Are bespoke shoes worth it?

Monday, August 9th 2021
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Every time I do a review of bespoke shoes, the question comes up as to whether they're worth the money. Whether bespoke shoes in general can really be worth it, given the little issues I often report. 

My short answer is that, in my experience, they are not worth it unless you're in for the long haul. 

Don't commission one pair of bespoke shoes, from a famed and distant craftsman, and expect them to solve all your issues. It's very unlikely. 

I've overheard so many guys talk about dreaming of using a maker - usually Japanese - and how everyone says they're the best. That those shoes will finally be perfect (unlike the others they've tried). It's hard to hear.

However, I do think bespoke can be worth it - and highly pleasurable - over the long term. If you work with one maker for a while, and will regularly need dress shoes, then it can develop into a really effective and enjoyable experience. 

The real issue is that modern society is not set up for that kind of relationship. 

The reason the famous shoemaker is unlikely to make you a perfect pair of shoes is that sculpting a pair, from scratch, to fit your particular feet, is surprisingly hard. 

Much harder, in fact, than making a beautiful pair of shoes - and yet it's the aesthetics most people focus on. 

Even among those in menswear, it's surprising how many talk about really ill-fitting shoes they've had from big names, which they'd never admit publicly.

These are nearly always a first pair. When I've used a shoemaker multiple times - as with Stefano Bemer for example - the fit has always improved on the second pair, and even on the third. 

I must emphasise though, the fit has nearly always been better on the first pair than most ready-made shoes. So it's still a good fit. It's just not perfect. 

Perfection comes slowly, because fitting is tricky. You can't see how the foot is inside the shoe (unlike tailoring); you can't adjust the fit much after the shoe is made (unlike tailoring); any issue with fit can cause actual, excruciating pain (unlike tailoring). 

Plus, as some shoemakers say, you have to 'fit the mind as well as the foot'. People vary in how they like shoes to fit, but they don't necessarily realise how they're different. And even if they do, they've probably never had to communicate it. 

When men wore dress shoes every day of the week, and rarely used more than one maker, this didn't matter. 

Within two or three years, you'd have a great last and could order shoes made on it any time you wanted. That would be your experience for the rest of your life, for decades.

You also had a maker that knew you personally, that would be very good at repairing and refurbishing their own shoes, and so on. Fashions also changed less, so there was less risk of shoes looking out of date. It still happened (old industry magazines show that clearly) but a lot less. 

There are many reasons that doesn't work today. Men wear fewer dress shoes; they want to try more makers; fashions change more; it's less likely the maker is local; and, relative to the income of the guys that aspire to them, the shoes are more expensive. 

(They're actually probably cheaper relatively than they used to be, but everyday working Joes like you and me didn't used to shop at top West End makers.)

Even with all this, bespoke shoes today can be wonderful.

Making them is both an art and a craft. 

It involves actual sculpture, for God's sake - sculpting of an artistic, idealised form of your foot in the shape of a wooden last.

The skill of then making them is an amazing combination of strength and delicacy. Tiny stitches made by calloused hands. 

And the resulting object is also a piece of art in itself. There is no other area of menswear where some people actually buy the shoes to look at them more than wear them. Or where there are companies that only make versions that are works of art - that cannot be worn. 

If you do wear them, the shoes are also one of the few pieces of clothing that get better with age, that become both more beautiful and more distinct with time.

It's no wonder they can sometimes feel like a fetish.

Ready to wear is wonderful too, but bespoke shoemaking is the zenith. 

The problem is making it fit for purpose, today. 

I encourage everyone that can afford it in the long term to try bespoke shoes. But if you can, I'd recommend to: 

  • Try as few makers as possible 
  • Accept that none of those first pairs will be perfect 
  • Patronise a local maker, or one to whom you will have regular access 
  • Once you have one you love, slowly build a small collection of classic shoes, that you will therefore use and wear for a long time
  • Along the way, talk to your maker, establish a relationship

Shoemakers can help here too, I think, for example by shortening waiting times as much as possible. 

I also think an adjusted last system or RTW make on a bespoke last, rather than full bespoke, is a good option as long as expectations are managed well. 

A friend recently asked me whether he should save up for a pair of bespoke shoes. He'd had bespoke suits, shirts and invested in a lovely dress watch. But he wanted to try shoemaking.

I advised him against it. He was only ever going to buy one pair, and I couldn't help feeling, after all that money and all that waiting, that he was going to be disappointed.

In a follow-up article, I’ll walk through how I would have approached my bespoke shoe journey differently (as a regular customer).

Note: There are of course many other advantages to handmade shoes, including the strength of saddle stitching, the ability to resole more often, the fitted arch support and so on. Here I’m intending to reflect my experience and give advice, rather than go into them all. (Unlike this piece on bespoke tailoring.)

Shoes pictured, top to bottom, with links to relevant articles:

 

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Jason

At last, the truth is out – they aren’t worth it,
My one bespoke adventure with Berluti in Paris damn nearly crippled me !

Michael

Your wallet or your feet, or both?

BRENDEL

No he didnt say — they are not worth it — Nuances ! He said it is a skill and craft which is based on a long term association. It takes the shoemaker time to be able to mould your shoe in accordance with the shape, form and structure of your foot. The type of leather, the bench grading, the current fashion all play a part on the road to perfection — hand made bespoke shoes are well fashioned as when eventually when your atelier gets it right — it will be like heaven sent to wear them –you wont want to take them off.

KJ

Thanks for the honesty on this. Is the logical progression not that a good compromise is to go for high end MTM? It won’t be perfect, but something like the Gaziano MTM is definitely a step up from the RTW and, while it certainly isn’t cheap, it isn’t SO expensive that it makes you cry when it isn’t perfect…
KJ

Carrie Johnson

Yes, Edward Green is probably realistically the best option. Too bad their styles are so dull.

Triskel

Hi Simon, there is one more factor which puts me, at least, off bespoke shoes and that is knowing how the details will look in reality. I think small details, because the area being focused on is so concentrated, can be extremely important in how a shoe looks, and the overall impression created. Even in a RTW house which one likes, say Edward Green (whereas, despite the evident skills Gaziano & Girling are “too much” for me), there are some models one likes more than others – and one can focus in on these, and try to reason why, when one can see them in the shop. I imagine that this is much more difficult in a bespoke making environment; even if there are samples from which one can choose individual elements there is still uncertainty whether those elements will fit together in the way one hopes. It’s a bit like commissioning a painting – however much I’ve discussed with the artist beforehand I am always disappointed; buying ready-made (and this is not a tribute to modern quick-fix) there is very little gap between expectations and reality. And that gap is always painful when one has (perhaps unrealistically) high hopes.

Carrie Johnson

Yes, why the major London shoe makers can’t find a place in NY to show just one of everything they make is beyond me. Leffot isn’t really good enough for that.

Peter

I totally agree. It’s a shame they’re the only place selling Edward Green now, and they only stock a few models. I can’t imagine EG wouldn’t do well opening a shop in New York.

Radicaldog

Is it true that “everyday working Joes” wouldn’t shop at top West End makers back in the day? (By which I mean, say, the mid-century era.) It’s well known that income distribution has diverged sharply since the 1980s. It used to be the case that both a City banker and a senior Whitehall official would get their suits on Savile Row. Now only the former can afford that, barely. Over the last few decades we have witnessed an explosion of extreme luxury and a hollowing out of the upper-middle levels of the market for clothes and such. I’m afraid bespoke shoemakers went the ultra-luxury way. This means both that the mid-level ones disappeared, and that the top-level ones tend to aim for a clientele for whom money isn’t much of an object. Or at least that’s my impression.

S

Remember also that back in the 1950s and earlier “senior Whitehall officials” often came from very privileged/wealthy backgrounds, and their lifestyles were to a large extent independent of whatever meager salary they received from the public purse. It is indeed not that long ago that Foreign Office positions in many Western European countries didn’t pay any salary at all! They were positions intended for the aristocracy.

S

Hristo (STEMESO Socks)

When you say that the bespoke shoe makes went the ultra-luxury way, this might create a wrong impression in some readers that they were greedy or something like that.
My impression is that bespoke shoe makers are usually earning an average wage at best even when the prices of their products are so high. Just because it takes so many hours to produce a single pair of shoes. If you consider that for normal employees in Europe the work year has around 220-230 days (after deduction of weekends, state holidays, 20-30 days of paid vacation), this makes 1800 hours per year.
How many pairs of bespoke shoes can you make in 1800 hours? 10 to 30 maybe. Even with high prices this is not a mind blowing revenue and when you deduct VAT, materials, rent, income taxes and insurances, this leaves a not that high net income.
The shoemakers that have more money are usually the ones that offer a RTW line or something similar which allows them to scale.

Parker

One of the things you fogot to mention is that most bespoke shoemakers possess little to no orthopedic knowledge and thus don’t really know how to make a correctly fitting shoe. They will mirror the foot by producing the last but will ignore any defomities of the feet that need orthodics and in some cases even worsen them. I’ve recently seen photos of a pair roduced by the winner of this ominous world shoemaking championship and you could clearly tell that the shoes didn’t fit and even accentuated the wearer’s cavoid foot. He obviously accomdoated the problem but didn’t know how to correct it. And maybe even shouldn’t without proper knowlege and training?

Another problem is pricing. Much like bespoke clothing bespoke shoes are driven to new artisanal heights driving up the prices with details that aren’t really needed from a wearer’s standpoint. Added to that shoes are also the most vulnerable pieces you’ll wear all day. One little stumble or an unattentive person in line at the supermarket and you will spend your evening trying to polish scratces out of you 5k shoes.

Aaron

I can definitely appreciate that for country shoes etc, but is that definitely still the case for particularly smart shoes e.g. black captoe Oxfords? I always feel bad getting even a slight scuff on them whilst I wouldn’t worry for my casual shoes.

Aaron

Thanks, I will try to bear that in mind in the future. Might take some effort to remember though! I find I tend to see other people’s aged shoes as looking well-worn and beautiful yet I feel like my own haven’t done it ‘properly’. Perhaps just an inherent part of grass being greener etc.
Speaking of creasing, my black Oxfords have some very slight creasing on the toebox just before the captoe. Is this type of crease abnormal or just something that occasionally happens?

Parker

I suppose we can agree that there is a difference between a healthy patina and scratches that really damage the uppers.

To the second point you might also add that there is little way to judge what you are given apart from some details. Showcases are a nice thing but wheter you get top quality or just an average product is hard to tell.

REUVEN L LAX

I know that some bespoke shoemakers have built shoes around their customers’ custom orthotics, though the shoemaker will usually want to have the orthotic so that they can make sure to leave the appropriate amount of room in the shoe for it.
Shoes made for competitions are not made to fit well on anyone’s feet – they tend to be judged on difficulty and beauty; if you’re speaking of the shoes I’m thinking of, they definitely were not made for a real person! This is maybe unfortunate as fit is a big part of a shoemaker’s craft, however judging fit in a competition setting would also be extremely difficult.

Parker

I was talking about a pair that was made for an actual customer, not a competiton piece hence mentioning that the shoes pronounced the malposition of the foot.

A Borda

Hi Simon, based on my experience, I would argue that bespoke suits, jackets and shirts are also only worth it if you’re in it for the long haul.

A Borda

Hi Simon, that’s correct if it’s true that most shoe makers cannot or won’t correct problems with the first pair. That is some that that would be a major issue for me as a potential customer of a shoemaker.

In my case, my shoemaker took back my first pair after a month or two of wear, and made me an entirely new pair free of charge, to correct some fit issues that I noticed after wearing the first pair. So I have fortunately not had issues with getting stuck with an unwearable or uncomfortable first pair of shoes. (They also did the same on my first pair of slip ons, since the fit is different than lace ups.)

They undoubtedly lost money on the first pair, but that has now been repaid many times over now that I have been ordering regularly for a number of years.

Carrie Johnson

I assume bespoke shoemaking is a high margin high fixed cost business. If they have to do your first pair over in order to get a number of repeat orders, they haven’t really lost anything.

Mark

Was I unlucky to need this or lucky with my maker? My first pair was also remade due to fit issues. Having only worn RTW shoes before this I wasn’t even aware this could be done but I was told I should have brought them back immediately rather than trying to ‘break them in’. The second pair devolped a fault and were also remade – so not being helpful, that’s not been my experience.

Jason

I agree with you regarding tailoring but disagree on shirts.
Providing you do your research and you like the ‘House Style’, tailoring can be a huge win out of the gate.
Sadly, my experience is not the same with shirts.
My favourites have been and are ‘Off The Peg’ that I’ve had altered. Particularly some of the PS iterations that I’ve found to be excellent.
Conversely my bespoke shirt adventures have all disappointed one way or another.

A Borda

I think it is a matter of the degree of improvement over RTW or MTM. The fit of the first bespoke suit or shoes from a good maker should be better than what you get RTW or MTM. But it will not be as big of an improvement of what you get after you’ve been going to that maker for several years. After c. 5 years with the same tailor, shirt maker and shoe maker, the fit of my latest commissions is still improving versus my early ones as a result of tiny tweaks that we have made along the way.

Iszaiah

Can we talk about the Charcoal trousers in the last picture please. I’m desperately after a similar pair in both colour cloth and weight.
Thanks

Erik

The key factor is finding a last that fits well. With so many options available from different shoemakers, if one can find a well-fitting last, then there is no need for any custom order which requires several trials and adjustments, not to mention the costs.
While it is tempting to try out different styles, if the shoe does not fit perfectly, I stay away from it, knowing, eventually, I will not wear it much.

Tamaki

Hi Simon, thank you for the Monday reading.
I have a question: if one was to look for a dress show, say a simple captoe oxford, how much of the “slimness” does one gain from going how RTW? I believe that the ‘high end’ perception of bespoke shoes comes from the slimness of the shoe, specially on the waist. So if one was to take, for example, Yohei Fukuda RTW Oxford and a bespoke shoe on the same style, how much would one perceive the “slimness”?

Robert M

A lot will also depend on where you live, what makers you actually have access to, and what your particular fit requirements are. I live in Poland, and bespoke here – while by no means as exquisite as, say, in Japan – is much, much cheaper. Still very expensive (we also earn much, much less than people in the UK or US), but the price/income ratio is lower. One could probably quibble over whether all makers really do bespoke (I remember an old post where you said that the makers here don’t do fittings – which is largely true, although this year I found one that does), but it’s a marginal point.
For me specifically, taking into account that I can have a bespoke pair for the price of Edward Green RTW, it’s absolutely worth it. I’ve tried multiple brands, from low-end likes of Crownhill, through Yanko and TLB Mallorca, up to Crockett and Alfred Sargent – and nothing ever fits. My pinky toes are always in pain, and after a few hours I want to toss the shoes and never look at the them again (interestingly, I don’t recall any such problems from the long-gone days of buying mall shoes for 40 quid – oh, the perils of elegance).
But even though bespoke makes sense for me, it’s absolutely true that you have to wait for the results. I’ve had two pairs made by one maker, and even after multiple corrections they still hurt my toes. Now I’ve tried another maker and already the first pair is much better, I can actually walk a lot for the entire day and not be in excruciating pain. Thank heavens!

DG

I have similar fit experiences with both RTW & MTM. Good quality shoes apply too much pressure on the small toe, whereas cheap high street brands often provide ample space. The price of elegance is one I refuse to pay, I value my foot health far too highly!
After a number of failed MTM ventures & hours of research I’ve since learned that most people are happy to have their toes compressed by the shoe and experience no discomfort from this. Thus when engaging a shoe maker in future I now know that I need to be very explicit that I have unusual fit requirements with regards to the toes. Unfortunately it’s been an expensive road to reach this point.

Come

My sense is that bespoke shoes (and perhaps bespoke in general) are best thought of as a hobby with the side benefit of some practical use. You build a collection of beautiful things. So I’m not sure that measures of value for money that are based on some sense of cost per use or similar are very helpful. Compared to practical alternatives (ie what else you could spend the money on) on that basis they are poor value. Unless what you’re buying is craft and beauty and a relationship and an experience. Rather than, say, buying a shoe.

David Matthew

Is there a reason why is making a last is left to craftsmanship, rather than being a technological matter of creating a machine that can accurately reproduce a 3 d model of a foot?

I can see that after the foot starts working and moving it will get more complicated, but not to get the basic shape of a foot carrying the body weight absolutely right seems primitive.

Lodger had a device that measured the foot pretty accurately. it was part of their ready for sale schtick

Robin

Very interesting article and discussion.
I think for many readers of PS it illustrates why we sometimes feel cut adrift on some articles particularly on shoes costing the price of a small used car.
Surely 3D printing and other technologies will in future avail a better fit ? But then will purists (shoe makers and wearers) consider such developments acceptable.
I for one would love to have shoes fitted for me, if for no reason, then to stop having to use insoles !

RT

3D technology could, in theory, play a role in the development of a bespoke last. It has been used for some time to model musculoskeletal features for surgical planning and in the development of orthotics and prosthetics. However, the processes and techniques are complex. There is the accuracy of scanning, followed by appropriate use of post processing software of the scan data to develop the program that ultimately drives the 3D scanner. Then there is the scanner itself and the material it uses. All of these things will affect the accuracy of the final model. The kind of kit and technical expertise involved might well be beyond the financial and, perhaps, technical capability of a bespoke shoemaker. We’re certainly not talking about the kind of technology one might buy for use at home or in a school. It’s quite common for a 3D model to need some tweaking and finishing by hand. I can imagine that an appropriate 3D scanning, data processing and manufacturing system could produce a basic bespoke last which would then need to be hand-finished and adjusted by a shoemaker. Costs are coming down, but even if the shoemaker could afford it – and we’re probably talking six figures, in terms of costs, along with potentially significant investment in training, materials and maintenance – I’d be surprised if would be regarded as a sensible investment for a shoemaker.

APW

I completely agree. It is available already for horse shoes.

Martins

Not exactly shoes, but whole bespoke vs mtm. Let’s say jackets. If a mtm maker is able to adjust armhole and collar and make other adjustments for every subsequent order, AND I’m in it for the long haul, somehow I don’t think bespoke fit by third jacket would be worth it… wouldn’t same thing be about shoes? If a maker can adjust last order by order, shouldn’t fit by third pair be very close to bespoke?
i can’t recall you making 3 or more mtm jackets from same maker and compare the final one with bespoke? Maybe time for another experiment?

Ant

There will no doubt be many reasons why a ‘cast’ of the foot couldn’t/shouldn’t be taken as a starting point, but for ages I’d pictured slipping your foot into some kind of mould to start things off! If it works for Bigfoot ‘n all that…
I agree that for the long haul, bespoke is probably an enjoyable process; but that timescale is invariably very long if the current wait times of, what, 12m+ per pair is the long-term norm?
And there was a comment above re. G&G and MTM – I’ve not known them to have a MTM service, but I think they should – particularly to stay competitive against a lot of the remote MTM programs coming out of the far east. Their Optimum range is clearly extremely high quality, but really pricey. I’d rather pay an upcharge from RTW for an MTM service that allows all the style flexibility G&G are famed for, but with some modest last adjustments.
Anyway, back to bespoke shoes – an interesting perspective – thanks for sharing.

Craig

I’ve never bought bespoke shoes, but I’ve certainly had bespoke clothing turn out to be ill-fitting, especially if it’s the first item commissioned from a tailor. Jumping around from one bespoke maker to the next is going to be unfruitful. I’ve also had more success with local tailors than travelling ones, and have been fortunate to find a local tailor (through Permanent Style!) who does great work and who I get along with. Minor adjustments just seem to be easier with a local maker, for both them and for myself.

Charles

Terrific piece Simon. And I’ve been waiting for this one. I’ve read your pieces on bespoke shoes, and how they aren’t *quite* perfect and have always come away from these thinking “why on EARTH does he buy them then?”. It looks like it’s because you want to, not because there’s a massive bang for your buck.

Mark

Those that fit, when the maker has perfected the last are probarbly the best things that I personally own. The way my feet are supported when compared to RTW shoes is so superior I would not personally now consider wearing anything else to walk in.
In comparison the suits I wore for 20 years around the legal district in London whilst very comfortable will almost certainly not now post Covid be worn again. If ever we return to an office it won’t be more than once or twice a month and my office has now in any event gone casual. I can and do wear the bespoke shoes with casual (or suited) clothing every time I leave my home. The suits will now just gather dust.

BUT there are bespoke shoes that I hardly ever wear. They don’t hurt my feet they were however earlier on the journey and the fit is not as perfect as the lasts eventually became..I just don’t pick them up in the morning reaching always for the later lasted versions.

If you are going to travel on the journey of bespoke shoes I find myself disagreeing with you slightly on this one. It is IMHO worth it but I do however agree with you, it will unfortunately take more than one pair with each maker to arrive at that destination

Mark

I really like the suits I own but its a relfection on how my life has changed now not being office based 5 days a week and also that my employers decided on casual wear just before the onset of the pandemic. I just now dont have the occasion to wear them…a suit for a stroll to the shops to collect a pint of milk? It might be perhaps a bit much for my navy double breasted flannel chalk stripe.

Ben

The best bespoke shoes are undoubtedly better looking than the best rtw, but I wouldn’t wear those shoes even if they were the same price as rtw. It’s like driving a fancy sports car: I don’t want to draw attention to myself in that way. A good rtw gets me all the comfort and style I need.

Stefan

Interesting article. I’m interested to hear your opinion about if bespoke suites really are worth it. If you worked in a formal environment, law firm/accounting firm, and dress in a suit every day and have a good salary but far from fantastic. What would you recommend for people in general? Try to find a good rtw that fits you, mtm or even bespoke? I’ve always had entry level mtm suits (1 K EUR) and still paid more than my colleagues in general at my office. Ironically the best paid partners have cheap rtw suits that fits quite bad.

Stefan

Yes, I generally go with C&J for my oxfords. But my question was about suits though. If you worked in a formal environment with an average salary and be sitting in you suit every day at the office and wears them out. What pricerange would you recommend for suits? I know it’s personal and all that…but in my opinion it’s a interesting question. Because it’s a better investment to buy better suits for sure. But with all things, wine for example, when you reach a certain level, more expensive is only is a fraction better. Saman Amel basic line for example or Caruso rtw, could that be a good level when you get best bang for buck for every day suits?

Stefan

Ok, thank you. And thank you for always taking your time and being polite. 🙂

Carrie Johnson

Based on experience—totally agree. Unless you live in London and want to buy 3+ pairs, not worth it. Should limit to something unusual as well. No sense in getting something that looks like a typical RTW shoe just for a better fir. You won’t get it.
In my experience, some makers are good (Lobb London, Foster (assuming they still exist)), some are spotty (Cleverley-their US Trunk show is a total crap shoot), some worse (Gaziano).

Alexander

Dear Simon! From what I recall you ordered mostly oxfords. Also in RTW you tend towards the oxford style. Is this fair to say? Did you ever thought this could be in conflict with your way of dressing that has become more casual? I wear my beloved oxfords with odd jackets and without a tie all the time and have never given it a thought. Then I saw Derek Guy mentioned sometime on his blog that oxfords should be reserved for full and formal suits.
I would be interested in your take on this. Thanks

Albert

Quite interested to read the second article, I’ve just had a first measuring with a bespoke maker after decades of RTW shoes (mostly Alden, C&J, and J. Fitzpatrick). What motivated me was control of the styling and the possibility of all day comfort, though I have found it difficult to make specific decisions regarding style points.

Jordan

Hi Simon. I really enjoy your articles. In fact, the article about Masaru Okuyama persuaded me to give him a try! I am curious as I await my first true bespoke pair as to whether the earlier, slightly less ideal fitting shoes (e.g., first pairs) can be improved fit-wise when they get resoled (i.e., do they get sort of re-lasted?). Thanks!

Winot

I probably have around 15-20 pairs of bespoke shoes from three different makers. The first pair I had made had some fit issues but there were also service issues that made me nervous about going back to that maker. I cut my losses and switched to another maker and the first pair was pretty much perfect. Most of my shoes have come from the 2nd maker.
I have also used a 3rd maker which has a better for boots than the 2nd maker. I initially went to them because I was looking to build up a collection more quickly than the 2nd maker could work.
For me it is all about fit. I have difficult to fit feet which need arch supports and RTW don’t work for me because I need to insert othoses which then cause heel slippage. Although I have played with some unusual designs (pigskin double monk boots!), most of the pairs have been entirely conventional and I could have found them RTW if that had been an option.

Winot

Sure. Cleverley is maker 2 (shoes) and Gaziano & Girling maker 3 (boots).

Omar Asif

What’s your view on suede bespoke shoes? Do you think that the softness of suede gives a higher feeling of comfort and so could hide minor fit issues in a first shoe?

Randy Ventgen

In the last five year’s I’ve ordered 3 pair at Lobb St. James, the one’s they’re making now done by email. The experience has been about the shop, the history, the fitting, the Lobbs and the staff and of course the shoes, trees and even the bags. It’s a unique though expensive experience but for me the same as my Poole suits and Budd shirts. And traveling to London is part of it one I missed with the last pair.
Randy Ventgen
Washington State USA

Kali

Hello Simon,
You’ve seen to have given short shrift to the socks and their makers. Surely they’re part of the wearing experience.

Kali

My apologies- damned autocorrect. Meant to say that it would be good to include the socks label as well. The right pair of socks can make a huge difference in the shoe wearing experience

Richard Baker

Taking your entire footwear collection (RTW to Bespoke) and limited to those >£300. What have been your most and least worn pieces over the last 5 years? If could you mark each as RTW, MTO, MTM or Bespoke then that would be a helpful reference for me.

Richard Baker

I find myself thinking about the follow up article. 
Do you have any visibility on when you expect to publish it?
To me value and worth are something intrinsic and therefore individual to the wearer; (emotionally) deeper than just price.
It can start with the journey to purchase then change over an items life through layers of memories and fondness.

Everything in the article is true.
And like always it is down to the personal situation.
For me bespoke shoes became the most beloved part of my wardrobe and if my house burns down and I have to start from the scratch, I will use my money for one bespoke suit, a number of MTM shirts and a number of bespoke shoes.
The joy of having the bespoke fit and comfort of the shoes is worth it for me, and I profit from this comfort on a daily basis even when wearing casual clothes like jeans and t-shirt, while in recent times I don’t happen to wear odd jackets that often to justify spending a lot of money on them.
And yes, definitely – it is better to stick to 1 shoemaker if possible. I have 2 – one local which is borderline a little bit out of my budget at the moment and one in Naples which is more affordable, but more inconvenient for fittings.

Ian A

My cousin in Hong Kong tried a local bespoke shoe maker but they were completely uncomfortable and he never tried them again, he even winced at me as he described the pain so it must have been bad as he is a facially inexpressive type. He always maintains that Church’s make the best shoes as i sit opposite him in my Edward Green him none the wiser. I think higher end RTW maybe worth it over other clothes spending but i remain unconvinced of the sincerity of argument for bespoke shoes in all but a few cases. I.e especially oddly shaped fit not accommodated by MTO programs or somebody too rich for cost to be any issue.

Misbah

Of course the main beneficiary of bespoke shoes is the owner due to fit, but similar to sculpture in museums that i’ll never own i can still appreciate the beauty of the craft.
They are both inspiring and aspirational, every time i see a Yohei Fukuda pair I take another look at his ready to wear line and start converting yen into sterling. I always used to think black shoes lacked character next to non black leather, but with these you can focus purely on the design. I’m fairly sure i’d be the best shod individual in my organisation with a pair.
If i’m prepared to for go an exotic holiday in foreign climes i can get a rtw pair. If i decide against having a 4-5k runaround car for town (which i might keep 5 years) then i can invest in a pair of bespoke shoes that, with resoling, will last me 20-40 years.
Alternatively, for this first world issue, i can upgrade my skills, move up the pay grade and be able to afford.

Kurt Haven

Yes because although you pay more they will last tenfold years longer

Ian

Nice article, it’s nice to have some realistic expectations before going into bespoke. But I have a question, not sure if you’ll be able to answer it. How much difference in fit can one actually expect by going with their first Yohei bespoke vs Yohei RTW?

HRISTO (STEMESO socks)

Hi Ian,

Before I started wearing bespoke shoes, I used to think that my RTW shoes are well fitting and comfortable.
When I got used to bespoke shoes and happened to put on some old RTW shoes, I was amazed how awful they felt.
What do I mean with this answer – at the beginning maybe you will not feel that much difference, but when you get used to bespoke shoes and don’t wear RTW for certain amount of time, then you will notice the real difference.
And even if it is a first pair, bespoke shoe makers usually do 1-2 pairs of fitting shoes before finalising your first pair of shoes. So even the first pair can turn out quite well.

Ram

Hi Simon, I found this to be a thoroughly refreshing and clear-eyed view on the value of bespoke. When you write about fashion, I often felt that you never quite appreciated or understood fashion to discuss it fairly. Notwithstanding that its faults like wastefulness are damaging the nature of it is fundamentally different from European based style, which is your forte.

But in an article like this I feel you bring much insight and experience that’s truly helpful. Sometimes I see people lamenting how unaffordable many of these are but I don’t think someone who looks to high-street brands as a touchstone of pricing is your audience. Some truly cannot afford these but they could always try to buy some vintage or pre-owned ones. Or at least they could follow it out of interest like I look at some beautiful houses and old cars. The others, I just don’t think they value it enough, which is not a criticism just their personal view on the relative worth of things.

So essentially, it’s a long winded thank you for your many posts over the years which have been very educating. If there’s one suggestion I could make, it’s that when you write about tailors like Saman Amel, for someone deeply into fashion and vintage styles, it is hard to find the novelty they bring and like a comment on the Adret post, I suspect you occasionally get caught in these circles and hype. Perhaps it’s necessary to bring some more perspective and consider things like ‘could this be done more affordably without hurting the quality of product’, ‘have similar styles been attempted outside of traditional tailoring’ etc.

Cheers

ric

Is anything worth the price you want to pay?
i just finished comparing this to nike sports shoes Reebok and a few other “high end” branded sports shoes.
Do your homework those who look down on bespoke footwear made to measure and by hand.
None of those brands which I mentioned have their prime footwear made in the country of the brand name nowadays.
None of those brands have their footwear delicately crafted from the finest leathers and take their time to craft something which will endure much time.
So when you consider what goes into making a extremely well made pair of brogues or the like then you check out what goes into and where sneakers are made, some brands are making a fortune.
There are some who would fork out three months wages on a carbon fibre bicycle yet drive a car production which costs even less.
Knocking the person for doing so is no ones business.
Those who choose to look good at the price they can afford is their choice.
I am all in favor of hand crafted products at a price. I only wish I could afford to wear them. That’s why there is a market for all types of people.
Good luck to the shoe trade and well made footwear.

Brian

To me they are absolutely worth it. I have been going to the same maker for 25 years. No pair has yet worn out (although several have been resoled multiple times and they are getting a bit worn). Amortizing the high front end cost over the long period of time and the pure pleasure I get from wearing them makes them worth it to me. Now, I still have to dress up for work… so I think that’s part of the deal.

Nicolas Strömbäck

On the topic of bespoke shoes Simon. Is it possible to make dress shoes with a “zero-drop” construction, while still keeping the same appearance? I ask since I have started wearing those zero-drop trainers for working out and am loving the feeling of not having foot being elevated all the time.

Nicolas Strömbäck

Yes, this is as I expected. Oh well, one has to adapt to different circumstances as always.

Samuel Schuler

Simon,
Liked the article. However, again and again, I notice that, Simon, your trousers are too short. They are just too short. On all the pictures, fully custom made, or others. It’s about 2-3cm though. Or is it just me…
Regards from Siena,
Samuel

D H

I just picked up my second pair of bespoke Cleverly’s. I live in London about half the time, and was able to pop in for fittings on short notice. It took two years for both pairs, but that was in large measure due to me changing my mind. (I was by no means an easy customer.) There was a small fitting issue with the first pair (my one foot is much larger than the other), this was caught during the first fitting, the last was altered, the shoe as well, the second pair was spot on (I ordered both pairs at once). Both pairs are very traditional, and if you looked at them, you would not realize they were bespoke, except for that exquisite (“banana”) shape unique to bespoke, but which most people will not perceive as such.
My experience confirms some remarks below. Until I had worn these shoes, I did not realize just how badly all my ready-to-wear fit. Effectively, I have always been wearing at least one size too big, and although that is partly due to the size difference between my feet, I think it’s just the way that one naturally compensates for an ill-fitting shoe whose appearance one likes at the time of purchase. I got used to sliding around a wee bit in my shoes, and thought that was normal. The feeling of these shoes is completely different. They feel like an exoskeleton, and they support my feet in a completely different way.
My most important lesson was this: I have had chronic problems with one foot since a battle with plantar fasciitis. (Tissues are long healed, but my gait never normalized). To my complete surprise, these shoes force my foot into the right shape, and improve my gait. They are not only the most beautiful shoes I have ever bought, but they have improved my health.
When I mentioned this to Adam Law, he was nonplused and said nothing. I suspect he was surprised that someone would be surprised that a well-fitting shoe would help someone’s feet, given that they have clients who come for just that reason.
As you can tell, I have only praise and admiration for what these people do. If I could afford to wear only such shoes, I would. (I can’t) And as it turns out, the reasons have very little to do with style, and everything to do with shoes and walking
At the same time, my experiences do shed some light, perhaps, on why the experience of trunk show customers (and I mean of all makers) is sometimes otherwise. There is a lot of back and forth, and sometimes (rarely) you need to show up before work can proceed. Many people are involved in the process, it’s complicated, and the whole idea of bespoke loses its meaning if you can’t be available to be measured when the data are needed.

Nate

Hi Simon,
I went into the Carmina store in NYC today fully prepared to buy my first two pairs of nice dress shoes. The plan was to get a black cap-toe oxford and some sort of brown loafer. Now, I have very wide feet, to the point where I needed to commission a bespoke pair of hockey skates earlier this week. They didn’t have very many EEE shoes for me to try in the store. I got to try the Rain EEE (I think) in a size 11, and they were super tight around the vamp which was causing a gap between my foot and shoe around my ankles. The loafers were a little better but still not great.
The man fitting my shoes recommended I get a pair made to order, but I’m not sure I want to go in blind like that without the possibility to return them if it doesn’t work.
Do you know anything around the $500-600 and Carmina quality range that works with wide feet? Am I doomed to buy bespoke?
Thanks, Nate

Nate

Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. Depending on how you look at it, the good news is that oxfords are acceptable but not required on normal workdays. So it’s looking like loafers or chukka/Chelsea boots will do the heavy lifting depending on the season. Maybe derbies or monks too but I’m less of a fan of the styles. Anyway, my understanding is that these other styles are more forgiving on the fit than oxfords are. Is that the case?

Martins

Wow… since when carmina can do modified lasts? If eee is uncomfortable and they recommend mto, I would assume modified last?

Charles R. Mendez

Hi Simon,

What style would you suggest for a first high-quality shoe, at the Edward Green level? I own 2 pairs of TLB artistas (an oxford and a derby), but all my other shoes are much lower quality. I was looking at purchasing a pair of loafers from Edward Green—mostly because I love the color of the dark oak antique calf and it appears suiting for my wardrobe—but I’m wondering if it is a tad improvident to buy a loafer as my first pair of really nice shoes. My work environment is business casual, with suits on occasion (I’m a lawyer in the USA). And I’m finding I wear loafers 1-3 times a week. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Charles R. Mendez

I wasn’t necessarily thinking I’d wear another style more often, but perhaps more universally…like a dark brown oxford that can be worn with flannels as well as a dressier suit. Although, it seems like one can do the same with loafers, so maybe it’s just preferential? If it is, I’d probably opt for loafers. Thanks for response!

Tony

Dear Simon,

Thank you for your articles. I find them very enlightening. Cleverly is coming to Boston and I’m considering booking an appointment. I’ve never really know what a good fitting shoes are. Could you elaborate how a shoe should fit? I know there is a certain degree of personal preference. But the only thing I’ve heard is pretty much it should be snug and doesn’t hurt your feet. It would be great if you could shed some light. Thank you in advance.

Best

Tony

Got it. I live in Boston so my only access to the European bespoke makers is through the trunk shows in Boston and NYC. Would you that’d be enough to work with them long-term? Because to only (remotely) local I’ve heard of is Francis Waplinger. I’m not sure if he is of the same quality as the cleverleys and G&Gs.