Moulded Shoe in New York is a charming shop. A family-run business now in its third generation, It’s narrow and tall, with shoe boxes stacked way up to a double-height ceiling.
There are newspaper cuttings, customer photos and a Japanese cartoon on the walls. It’s from the old fashioned - and delightfully so - ‘more is more’ school of retailing.
Still, as a clothes lover it’s unlikely you’d think there’s much here for you. They clearly sell Alden, but surely the Alden store on Madison will have everything this retailer could have?
Not so. For this is one of the very few shops where you can get the modified last.
The modified last from Alden creates a particular shape of shoe, with a slim waist, wide front and slightly bent inwards at the toes, following the shape of the foot (below).
It’s a shape that’s more orthopaedic, perhaps prioritising comfort and functionality a little over aesthetics - unlike most dress shoes. It suits men with a narrow heel, wide joints (sometimes called a ‘spade’ shape) and high arches, which is a fairly large minority.
The modified last is not sold widely because it is considered to be slightly odd, even ugly. Certainly, no shoe designer who was focused on design would make a shoe like this.
However, this reputation might be exaggerated by the fact that the other shop known for selling the modified last, Antomica in Paris, puts men in rather large sizes. Pierre and Charles tend to insist on it.
Anatomica is a wonderful menswear shop - one of those places that still remains a true destination - and should be celebrated and frequently visited. But it is rather frustrating that you can’t buy the modified last in the size you want.
Hence my visit to Moulded Shoe in New York, and hence the conversation I’m having with the owner Ronnie.
“Pierre first saw the modified last here,” he says, unlacing a boot for me to try. “He came in here and loved the shape, so he talked to Alden about offering it in his stores.”
I inquire about the preferences for sizing.
“Yes, they tend to prefer more of a ‘fashion’ fit - longer and narrower. He thinks it’s flattering,” he says.
I’m not sure about whether it’s more a fashion thing or not - certainly there’s more fashion going on at Anatomica than Moulded Shoe, but it’s not exactly French couture either.
Still, the difference in sizing was dramatic. After a quick measurement on the American-specific (‘Brannock’) scale, Maurice suggested a size 9D. Anatomica had recommended a 10.5C.
The fit felt very good: close through the arch and ankle, but with plenty of room to wiggle the toes. A better fit than most ready-to-wear I have, and in some ways better than some bespoke.
On that original article about the modified last, reader ‘Plop’ got it pretty much spot on. In his experience, he said he’d recommend sizing down a half size on the modified, and perhaps a size narrower. I tend to wear a 9E in wider Alden lasts and a 9.5E in narrower ones.
I bought a pair of half-brogue boots in snuff suede (D8814), driven by the fit and the fact it would be my only chance to shop at Moulded Shoe (Alden don’t allow them to ship outside the US).
I think the last shape works well in a boot because its idiosyncrasies are a little obscured by the design. But still, it’s the smaller size that makes the difference: when you’re not wearing a shoe that’s a full size bigger than you’d normally wear, the curved shape is a lot less obvious.
The last works particularly well on me because I have that 'spade' shape described earlier. (If you have flat feet or are wider in the heel, the Berrie or Trubalance lasts from Alden are better.)
But I know many other men do too - you only have to read the number of comments from readers asking about sizing in loafers, saying their heel always slips out. Chatting to Tony Gaziano a few weeks ago, he estimated that perhaps 20% of Gaziano & Girling customers fall into that bracket. Perhaps enough to justify a dedicated loafer last for some brands.
It's in that context that the remark above about the fit of bespoke shoes should be taken. This one last works particularly well on me, and bespoke makers are often trying to create it from scratch.
Of course, it's also not a fair comparison because those makers are trying to create a very visually attractive show at the same time.
But it feels significant that while we were in the store, a reader did come in (pictured top) that had tried bespoke makers, been unsatisfied, and been recommended to try the modified last as an alternative. From a purely fit point of view, it can clearly fill a niche.
I'll take some photos of my boots in a few weeks to show how they look. I'll probably have a better idea of how I feel about them by then as well.
Moulded Shoe sell other shoe brands, though not at the same level as Alden, and they make bespoke shoes, costing $1500-$2500 - but real orthopaedics.
They don't make bespoke loafers full stop, because they think a laced shoe will always fit a customer better.
Photography: Christopher Fenimore