Good shoes have become a rare sight, despite being relatively omnipresent just decades ago. Why should one pay a premium for traditionally manufactured shoes in a time of cheap mass production and fast fashion, with so-called dress shoes available for $34.99 at every shopping mall and suburban outlet store?
Even the vast majority of all supposedly high-end fashion brands employ subpar construction methods and use low-grade leathers, so obviously, a higher price tag does not necessarily indicate quality. Sadly, most of those willing to pay for a quality product will still end up with shoes lacking the comfort, durability and refinement inherent in a pair of well-crafted leather shoes.
Let’s argue that quality shoes provide superior value for money because of their greater durability – welted shoes can, after all, be re-soled and re-built as the outsole is stitched to leather instead of hastily glued to a cardboard midsole. And the uppers age gracefully with proper care: with shoes made of natural grain leather, every wear contributes to the creation of a natural and beautiful patina, while cheaper corrected grain leathers tend to deteriorate quickly and irreversibly, often making them look like something the cat dragged in after just a few months of use. But while the durability argument might justify buying quality shoes in the budget or mid range, it would be a bit of a stretch to use it in defence of paying retail prices for top shelf ready-to-wear.
But if the sole purpose of shoes, no pun intended, would be their most basic function, i.e. to provide a hard-wearing barrier between your feet and the ground, there would hardly be a market for high end leather shoes – just like there would be no market for a Rolex if the sole purpose of a wrist watch would be to tell the time, or for a Porsche if the sole purpose of a car would be to get you from point A to point B.
The reality is simply that people enjoy beautiful and exquisitely crafted things. Great shoes also employ a position in a man’s wardrobe that few other articles of clothing can approach in terms of importance for the overall impression he leaves on those around him. Shoes can definitely make or break an ensemble of clothing: while a bad choice of jacket or tie might be easily forgiven if the shoes are dashing, the opposite would not go down as well. Moreover, a gentleman is expected to maintain a certain level of austerity and subtleness in his dress, with shoes traditionally being one of the few allowed means for him to display his personal sense of flair.
With a little bit of pampering, a good pair will not just bring fleeting panache to the wearer, but become a trusty companion for decades to follow, rewarding him with ever-increasing comfort as the shoes wear in. Thus, traditionally crafted shoes should also appease the environmentally and socially aware: fewer but better shoes means less strain on the environment. As an added bonus, they are most likely made under ethical working conditions, incorporating the soul of skilled and proud craftsmen.