A lot has been said about the advantages of custom shoes. According to most writers (and cobblers) they offer supreme fit and as they are handmade their quality is unsurpassed by even the best manufacturers of welted footwear. I’m afraid that I don’t agree.

First of all, not all custom shoes are great. A lot of them don’t fit properly. Others don’t look elegant and some are not well made. Thus it would be more honest to state that custom shoes are fantastic if they are built around a fit that lasts and if the craftmen know what they are doing. If this is not the case custom shoes are a nightmare and worse than the average factory product.

I don’t want to offend all you cobblers out there. I just don’t want people to be deeply disappointed by a very expensive product that might not meet their sky high expectations. Of course a well made custom shoe will not hurt your feet, but if you compare it to a welted shoe from one the top manufacturers in the US, the UK, France or Italy you will not get a 100 percent increase in comfort and looks.

So before you think of ordering custom made footwear you should find out why you would want to do it. Do you have problems with your feet? Do they ache after a long working day? Or do want to pamper yourself with something that is made just for you? Or do you look for a shoe that cannot be bought off the rack because it is made of red ostrich skin?

Very often men are motivated by a mixture of all of these desires. Not all of them need the custom product to be satisfied. Most of the old established manufacturers offer different types of lasts for different shapes of feet and various fittings and sizes. Some of them will make single pairs of shoes in special types of leather. A few will even deliver pairs of shoes in two different sizes for people who’s feet differ extremely in length. So if you dream of spectators shoes in pink and emerald you might be able to get them from your favorite company. A number of shoe stores are up to that kind of customer service.

It’s part of my ethics as a journalist that I don’t write about things or services that I haven’t tried. I have had custom shoes made. Not by an obscure cobbler somewhere in the middle of nowhere but right in the heartland of gentlemancountry, in the West End of London.

My feet were closely inspected and measured and some months later I was invited for a fitting of my try-on shoes. They fitted well and so the cobblers went ahead and finished the pair of brown suede oxfords I had ordered. I remember the first day I wore them. It felt great. Yet I can’t say whether this sensation was the excitement of knowing that I finally owned custom shoes or the supreme fit. I think it was rather the experience of exclusivity that I enjoyed than the fit.

It was okay, but not that much better than the fit that I knew from the Goodyear welted shoes I was wearing already. To know that one wears shoes that were built around your feet and handmade just for you by craftsmen with old fashioned aprons and a lot of wrinkles in their kind faces (think of the old men we always see in the ads of custom shoemakers) seems to be the greatest kick out of getting custom shoes created.

Some people may say that I haven’t tried the best shoemaker. Otherwise I’d be hooked. I don’t know. Maybe my views on clothes and shoes are too rational and too little romantic. When I compare $600 shoes with custom shoes that will cost $6,000 I must ask myself whether the latter are really ten times as good…and I would have to say no.

  • Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  • A. Mazur

    read the article and I have to say, again, it’s like a wine connoisseur versus a guy who’s drunk 40 $ wine before, when for the first time the latter drinks a 1996 bottle of Chateau La Mondotte (600 $) he exclaims, “well it’s red and tastes like fermented grapes like the other wine I usually buy, what a disappointment!”! Is a so-called fashion writer who buys custom suede shoes at 6,000 (where? John Lobb’s with taxes come to 3,500 pounds) for the first, and apparently only time, competent to evaluate the product? I can say to my buddies at the office “gee that wine’s crap”, but I probably wouldn’t write an article for Wine Review Magazine unless I have an overblown opinion of my knowledge of wines despite the fact I usually shop at a discount store. Let’s look at least two practical considerations: can you replace the soles of your goodyear welted shoes without damaging the glued fabric feather, because I can tell you, it’s likely that no. Are the materials used certified, shoes lifetime guaranteed? do you get that with 600 dollar shoes? choice of materials? personalization? Is the insole real leather or a pressed leather particle 1.7 mm board, there are many considerations and differences…

  • Art

    Thank you for your considerations. The conclusion suggests that handmade shoes do not offer that much more value compared to industrial good year welted products. However, as the shoe dissections by the French shoelovers’ forum depiedencap have shown, all well known British shoe companies are masters in rationalized shoe production, especially at points where customers won’t notice it. E.g. the use of synthetic toe and heel stiffeners, of an insole made of regenerated leather fibre (at least one of the famous companies does), textile reinforcements so that thinner leather can be used. Even the term goodyear welted is misleading since the welt is not stitched to the insole and upper any longer – as it was the case until a few decades ago – but to a strip of cloth in between. This is merely done because it makes shoe production easier, cheaper and you won’t need a that skilled personal.
    Thus, your conclusion might rather be that even $600 shoes are not worth the money. At least, this is what the French shoelovers conclude after all their dissections: one gets almost as much value from producers from Portugal, Spain and France than from the well known British companies. Therefore I find the comparison between handmade and industrially made shoes in the article not fair.
    Secondly, the article mentions $6000 for handmade shoes. But I guess the typical price for a pair might rather be half of the amount, depending on the cobbler.
    Thirdly, the article suggests that one easily finds the right fit in goodyear welted shoes. I own no handmade and only goodyear welted shoes by the same British producer, but I find problems with fit and last do subsist.