Difference between $100 men's dress shoes and $500 men's dress shoes?
January 20, 2010 4:59 PM   Subscribe

What is the noticeable difference between a $100 pair of men's dress shoes and a $500 pair of men's dress shoes? I wear standard, department store $100 dress shoes to work every day (I used to wear Cole Haan; now I wear Johnston & Murphy). When the $100 shoe soles wear out, I have them re-soled. They do end up looking beat-up fairly quickly, even with polishing. I have been told that, if I spend more money on the shoes, they will last longer and the investment will be worth it.

So here are a few questions:

(1) What is the noticeable difference between a cheaper men's shoe and a more expensive men's shoe?
(2) Does it make any kind of sense to spend $500 on a pair of shoes if you wear dress shoes all day every day?
(3) What brands should I be looking for?
posted by jayder to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 200 users marked this as a favorite
I would check out Ecco's They run in the range of $150 to $300 . Some might be more? I wore these shoes for two years straight everyday, knocking on people's doors. All day everyday. And they still look great.
posted by lakerk at 5:12 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They have an answer for you at Put This On.
posted by ivan.santiesteban at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

Just remember the three "A"'s:



A. Testoni
posted by Zambrano at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

Poor quality materials fall apart, good quality materials improve with age. Simple as that. $100 shoes are a waste of money in the long run. I paid $600 for a pair of Fiorentini and Baker boots which I wear daily and they look better today with 0 care shown to them than they did on the day I bought them, 6 years ago. Well constructed natural materials - leather for instance - will always be superior to synthetic crap cobbled together to look the part until the going gets tough, but you'll have to invest.
posted by fire&wings at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wore JM shoes for two or three years. I had what seemed to be an endless succession of them. Now I wear Allen Edmunds and another pair by someone else. They were all in the $300+ range.

There is an old chestnut that a $200 pair of shoes will last exactly twice as long as a $100 pair of shoes, but a $300 pair of shoes will last a lifetime.

And it is entirely 100% true.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:37 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

They have an answer for you at Put This On.

I came in to post this too. You want to look for full-grain leather, and finding that in the $100 range is difficult, though my husband has had good luck at places like Nordstrom Rack.

The difference is pretty amazing though. I have a pair of full-grain leather boots that I bought on clearance at a shop that makes custom boots (they were samples). They're casual, so I have worn them through snow, dirt, playground sand, and sticky bar floors, and they look great after five years, maybe even better than they looked brand new. I have a pair of Cole Haan boots whose fancy shine looked like shit after three or four wearings--"polished" grain strikes again.

I would save up and pay full retail for another pair of the custom boots. I wouldn't buy another pair of Cole Haan shoes unless they turned up at a discount clearinghouse for $20-30, and they would have to look fierce.
posted by padraigin at 5:38 PM on January 20, 2010

Oh man, I love this question due to the amount of grief I get from the significant other for spending $900 bucks on shoes.

The statement is completely true. The differences are many, but the most notable are leather quality, construction and sole and heel. In the US, your typical Johnston and Murphy, Bostonian etc., look good, but the construction heel and sole are complete shit. Compare that to a pair of Church's or some other high end shoes and it is immediate to see by turning the shoes over and comparing.

Two last things. First, durability. Good quality expensive shoes will last significantly longer. Second, comfort. high end shoes tend to mold themselves to the wearers foot and over time that means a much greater comfort level.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:45 PM on January 20, 2010

FWIW, the leather on my boyfriend's Cole Haan shoes cracked after less than a year of use. His $200 shoes from Macy's are still going strong 1yr later.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:51 PM on January 20, 2010

$500 shoes simply look nicer than $100 shoes. The construction is sleeker and the leather is of higher quality. It's more difficult to tell with black shoes, but the difference is readily apparent with brown shoes.

But apart from looking nicer, they'll last for longer, and it actually makes sense to resole them. They also feel better on your feet.

If you wear dress shoes all day every day, then yes, it certainly makes sense to invest in a pair of high quality shoes. They're built to be worn all day by office workers.

Brands: Allen Edmonds Park Avenue is the classic black dress shoe. They also make some nice looking brown shoes, like Fifth Avenue or Soho.

Alden also makes some nice shoes; their cordovan leather shoes are supposed to look nicer as they age.
posted by pravit at 6:01 PM on January 20, 2010

The other tip I've heard about Real Shoes is that if you buy TWO pairs of shoes and wear them on alternate days, they will last significantly longer than the expected 2x.

(I have not run a controlled experiment to confirm this.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:02 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although I might add that it's a good idea to invest in two pairs and rotate them.
posted by pravit at 6:02 PM on January 20, 2010

You have good advice here on "why." I would add the following thoughts on menswear:

Forgo fluctuating fashion trends. Fashion is not the same thing as style. Your style should reflect your own personal sensibilities. Your style comes from within. Fashion is someone else's idea of what/who you should look like today. And then something predictably different tomorrow. Determine to make your clothes a reflection of your values.

And then buy the best you can afford.

As an example, Bontoni are excellent shoes that are timeless complements to a variety of styles.
posted by nickjadlowe at 6:11 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

This article backs up what AsYouKnow Bob says about alternating shoes, and I've found this to be true with expensive running shoes AND dress leather shoes (women's wingtips, essentially) that I've had for 18+ years and resoled twice.

Initially you want to pre-treat leather (waterproofing) before your first wear and never wear the same shoes two days in a row so that they have a chance to completely dry out from absorbing your foot's moisture throughout the day. It's not you wearing them, it's them not drying out completely that wrecks leather shoes.

My uncle wore these and he walked in them for about 6+ hours a day, six days a week as a car salesman and he swears by them.

Here's a tip; if you want to try out really expensive men's shoes, but don't have access to them to try on where you live, join a private sales site like Gilt Man (it's free to join, you can return things for free, and shipping is fast but I believe it may be invite-only). I have bought stuff on there from handbags to men's shoes to designer jeans and their customer service is beyond excellent. Their sales are mostly for obscure or European designer gear marked down 20-70% off. I've had excellent luck exchanging things, but they only do site credit - not refunds.

I'm not affiliated with the site at all, but if you need an invite to check it out - memail me and I'll send you one.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

They look nicer, they last longer, they can be repaired, and in fact IF you polish them regularly they look better and better as they get older.

I have three pairs of Loakes (two brown, one black) which I fully expect to get at least 10 years from if not longer. As my remaining other shoes wear out, I may get one or two more pairs of sturdy expensive shoes (maybe a nice burgundy or oxblood), and that will be my shoe needs taken care of for the foreseeable future.

The only other shoes I have are canvas sneakers and flip flops. Basically, I want expensive shoes that will never need replacing, and shoes that are so cheap as to be disposable. Everything is is a waste (or at least, a luxury I don't care for).

Tip 1: if you are prepared to put some time in haunting auction sites and vintage clothing stores, you can get very good shoes much more cheaply than new that still have years left in them and look fantastic.

Tip 2: if you like old-school English shoes, Herring have an excellent online store. For me the exchange rate is very favorable right now and I am a happy customer.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:50 PM on January 20, 2010

Go to a high-end store like Nordstrom's and try on a pair of Allen-Edmonds. They are about $300-350. You will be able to tell the difference in quality immediately. They are well-made with high-quality materials. Unlike cheap dress shoes, they are comfortable to stand in all day long if you need to. The leather is nicer than the leather in cheap shoes, which means it lasts longer and won't look beat-up as quickly.

Some high-end shoes, like Prada, cost more than cheap shoes but aren't built any better.

Johnston and Murphy probably makes the best-made shoe you can find for $100. But I don't know why you are resoling them. Just replace them.

The best way to keep any dress shoes looking their best is with shoe trees.
posted by twblalock at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2010

$500 $900 meh. I think ou can probably find some full grain leather shoes of good, not posh, quality, for half that. Cole Haas is a good choice here (as i learned from a certain well known neuro guy here), but most places don't have their better shoes. Sales are big on shoes so it pays to seek out a 50% off pair of better shoes with top quality leather. It won't happen at $100 for men's shoes, but it might at $200 to $300. A good pair of $300 shoes that you get five years of every other day wear out of beats an ok pair of $100 shoes that dies after a year or so, even with the every other year resoling of the higher end shoes. The problem is not paying too much for the good ones. $900? That is beyond good quality and long wearing leather. That is high fashion. Find that difficult to obtain quality shoe in the lower price range with quality construction and without a thousand dollar designer cachet.
posted by caddis at 7:11 PM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: The difference is in the quality of the leather, the shape of the last, the welt construction, the stitching, the finishing details, the style, and if it's bench made or not.

A lower level shoe will have uneven seams, poor stitching, an unfinished insole, a rubber or poor quality outsole, will use a poorly-designed last, not have a strong welt, and the leather will be of poorer quality and be finished poorly, employ synthetic materials. You can spot them a mile away.

If you visit the Bontoni link above and click on the Objects of Art link, this will give you a very general overview of what elements make up a high quality shoe.

Yes, a mid-level or above shoe will last a lot longer because they are made with stronger and better materials, designed to last many years, and not privy to cost-cutting measures.

Mid-level: Allen-Edmunds, Johnston and Murphy (the Italian handmade imprint, otherwise forget it), Crokett and Jones, Barker, Alden, and others.

This is a medium quality shoe that will have all the basic elements of a fine shoe, but will still be mass produced. All leather, decent welt construction, good heel, nice finish, good stitching, nice finish, good leather.

Upper, but under $1000: Church's, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Cheaney, Brooks Brothers bench made, Bontoni, and others.

This is a high quality shoe, most likely bench made (made by a craftsperson rather than a machine, probably hand-signed on the insole.) Fine stitching, goodyear or equivalent welt, nailed, fully leather, good attention to cut of the pieces of leather, excellent shape and style, beautiful finish. These are shoes made the way shoes have been made for hundreds of years and they benefit from this heritage.

Top end: Gaziano & Girling, Edward Green, George Cleverley, W.S. Foster & Sons, and so on.

These are bespoke shoes, made for an individual by a craftsperson using the finest techniques and materials etc.

Low level: Cole Hann, lower level Johnston and Murphy, Bostonians, Rockport, Eccos, Bally, Camper, Dockers, Sketchers, Clarks, Kenneth Cole, and on and on.
posted by luckypozzo at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [55 favorites]

It's more difficult to tell with black shoes, but the difference is readily apparent with brown shoes.

Also: high-end shoes in classic styles have bevelled "waists" that you don't see in mass-production; bespoke shoes (hand-lasted on a custom last) often have very obvious hourglass profiles.
posted by holgate at 8:10 PM on January 20, 2010

(2) Does it make any kind of sense to spend $500 on a pair of shoes if you wear dress shoes all day every day?

If you have made a career choice where that seems likely to be true for several more years, it does:
- the economics are about the same (one repaired expensive pair vs several cheap replacements) but the expensive shoes will look nicer the whole time
- you'll get the pleasure of having something nice on your feet all day
- if you are in a job where dress and looking the part are important, good shoes are fundamental

Whereas if you only wear dress shoes at weddings and funerals (and you don't have ambitions to get lucky with a discerning member of the wedding party) by all means get cheap shoes -- expensive ones definitely aren't worth it if you don't wear dress shoes most days.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:10 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Styles change. Unless you are getting a style that is a classic like a wing tip then it is silly to get a shoe that will last a lifetime.
posted by JJ86 at 8:35 PM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for these wonderful answers. I knew you all would be able to answer my question!
posted by jayder at 9:55 PM on January 20, 2010

If you're looking for something a little more 'hip' but still classy and well-made, consider Fluevog. They're a Canadian company with standalone stores in most major US cities, and they have a great repair policy.
posted by Gortuk at 6:28 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

- The fit on $500 leather shoes (cordovan especially) is superior to cheaper leather (calfskin); the shoe conforms to the shape of your foot over time
- Higher quality leather retains shine better and requires less frequent applications of wax/polish
- With some resoleing work it's possible to make a cordovan shoe last 15 years or more
- It's best to rotate 3 pairs of shoes if you plan on wearing them 5 days a week or more
posted by chalbe at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2010

Whereas if you only wear dress shoes at weddings and funerals...by all means get cheap shoes -- expensive ones definitely aren't worth it if you don't wear dress shoes most days.

I recently went to put on my expensive-to-me $100 shoes after not wearing them for a while and the top layer just cracked and flaked away. I'm not sure if this was due to somehow not caring for them right, or just cheap (is this polished grain?) materials. But if occasional use of cheap shoes means they might fall apart when needed, maybe the expensive ones are the way to go.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:24 AM on January 21, 2010

Best answer: There are two types of $500+ mens shoes. The first type is essentially no different than a $100 shoe, except for the fact that it was “designed” by some fashion label and that label is displayed in or, more likely, on the shoe. It may have more “luxurious” materials but will be made in the same Chinese or Malaysian factory with the same glued-together construction and have the same tendency to disintegrate with wear. It will also be out of fashion in 6-18 months.

The second type of $500+ mens shoe is composed of superior materials (like full grain leather or shell cordovan) and is made in America or England using superior construction techniques (like Blake or Goodyear welts rather than glue). Unlike cheap plastic shoes, which look like crap when new and only get worse with wear, it will look pretty good new but become beautiful as it breaks in. It will also likely be a classic style that won’t go out of fashion in your lifetime.

As mentioned above, Allen Edmonds makes solid shoes that can often be had for $150 on sale at Nordstrom, but stick to the conservative models like the Park Avenue and the Strand. They make a lot of good shoes but their attempts to capture some younger buyers with elongated lasts and more adventuresome styles are pretty bad. I’ve got two pairs that I’ve had since about 2004 and they look better than ever, plus they are more comfortable with each passing year. Kenneth Cole and other mall brand shoes purchased around the same time fell apart years ago.

I love Alden for their classic American style (they make all the cordovan models sold by Brooks Brothers) and great workmanship. Their calf shoes are about $300, and they’re pretty much all good options. Their cordovan models have inspired a somewhat fetishistic fan base, especially in Japan and Germany, and with good cause: they’re bulletproof shoes in an iconic American style. People post photos of their Alden cordovan shoes online to show how beautiful they’ve gotten as they break in and the dye fades. (Don’t ask me how I know this).

There are a number of great English makers like Trickers, Cheaney, Loake, Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, and probably some others that I’m forgetting. Aside from their own labels, they also make shoes sold by other companies under their own brand name. For example, most Ralph Lauren purple label shoes are Edward Green, and many of the Polo models (especially cordovans) are Crockett & Jones.

If you wear dress shoes all day, and you can afford the up-front investment required for a solid pair of shoes, it is completely worth it. One of my biggest pet peeves is a man in a nice suit with crappy plastic shoes on his feet. Anchor yourself with a pair of empire-building cordovan brogues and stride into a new day.
posted by Mendl at 3:49 PM on January 21, 2010 [22 favorites]

Mendl: "People post photos of their Alden cordovan shoes online to show how beautiful they’ve gotten as they break in and the dye fades. (Don’t ask me how I know this). "

How can you post something like this without providing a link?!

There, much better.
posted by joshwa at 5:49 AM on January 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

This question came at the right time for me because I had been thinking about the same problem after yet another pair of $100 shoes was wearing out way too fast (Bostonians). After reading this thread (especially the two best answers), and doing a bunch of research elsewhere, I wanted to add a few comments about budget (decent) shoe shopping.

1) Just knowing the names in this thread can matter a lot. The day I decided to start looking for new (decent) shoes I went to a thrift store and bought a pair of basically new Brooks Brothers shoes and two pairs of very gently used Johnston & Murphy from their Italian Handmade line, all for ~$50 total. During the rest of that weekend I found two pairs of Allen Edmond shoes, as well as an older pair of Barker shoes for a total of about $15. Partly this was a result of luck, partly a result of stringent label checking, and partly a result of educating myself both on the styles and the construction of decent shoes. (I had never heard of Barker shoes, for instance, but the shoes were clearly a quality pair.) (Just to put this in financial terms--over that weekend I bought ~$1500 worth of very wearable shoes for about $100.)

2) That same education process has also allowed me to purchase very cheaply other shoes made by American makers that have since declined. Older Florsheim, particularly the Imperial line, are very good shoes, and I've found them at thrift stores for well under $10/pair. They are ubiquitous on Ebay for around $20, and one could easily spend $100 dollars and have enough pairs for a decent rotation. This is also true of older Dexter, Hanover, and Bostonian shoes, but their newer shoes are just awful, which makes learning to spot the good ones a must.

3) The nice thing about older, solid shoes, with good welting and good leather, is that you can refurbish them fairly easily. You can have the resoled and the leather restored and they will look great. Tears and large cracks can't be fixed, but lots else can. B. Nelson cobblers in New York apparently does a good job at this, and for ~$100 can really restore a pair of shoes to many more years of use. $100 is enough money that not every shoe would be worth it, but for a thrifted name brand, or well-constructed shoe with life left in the leather, $100 might get you 5-10 years more wear.
posted by OmieWise at 10:12 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

This thread was very useful. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

I got some Allen Edmonds shoes today, and hope they will serve me well for many years.
posted by sindark at 6:18 PM on March 26, 2010

Just to add to the high end list, I believe John Lobb bespoke shoes are the most expensive (or pretty close at $4500-5000) shoes in the world.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 8:27 AM on April 3, 2010

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