with more expensive manufacturers, and a lot of my enjoyment comes from having shoes that are fit for particular purposes — e.g., sleeker oxfords to wear with suits and smarter trousers, chunkier brogue and split-toes for more casual outfits, rubber soles for wet weather, unlined loafers for the summer, etc. That would be much less possible for me at higher price points.

In that regard, let me plug TLB as a particularly sound value proposition. In addition to the Artista line you allude to, they also have a great customization program. For a reasonable upcharge, you can select any of their basic designs and pick your own choice of last, leather, and sole options. Their online interface is very easy to use, and being able to make these selection is so much better than being constrained to the ready-made options a manufacturer has selected.

To take an example, say you’re in the market for an adelaide. At C&J’s benchgrade level, you can choose from black or chestnut calf (both with a leather sole), or brown suede with a rubber sole — and you’re limited to their 348 last. With TLB, you could choose a more versatile dark-brown calf, or perhaps brown suede but with leather soles. And you could choose a more rounded last, if that was your preference. At least in the States, TLB comes in less expensive than C&J even after the customization upcharge — and even if you select the higher-quality Artista line.

John

Great post. That’s all. Cheers.

Andreas

I usually just buy shoes in the 500€ range when they go on sale for 200-300€, but in the 300€ range I really like the Austrian manufacturer Handmacher; they make shoes on traditionally boxy Viennese lasts, and they use tiny wooden nails to connect the soles to the uppers. They last forever, but unfortunately they are even stiffer than Meermin shoes (really didn’t like those), and take a year or two to wear in.

Nick Inkster

I find the shoe discussion to be an interesting one.

Although the vast majority of my formal clothes over the last 40+ years have been bespoke, I have never seen or felt the need to go bespoke on shoes. C&J have been my staple for more than 20 years, and I find that their 348 and 341 last feel like old friend straight our of the box. Lobb, Green etc have never felt as good in my experience, and in the real world I have never been able to see how or where they could justify their relatively higher prices.

My favourite pair of C&J have been back to the factory four times for refurbishment. They have a lot of life left in them.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

This I find quite interesting, since you certainly aren’t the only one. There’s so many men who more or less only buy bespoke tailoring, and who can spend enormous amount of money on watches etc. , yet they settle for shoes at a, relatively speaking, much lower level.

I wrote an article about it many years ago on the Swedish version of Shoegazing (before English was launched) which, to summarise, had the conclusion that it’s down to vanity. It was a bit controversial, I remember some who felt pinpointed argued quite strongly against it. And of course I could be wrong, but still believe there’s something behind it.

A bespoke suit certainly flatters the owner, makes them look good. A nice watch is also showing something. While, as you mention, most people don’t see the difference between a €400 Goodyear welted shoe and a €4,000 bespoke shoe. I mean, if you give the former a high shine they will likely get more attention than the latter with a lesser shine. It requires more knowledge to be able to see the difference between welted shoes at different stages of the quality segment, in general.

But what’s my experience, and I know for many others as well who have good bespoke shoes, is that the experience of wearing them, with the snug comfortable fit, excellent arch support etc, widely triumph wearing RTW/MTO Goodyear welted shoes. I feel much less tired in my feet after a long day, and if one have a bit problematic feet it will be an even bigger difference. No one see this though, it’s “only” for yourself. While a bespoke suit might of course feel a bit better in how it fits and how you can move, it isn’t really more comfortable and better for the health of your body compared to a midrange full canvas suit, in the same way as bespoke shoes. However, it shows. Hence, vanity wins (maybe).

Noel

Jesper,

Vanity may well be part of the explanation, it’s hard to say. Particularly for certain watches perhaps, although less likely for certain muted bespoke suits which might fit better but won’t look more expensive than a good of-the-peg one. Let’s not forget also that a bespoke shoe with a fiddle-back waist and angled heels can also have an element of vanity (albeit smaller than a watch).

However I’d like to venture another (partial) explanation (I have bespoke garments but no bespoke shoes): If the fit on an RTW shoe is good (comfortable all day, no blisters once broken in), is it really worth moving from C&J handgrade to bespoke? I wonder how much more comfortable it would be. I have been tempted for a while to try a pair of bespoke shoes to see if it truly is a large step up in comfort. So far I remained unconvinced but then again I don’t know any better.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Noel: That was the point I was trying to make, when I wrote: “what’s my experience, and I know for many others as well who have good bespoke shoes, is that the experience of wearing them, with the snug comfortable fit, excellent arch support etc, widely triumph wearing RTW/MTO Goodyear welted shoes. I feel much less tired in my feet after a long day, and if one have a bit problematic feet it will be an even bigger difference.”

For me, wearing pair of good bespoke shoes feels much better and more comfortable in many regards, also when compared to premium Goodyear welted brands. Might not be the same for everyone, but many who haven’t tried bespoke shoes would be very happy once they do, that I’m quite sure off.

Noel

Jesper,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I shall have to give bespoke shoes a try some day. It could be far more expensive than the cost of a single pair if they’re so much more comfortable as they are for you as it would make it harder to wear the shoes are own currently.

Jason

This is interesting – my experience is the complete opposite.
I once dumped a veritable fortune on a pair of bespoke Berlutti’s that caused me so much physical discomfort I was left with the impression they had been designed by the Gestapo.

When I complained I was told ‘The second pair is always better’ ! This is what separates them from the suit debate.

Nobody wants a bad fitting pair of strides but at least they won’t cause you physical pain.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Jason: That’s a real shame. A bit surprised that you had the experience with Berluti, they have a pretty good reputation. In my view, any proper maker would redo a pair coming out like that. I mean, things can go wrong, I see no problems with that, but then it has to be handled properly and fixed (I’ve had a finished pair redone from two different makers, in one case it was since an error was made on one of the things modified on the lasts from the fitting shoe, on the other a small damage happened when the lasts was pulled. Was no question about it in any of the cases). Of course second pairs usually come out better, and know there can be customers nagging on very small things, but certainly doesn’t sound like it in your case.

Thing is that, not referring to Berluti necessarily now, but we do see a number of very famous bespoke shoemakers, not least in England, who the past years have started to put out shoes that aren’t properly made and/or have a proper fit. It is something that is destroying the reputation not only for these brands but for bespoke shoes in general. Since it’s a smaller area than bespoke tailoring, it’s even more sensitive for these things.

With that said, the number of good bespoke shoemakers that will make sure to both deliver good fitting and very well-made shoes is still very high in the world. If one do good research ahead of placing an order (not just go by brand names and heritage, doesn’t work anymore in the bespoke shoe world), choose a brand that suits ones style and preferences for shoes, the chance you’ll get your best shoes ever are very high.

Nick Inkster

Noel it is precisely the point you make that has been behind my long standing decision to stay with C&J over all these years.

The two lasts I mentioned are super comfortable straight out of the box, and I can wear them all day without the slightest discomfort. In addition they come in some very handsome styles.

So I have never needed to seek an alternative, and have been fortunate never to need to spend more than £500 on a pair of shoes.

Michael K

Very nice article. Here in the States, the mark-up on most of these brands, when one can get them, tends to be breathtaking. Loake, Barker, Cheaney, etc. are priced above the equivalent Allen Edmonds, usually at an Alden equivalent price. Church’s is particularly egregious in this respect, given the quality (though, sometimes to my regret, their 173 last fits me like a glove in a UK 12E). Allen Edmonds still made really good shoes twenty years ago, but their attempt at becoming an all around clothing brand with its own shops really harmed the quality of the shoes. Still fine for the price point, as this piece suggests, but the quality control is miserable. Main point, though, is that C&J, EG etc are different enough in quality to justify their price point in USD. The lower tier shoes aren’t and if C&J or EG are out of reach, go with Alden rather than any of the cheaper Northampton brands.

Douglas

Michael is correct when simply paying a US retailer for a Northampton shoe, but I’ve purchased over 20 pairs of English shoes and boots over the past 18 months, all directly from a myriad of U.K. retailers and stockists and in some cases, the factory directly. Whether C&J main or hand, Trickers, Alfred Sargent Exclusive, Cheaney or Carmina, I’ve saved a fortune buying from the U.K. every time with no VAT, fair shipping and often times on terrific sales due to COVID and needing to move their inventory. For example, I got two new boots from the UK this week: a shell Carmina balmoral at just over $500 USD and C&J Galway 2 at just under $390 USD. Much better quality than today’s Allen Edmonds at comparable prices. I’d advise anyone who’s a fan of RTW Northampton and Spanish shoes to go to the source and/or their stockists

R Abbott

Good point about Allen Edmonds. Still pretty good value (it is the company I originally used before I could afford better) but not nearly as good as it was some time ago. I’ve never understood why they tried to branch out so much. Allen Edmonds is a shoe company and will always be known as such. I can’t imagine very people are going to buy a sports jacket or merino sweater there. But their attempt to branch out has caused them to lose their focus.

Same thing is true at a luxury level. I don’t know anybody who owns a Mont Blanc wallet, but I know plenty of people who own Mont Blanc pens, and I don’t see that ever changing.

Mark

As someone who has handled or owned several of these brands I thought it would be helpful to offer my experience, anecdotal though it may be. I will refrain from commenting on fit unless people think it will be helpful.

Crockett & Jones (bench grade): I own the Alex (wholecut on 348 last). By far the highest quality of any of the brands on this list (and in my opinion, the most elegant lasts). The nicest pair of shoes I own is a pair of JM Weston oxfords (from their main line, not the Blake line), and I have to work to tell the difference between the two (Weston has shaped heels, for example). As you mentioned, the C&J sole is flat and not very detailed, but the leather is thick but very supple and significantly more comfortable than any other shoe I have over the course of the day. I have handled several other pairs of C&J and this quality to the leather is consistent throughout. I would note that although the shoes I own have tight sole stitching, C&J models without pinking on the soles (for example, the Sydney with rubber soles) are noticeably less sleek. Finally, in terms of comfort, the insoles are much thicker and more comfortable in terms of conforming to the shape of my foot than any other shoes on this list (including Weston) other than Andres Sendra.

Carmina: one step down from C&J but higher quality than the others on the list. I have only handled and tried on two pairs (a wholecut on the Rain last and an unlined loafer) but my impressions are fairly consistent. Thick, high quality leather, but without the supple “stretchiness” that C&J’s and Weston’s uppers both have. And nice finishing and detailing as you mentioned. Overall fairly similar to TLB but a little sleeker overall, with tighter cut soles, more dense stitching, and (in my opinion) sleeker lasts.

TLB Mallorca: I own a wingtip on the Alan last. To me, the leather feels similar to Carmina, though possibly even stiffer and more inflexible. Over the course of the day they tend to pinch my toes rather than stretching to accommodate my feet, as my C&J and Weston do. The stitching on the soles is also less dense, though the soles do have some nice detailing like shaped waists and channeled soles, as you mentioned. The insoles also haven’t molded to the shape of my foot as I would expect by this point. Finally, this last is fairly conservative, with less sleek lines than the C&J, Carmina, Weston, etc.

Andres Sendra: I have a pair of wholecuts. I am a little biased here because I have had these for longer than any other pair on this list, so they are more broken in, and the last happens to fit my foot better than any but the C&J 348 too. I also happen to like their lasts, which are sleeker than anything else I own but the C&J 348. The upper leather is stiff and prone to hard creases, but also a little thinner than other brands on this list which helps with comfort. The soles have also had some quality issues – my shoes have channeled soles, and the top layer has peeled off repeatedly at the edges. But the insoles are very comfortable and have molded to my feet nicely. Finally, it’s worth noting that they have a very robust MTO program where customers can customize lasts and detailing, and they also use a lot of crust calf, where other makers on this list (besides possibly the Asian ones) only use aniline.

Meermin: I own a pair of unlined Chelsea boots in the “softcalf” leather and I have handled and tried on a paid of loafers in the same leather. Although the quality is nothing to write home about, they are incredibly comfortable. The leather feels like a glove and is truly unlined (to the extent that the uppers almost collapse under their own weight), unlike Carmina’s unlined shoes which don’t feel all that different from normal lined shoes. And the soles are much more flexible too, more similar to a Blake stitched shoe than a Goodyear welted one. From a comfort perspective these are unrivaled for the price, similar to how I have heard Baudoin & Lange described.

I have also tried on shoes from Yanko and Septieme Largeur. This was several years ago, so my recollection isn’t as detailed. The Septieme Larguer felt very similar to the Andres Sendra from what I remember. The Yanko felt very similar to the TLB if a bit softer overall (this makes sense as the founder of TLB used to be with Yanko).

By the way, the customer service at Skolyx is excellent. I would also include Lof & Tung on this list – it’s Skoaktiebolaget’s house brand (though I haven’t seen any in person), and their customer service is excellent too.

Gus

An interesting read. It is still quite hard to fathom the yearly price increases on EG shoes given their pitiful customer service. Besides a very enthusiastic and engaging chap in the Jermyn Street store, whose name I have forgotten, they could do with taking lessons from the brands mentioned in this post.

Miles

I have had a very different experience with EG service. I have found Robert (admittedly in sales, not specifically costumer service) to be accommodating in every respect; answering scores of questions over a months long decision making process. For someone who was a first time buyer of Northampton shoes, that process was indispensable. And it seems like, that level of service pervades the company.

Anonymous

I’ve always found the customer service at EG shocking. It’s why I’ve avoided buying from them.

MB

In contrast, I’ve always found EG’s service excellent but my interactions (outside of lockdown) are entirely based on the Jermyn Street store and I can’t say I’ve asked for anything unusual.

G&G also have exceptional service in the store. I loved the MTO experience there.

H

Many thanks Simon as usual for the very informative article. I am surprised that you didn’t cover Italian brands in more detail given their popularity. Take for instance Santoni, Prada or S. Ferragamo. Interested to hear your thoughts if one abstracts from the usual price mark-up due to branding etc. Their sole is often thinner compared to the English brands (eg CJ etc), which works fine during the warmer summer months. Less so in the winter. Cheers, H

Heinrich

Good article.
Are morjas using leather or plastic heel stiffeners?

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Morjas, and the other Swedish brands Myrqvist and Skolyx, all use leather board heel stiffeners.

Ben

Assuming that none have cracks or discolorations, are there significant differences in how different grades of suede used for shoes wear over time? Generally, more expensive suedes are the softer stuff, so it seems to me that they’d actually wear faster. E.g. if I like a pair of suede Edward Greens chelseas and Meermin (or Allen Edmond or Loake) chelseas the same out of the box, would I enjoy the EG uppers longer because they’re of a higher grade suede?

Jesper Ingevaldsson

The main difference is that cheaper brands use split suede, where the hides have been split into two layers (sometimes even three, but that’s mainly used for even cheaper shoes), while more expensive brands use reverse calf suede (where you have the full hide, and the flesh side is sanded). The latter will in general be more durable, since it’s thicker and consists of all the parts of the leather. So yes, you get more durable suede shoes higher up in the price ranges.

For the brands mentioned in this article, everyone uses split suedes, except Carmina and TLB Mallorca (C&J mainly have splits for Benchgrade, while they use reverse calf for Handgrade).

Henry

That’s is some very useful information Jesper, thank you!

Anonymous

Not sure the best place for this, and realise there is no “correct” answer but was wondering your view on the proportional cost of shoes to suits, shirts etc? Ie if you spend £500 on a pair of shoes you’d probably be looking at circa £2,000 for your suit and £150 for your shirt.

I’ve never been sure if I am just more accepting of shoe prices or if I am “proportional” as I bulk at the idea of spending £400 on a jumper but happy to buy C&J main line.

Anonymous

Looking forward to this. I’ve spent up to $2000 on a suit or sports jacket or coat on various occasions but have never spent more than $350 on a pair of shoes. Not sure why this is the case. Perhaps I need to re-examine what value I place on shoes.

I recently started to be more careful about how I track my wardrobe spending. In the past, I would spend under $300 on an item without really thinking twice about it but once I started keeping track, I began to notice that all these expenditures (which were often impulse buys or prompted by sales) were adding up to several thousand dollars a year. And that at the end of the day, I would be better off saving on a getting an additional major item a year of fine quality rather than getting a 30th shirt that I don’t really need.

William

I think one point that was briefly touched on but very important is that the different brands’ price point will be really different depending where you are.

Loake1880 is good starting point and it used to be a very good value. However about 5 years ago they reached some export deals with local retailers here in Canada and is sold here for over 500, where I used to get them shipped from England for 2-300. They had also banned any online store to ship them out to Canada. Given I can purchase a pair of CJ for 650 retail shipped from England this is not a great value.

This goes for Allen Edmonds now as well, where they will routinely reach 700 if bought directly from the manufacturer shipped out to Canada.

I guess what I am saying is that depending on where you’re, the good value for under certain dollar amount list will really change for you.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

This is certainly true, and prices mentioned in this article are towards each brands respective domestic markets..

What’s interesting is that for US customers it can go both ways depending on guidelines/restrictions from the brands. Some can only be purchased at high upcharge compared to what they cost in Europe, while some can be bought from European retailers with free shipping, VAT deducted and no customs charge (as long as below $800) so they come out 15-20% cheaper than they cost in Europe.

Chingstein

I’m an Alden fanboy with the exception of longwings. AE’s MacNeil is the epitome of wingtips imho. For something more formal I turn to Carmina which provides the best bang for the buck.

Henry

Lovely article! I’m a student in Sweden and I have worn a couple of the brands mentioned in the article (and in the comment section) during the last couple of years. This includes Loake 1880, Carlos Santos, Morjas, Myrqvist, Skolyx, Grenson, Carmina and TLB Artista and I’d like to share some of my experiences. Perhaps someone will find them useful:

1. Myrqvist shoes are dreadful. I have had to send back two pairs on separate occasions that both had massive construction errors. Quality control seems to be non-existent.

2. Morjas definitely makes decent shoes, even though I wouldn’t recommend buying any pair with leather soles, as these are the worst soles I’ve ever encountered.

3. Skolyx is easily the best budget tier brand I have come across. The brand focuses on doing the basics well and I recommend it to every friend of mine that wants to try goodyear welted shoes for the first time.

4. If you can spend that extra 100-150 £ I sincerely recommend buying a pair of shoes from Carmina or TLB Artista. I find that you almost always get what you pay for when it comes to goodyear welted shoes and both of these shoemakers are a big step up from all the budget tier brands I have tried in terms of materials, fit, craftmanship and durability.

5. Finally and most importantly, find a last that truly fits your feet. In the long run you will always regret buying a pair that ticks all the boxes, but doesn’t have a good fit.

Again, a big thank you to Simon and Jesper for the article. I’m really looking forward to the promised article on TLB Artista.

Bjorn

I also had disappointing experiences with Myrqvist’s quality. For
me, Morjas and Skolyx have been better in that regard.

Peter

Your mentioning Jesper`s financial interests is interesting – would more call this commercial however. But have you ever disclosed your so called financial situation regarding your reviews – you don’t pay full price if any price for all these garments you have made for yourself, correct? More disclosure is called for before putting a disclaimer on others situation.

Noel

What struck a cord for me is consistency of (most) english manufacturers. It might be somewhat boring, but the greatest shoe design can be quite a disappointment when there’s puckering on seams, marks on the leather or misaligned stitching. Every now and then I got excited by a nice design at a lower price point only to be disappointed by quality issues.

Most of my shoes are Crockett & Jones because of the great customer service and the consistent quality. I agree that they might be a touch conservative (although they do now have more stylised lasts compared to a few years back), and that you’re less likely to get more interesting leathers like museum calf or patinated. I’m happy to pay a bit more for that consistency and service. Perhaps if I lived in Spain I would got to a Carmina store to gauge their quality and service.

Sebastian

Simon, I was wondering what are your thoughts on Sanders. I bought a pair of suede oxfords some months ago and I have found them to be fairly good for their cost.

Felix

Hi Sebastian,

I have a pair of Chelsea boots by Sanders, bought at John Rushton’s.

I’d put them at around Barker/Loake territory, perhaps slightly better. It’s hard to say since they’re Chelsea boots, which means breaking in isn’t as much of an issue as with lace-up shoes.

To me, they have been 100% worth the money.

Sebastian

My experience with them has been very similar to yours, Felix. Even though mine are lace-ups, breaking in has actually been very easy and I also feel like they are totally worth the money.

Néstor

I’ve around 20 pairs of Carmina, 2 of C&J mainline and a dozen of C&J hangrade. Also Berwick, Yanko and others.

I might have very sensible feet but I wouldn’t buy more mainline C&J. Very hard to break in and stiff leathers. You get slightly better quality with Carmina at a cheaper price. Not a big difference though. The C&J hangrade, however, is another story. I still recall trying them for the first time after having worn Carmina for some years and noticed the difference instantly. Not only the uppers are nicer, but the full calf liners are a joy when you put them on and you walk even a bit. I’ve tried Lobb, G&G and EG and have notice better uppers but not an increase in comfort compared to C&J handgrade that to me, are the sweet spot of the English shoe made in Northampton at a sensibly lower prices than the top makers.

Anonymous

I have a pair of black calf oxfords from Morjas and the leather feels rather cheap: it looks like patent leather, only matte not shiny. Do you know what that’s down to?

Anonymous

Morjas uses corrected-grain leather, despite their claims to the contrary.

Sartorially Challenged

Hello Simon,

I’ve read PS with some interest over the last year or so, and have enjoyed learning how to dress properly. Thanks for your efforts!

I’ve decided to get a pair of loafers, which I’d wear with flannels, chinos, dark denim and (occasionally) shorts. Do you think that this pair are too “smart”: https://www.afinepairofshoes.co.uk/products/berwick-1707-penny-loafer-9628-dark-brown-suede?variant=19309209288766&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=Google%20Shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5ZCblaOs6gIVdBPTCh32aAttEAEYASABEgKcGvD_BwE

Would this pair be better suited: https://www.carminashoemaker.com/penny-loafers-brown-suede-80113

(I think I prefer the darker colour of the first).

Thank you.

Sartorially Challenged

Hi Simon,

Many thanks for your prompt response – most helpful.

AL

As someone who has purchased a few of these brands, I found this article to be very interesting and accurate. My personal thoughts are as follows:

Loake – As the article suggests, the Loake 1880 is the bare minimum you should go for. About 4 or 5 years ago, I naively bought a pair of Loake Shoemakers and the quality was very poor. So much so, that one of the heels fell off during normal use. However to their credit, Loake’s customer service was excellent. They initially repaired free of charge and when the heels came loose again they replaced for a shoe from their 1880 range. The quality difference was like night and day and I’d have no hesitation recommending the Loake 1880’s as a good budget shoe.

Barker –

The quality of the leather on my particular pair isn’t as good as the Loake 1880 (or any of the other brands) but overall these are a well constructed pair of shoes.

Cheaney –

Easily the best of the ‘budget’ shoes and whilst they don’t match Crockett and Jones, they are not a million miles away. The quality of the leather isn’t as good as Crockett and Jones, but is far superior to my Barker and Loake shoes. They are extremely comfortable and very good value in my opinion.

Crockett and Jones –

Exceptional quality and the best quality shoes I own. The quality of the leather and overall construction is superb.

I’d also echo other comments that a trip to the factory outlet shops in Northampton is well worth it. There are some great savings on offer and often the defects are either unnoticeable or very minor.

PS

Nice article , but why the article call these cheap shoes? Why not economical or cost effective or something else which has more neutral/positive connotation unlike ‘cheap’

Aidan

I think it makes sense for C&J to stick to making shoes and not running shops. No need to own property, employ shop staff etc etc.

RT

I’d have to say that, based on my personal experience, the C&J shops are one of the great strengths of the company. I’m a regular customer of both Jermyn Street shops and the customer service I’ve consistently experienced over many years has been exceptionally good, significantly better than I’ve experienced in some other, more expensive establishments that will be well known to readers of this blog. I’ve gradually moved more towards the Handgrade products, though not entirely, as the range of styles is more limited. I’ve also, more recently, experienced the customer service at GC and G&G – excellent in both cases, as was the consistently good service at the Little Cheaney shop in Leeds, when I lived in the North of England.
Really good customer service is important to me and is one of the things that keeps me going back. The same is true for the tailors and the small number of shops I use for RTW clothing.
I have not found any better service than that provided by the C&J shops in Jermyn Street (and actually at the factory shop on the one occasion I managed to visit). I have, however, experienced considerably worse service at some of the establishments of allegedly higher grade companies, whose products I could easily afford, but whose customer service proved to be a very effective deterrent. Thankfully, that isn’t true of all high end companies that I’ve experienced and, in general, I have found that the quality of the service matches that of the product. I’m really tempted to name and praise (as opposed to name and shame!), but perhaps that wouldn’t be entirely appropriate.

Aidan

RT

C&J do not run their own shops. The Jermyn Street stores are run by a franchisee. I agree they provide an excellent service and are great ambassadors for the brand, which is why I think it is clever of them as a company not to be involved in the complexity of rents, leases, employees etc.

Aidan

T&A as far as I know.

Felix

Where would you fit in Carlos Santos? (Portuguese shoemaker)
To me, they’d come in just below C&J

ANM

Loding in Canada had a service (a couple years back) that involved a full time patina specialist in Montreal. You could specify any combo you wanted (dark navy to black, or dark purple to black, etc.) and the results for the money where quite good….at a distance, you could mistake them for Berluti, at 1/4 the price…

John R

Thanks for an informative article.

One thing I could never understand is why, from lower to higher price points, RTW makers don’t provide more width options. Most brands provide one width per shoe/last, which in the end really limits your ability to find the right fit (not to mention, to find the right fit for the shoe you actually want to buy). American brands seem to be better at this (Alden, AE). Bespoke obviously solves this but I don’t care enough about the other elements you get and pay for with bespoke, or perhaps I just think £2k+ is too much – and I suspect (hope?) I’m not the only one. Is it really that costly to offer and stock a range of widths/sizes in order to ensure customers can find a comfortable shoe? When I do, I’m a repeat customer (for instance, narrow EG 202 Chelseas) – but my narrow feet preclude me from buying most brands’ shoes.

ANM

Some RTW still offer width varieties but I believe the manufacturers found that those with narrow feet didn’t suffer if the shoes were too wide. All one had to do is insert a sole liner, of wear thicker socks

The alternative was to shut out the market of men with wider feet.

Besides, one isn’t going to do something athletic in dress shoes so a relatively poor fit is not noticed most of the time…

R Abbott

I have this problem as well. I started out with Allen Edmunds because they offer reasonably priced shoes (for Americans) with decent quality. I’ve since “moved on” to other brands because I wanted higher quality. However, I continue to buy loafers from Allen Edmonds because they sell shoes that come in 4-5 widths, so it’s easy for someone with narrow feet to find loafers that fit and won’t fall off. (My feet are only moderately narrow, so I don’t have issues with normal width lace up shoes).

DG

As someone with narrow feet, and unable to afford bespoke, this is a major bugbear of mine. Very few English RTW offer much in the way of narrow lasts. Particularly I struggle with the heel which I find very wide with most English makers. I’ve found one Cheaney last with a wide toe box that works for me by sizing down so that the heel fits but very little success with other makers. I now have 3 different pairs on that Cheaney last. Its particularly difficult with Oxfords, a Meermin Linea Maestra in a narrow width is the only pair I have that I’d say fits spot on, all others are uncomfortable if I need to walk for a decent distance.
Does anyone know if English makers tend to have wider heels than their Spanish (or other continental counterparts). When we’ve returned to normal I might need a trip to Spain to try on a selection from Carmina, Meermin and the other brands suggested in this article.

Simon K

Simon wrote that “it is expensive to add an extra width across all shoes”. I’m a scrooge but think this is crucial to include in your mental budget. I happily pay the very reasonable cost for a brand providing a certain width, a good service, retaining the lasts that suits me and other added values. With shoes, up to a certain quite high price point, you get what you pay for and further this is possible to judge objectively. This separates footwear from most of fashion and it feels good to support the companies that work towards this. It would be nice to see more posts on the different plateaus (?) on that curve of diminishing returns.

Kingstonian

Well done for covering affordable RTW brands instead of bespoke that few will be able to consider.

Berwick is very good quality and seems to be stealing some of Loake’s market share in the U.K. Prices at the well known shoe store near Victoria undercut Loake.

As for Northampton shoes they are still great value if you buy in the sale or go to the factory shops.
I have had great buys from Tricker – none were country shoes, but one pair had channeled soles, which even at full price would have been a bargain. Plain black Oxfords from Church’s who are near the rail station. I even got a pair of Lobb Chapels for £245 in 2009.

One brand not mentioned were the French company Bexley. They used to offer calf leather and Goodyear welting at incredible prices though the soles would wear quickly and their shops recommended Topy. Unfortunately they offer less Goodyear welted shoes these days.

David

I’d like to add a little comment on the Vietnam shoe makers here. I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam so I know these companies. CNES and Fugashin are both high quality shoes and I carefully compared them before deciding that Fugashin was the better and choosing it as my Shoemaker. CNES has a larger range of casual shoe styles off the rack but Fugashin is more refined with better hand details and more elegant last shapes. Both these shoemakers offer value far and a way above a UK shoe at a similar price point so they really are worth a look for a person prepared to put in the effort. Fully bespoke shoes including trial pair start from about £550 depending on the exchange rate, and they offer ready to wear / MTO lines of various grades between £65 and £450.

Nico

Dear Simon,

I have really been liking many of your posts for this season. You have aimed at a balance of smart – casual, RTW / MTM / bespoke really useful and affordable; you have catered for all. Since that was my advice in your survey, I can only but congratulate. The high –end, aspirational item is necessary too and will always be a hallmark of your site, but I believe you have wisely corrected a too marked journey into luxury where many less of us could have followed.

This post is an epitome of that, and I may well take the opportunity to praise your reflection.

That said, something in the post did strike me negatively, on a subject I previously had been puzzled about: appraisal of Allen Edmonds. I have gone through years of posts’ comments where US readers often praised the company and you alleged unawareness about it, sometimes citing Alden as the only US quality shoemaker known to you.
AE is a company around 100 years old and about thrice Alden’s turnover, I always heard that only second to it in quality in the US, so that seemed odd.

Here the belittling is by Jesper, but somehow feels like follow-through of the same swing. AE is placed well below C&J and Carmina, lacklusterly portrayed together with cheaper brands, and tied with Loake. In my experience, AE is not second to the former neither in leather quality nor make, and features more comfortable footbeds (especially vs Carmina), only it is not as sleek. Loake is not anywhere near.

I would agree that some change has happened since Stollenwerk sold the company to an investment fund, they seem to have gone into the greed and certainly for some cost cutting somewhere to make up for the handicap of making in the US. Maybe something in the weight of the shoes or its balance, but nothing apparent in construction. The dress shoes classics hold their own. I have been wearing several pairs for ~18 years without an issue besides replacement of a couple of degraded rubber heel soles.

But the key issue from my point of view is that AE offers 10 widths across all the models in their portfolio, where none of the Northamptoners are able to offer more than 2 and only for very few of their models. For a RTW offering, without additional charge, that is a massive advantage for anyone wary of shelling out for MTM alternatives, and I would have expected something worth telling readers.

In fact at some point I wondered whether you were being protectionist of Northampton makers by apparently shunning AE, but then I could not see anywhere else that could be like you.

Please don’t take offence, I am just dead curious about it. I acknowledge I am emotionally attached to AE, it was the first quality brand I could access. But I am not a US citizen, at least no chauvinism involved. And sorry for the long post, whenever I come across such I wonder whether the guy is a bit insane, but then, passion, what?

Dragoslav

Simon,

Thanks for the comprehensive overview.

Any thoughts about the German brand Hammerstein? Their MSRP is slightly below C&J and at a certain point they’ve been advertised as “The finest bespoke shoes outside of England.”

On par with Shoepassion in Germany I’d recommend Prime Shoes. It is relatively easy to find them discounted…

Thanks in advance for your reply.

R

Apologies if this question is in the wrong place. Looking to buy (a much much cheaper alternative to alden’s ) the Berwick plain toe derby
https://britishshoecompany.co.uk/collections/berwick-1707/products/berwick-mens-derby-leather-lace-up-shoes-5768-k6

Would these look good suits ( navy/grey) and trousers ) blues/grey/green/white etc.) I typically shy away from the lighter browns etc.. and thought this might be a good alternative and could be quite versatile.
Many thanks in advance,

Anonymous

thank you Simon

Anonymous

When changing the width of a shoe e.g. C&J E vs. F, does the wider shoe has the same heel fit/width than the smaller one? So do only the toes get more room or is the hole shoe more roomier?

Matty

I would caution anyone against reading the shoegazing blog. I found it a source of much misinformation. Like the arbitrary claim that the soles on English soles wear out more quickly than European ones. It’s an entirely stupid thing to say, not least because most of the leather used on the soles of English shoes are from European tanneries.

He also claims that Barker use corrected grain leather on some of their shoes – I asked them and the is not true.

I think shoegazing is largely irrelevant since the information it provides can be gathered more reliably elsewhere.

Jesper Ingevaldsson

Matty: Late reply, but noticed your comment just now. You are of course free to think that there’s better sources than Shoegazing. It’s a bit funny though that you state I do “arbitrary claims”, when you yourself lift the examples you do, without backing it up with anything.

Barker has indeed several models in corrected grain, you find them under hi-shine on their own website. I’m not sure who and why the person you talked with from Barker said anything else, but a quick visit to their website or just a Google will you show you that he or her were wrong.

Regarding the soles, the comment was of course a generalisation, and of course British makers use European soles in most cases, that doesn’t change anything. But it’s a not a secret that English brands, in general (this for example does not go for the premium brands) use less good leather soles than Spanish and Italian makers of welted shoes, in general. I have owned shoes from most of the English brands, and 5-10 Spanish brands and 5-10 Italian brands, and it’s a quite clear difference (but again, there are exceptions in both directions. In the same way as it is well-known that, in general, the quality control of British brands in all price ranges is better than in Spain and Italy, British shoes almost always have a very even, solid level). It’s also an experience shared by many others with much more experience than me of various brands, and something I’ve been told by both retailers who sell both British and European shoes, and not least cobblers. I’m not sure what you have to back up that this wouldn’t be the case? Would be interesting to hear. Also worth noting, is that I’ve never written about this on Shoegazing, it just came up in the discussion with Simon when we talked about differences.

Matty

After further research I stand by my words.

I would also add that instead of trying to prove potential readers wrong, you might accept criticism gracefully and might have more success by doing more research and improving your writing.

Cheers

James Beecher

I’ve a pair of Barker Grant that I must have worn 50/60/70 times and it’s only last week I had a topy (SVIG rubber) put on, the cobbler reckoned the rubber on the heel hadn’t worn enough to warrant replacement. They may not be top tier but they certainly are hard wearing. I’d not have worn them in wet conditions though.

Mike

Hi Simon, you mentioned at the top that Carmina doesnt use plastic heel stiffener. What type of heel stiffener do they use? Because my older Carmina heel stiffener are longer and substantial that the newer ones.

David

Overall, would you have a favourite among these brands? (For a RTW dark brown oxford, although I could stretch my budget a bit more, up to 400 euros)

Best,

David

David

Thanks a lot Simon. Would you stick to brands such as Alden, EG, (or else) for RTW ?

Evelyn Ray

I have Meermin boots and happy with the quality. There is one new Brand Lethato seen on different portals and I saw their boots are attractive and reasonably priced. Any feedback from you on this brand.

Alex

I’ve just received an email from Herring Shoes announcing that “Church Shoes Ltd have decided to increase their prices to reposition their brand at a higher price point. As a simple example, in the UK the price of Consul, a black calf, toe-cap Oxford will increase from the current price of £495 to £720”. !!! Extraordinary. From my personal experience, there has been a decline in quality in inverse proportion to price increases. Unless there is also a considerable increase in quality, I’d say this “reposition” leaves Church as even less of a value for money option.

John

Greetings,

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this article and PS in general. I’ve purchased two pairs over the past 10 months from brands in this article. An apron toe penny loafer from Orban’s last summer that were on clearance for 60 euros. Made in Spain. Great stitch density and overall construction for a GYW loafer that normally runs 160 euros.

Second is a Loake 1880 snuff suede apron derby boot. Suede from CF Stead and rubber Victory soles. I just purchased them and they are in transit from Sweden. $215 shipped to the US. Based on reviews, I’m hopeful.

The fit/finish/materials of my $600 Alden boots is markedly different from my $350 Allen Edmonds Dalton boots. Regarding AE, there’s certainly been a change since their most recent acquisition in 2017. Quality control for us sticklers has been in question dating back to the aughts. I have a pair of MacNeil long wings made in 1977, two years before I was born, that I acquired used and had resoled. They are amazing shoes. Tanks, if you will. AE has excellent customer service to this day. It’s a shame that fees make the value proposition go down fellow shoe enthusiasts abroad.

Related/unrelated, I find myself in flux style wise right now in the early stages of coming out of Covid. I’ve undergone a career change and offices in the US have become more and more lax about dress standards, even prior to 2020. For what it’s worth, I’ve purchased more boots in the past 3 years than any other style of footwear (dress/service types of models). My most desired English brand is C&J. 5 years ago, I probably would have bought an Oxford of some kind. Now, I’d probably look at a boot like the Conniston or Islay. Interesting times and personal style journey.

Oliver Gatland-Pendleton

Hey Simon,

Great article – I wonder what you think of the dilemma I currently find myself in?..

I’m looking to acquire a couple of pairs of tassel loafers (one dark brown suede and one black calf). I’m trying to decide between the following two options:

1) Myrqvist Molle Loafers @ £151 per pair

2) Trickers Elton Loafers @ £225 per pair (on sale)

I realise this may seem like a simple choice, and maybe that’s exactly what you’ll say, but I’m only 25 years old and money is definitely a consideration.

What I’d like to know is – how much higher quality will the Trickers be over the Myrqvists? Is it enough to justify the extra 75 quid per pair? Will they last much longer?

Would really appreciate any advice you can give!

Cheers,

OGP

Oliver Gatland-Pendleton

Cheers Simon,

Really appreciate the advice. Think I’ll grab a pair of black calf Trickers first, then see how I go.

OGP

Martins

Just make sure Trickers does not end up too chunky for you. I have dainite soled storm welted trickers penny loafers and also commando soled stows, and I can’t see myself wearing them much with anything aside from jeans or super casual chinos/corduroys.

p.s. regards judging quality by calf not suede? does not “really” mean quality will be consistent. in fact my favourite leather is meermin museum calf, while meermin “llama” I don’t really like, and I wouldn’t touch their black box calf with a 10′ pole.

Edric

Hi Oliver,

If you will be ordering from the Tricker’s website, I suggest going over the fine print. Some of the shoes on sale are “factory seconds” and its not something they outrightly advertise. They claim it will still last as long and that the “defects” are just cosmetic, but still, it may not be what you expect.