A beginner's guide to quality clothing and shoes.
May 7, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm a woman. I'm getting ready to fork out $150+ in a pair of shoes, what brands are actually worth it? What about clothes?

For example, I've been considering buying ALDO shoes, but have seen some expensive second hand Ferragamos/Fluevogs on ebay. I usually buy whatever I see at TJ Maxx so this is a serious first buy for me.

I am not interested in "status", I just want to buy GREAT shoes/jeans/clothes in general, and I'm willing to pay for quality, but since I have NEVER bought fancy stuff, I don't know what is actually worth it, and what is just charging me for the name. in general, I'm planning to be weary of clearance, outlet or otherwise suspiciously cheap products...is this sensible?

*Bonus: how do I spot fakes on eBay? Are there any guides, tips you can offer? Are Ferragamos at 120 dollars too good to be true? Or fluevogs at 100?

This question is mostly about office, semi casual style products, but really, any advice would be welcome.
posted by ADent to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
It would help to know if you're looking for men's or women's shoes. All the brands you mentioned make both.

Also, Aldo makes nice looking shoes, but they fall apart if you actually plan to do any actual walking in them.
posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Recent AskMe about Aldo.
posted by griphus at 11:26 AM on May 7, 2012

I bought a pair of mens Ferragamos on eBay recently, and it was the best $60 I've ever spent on shoes. I highly recommend buying a slightly used pair of good leather shoes from the next price point up on eBay, especially if you've got $150 to do it with. Take some time and be selective about it though, and make sure you know exactly what size you wear. Check the soles, ask for close-up pictures from the seller of areas you think might be glossed over with polish, double extra check to make sure they're in your size (go to the manufacturer's website and verify the sizes, and the listing should have inch-measurements).

Also, I used this AskMe (specifically this comment) about good leather shoes as a guide while shopping.
posted by carsonb at 11:30 AM on May 7, 2012

Put This On just covered this for shoes, and I know some people swear by getting Allen Edmonds on eBay for cheap, and getting them restored.
posted by themadthinker at 11:38 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

just saw this on Dappered
posted by pyro979 at 11:44 AM on May 7, 2012

I went to Nordstrom and had Husbunny fitted for a pair of Cole Haan loafers ten years ago. These are his dress shoes, what he wears to weddings (ours), bar mitzvahs, job interviews, etc. They look as new as the day we got them, they are comfortable and they are versitile.

You can't go wrong with preppy for long wearing, good looking clothing.

I love to shop the sales and I get very high quality stuff pretty cheap at Macy's. Between sales and coupons, I usually pay about 50% of what the average bear pays.

Lauren is a good, solid brand. I like Nautica for taller guys because their shirts hang longer. Lacoste (big or little gator) for Polo shirts. Tommy and Lauren Polo are okay, but the fit is slighly off for my man.

Brooks Brothers if you're into stodgy, but classic.

Carson Kressley wrote a great book about this: Off the Cuff
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on May 7, 2012

Before purchasing anything, make sure you head to a reputable shoe shop and have them measure your feet so you know exactly what size your are. If you are investing in a new pair of shoes, the last thing you want to do is approximate. Then be aware that different shoe companies have different lasts that their shoes are built on. For instance, different pairs of Alden shoes will fit differently depending on what last was used.

The Put This On tl;dr recommendation for US made shoes is Alden and Allen Edmonds. I have several pairs of AE and one pair of Alden and they are fantastic shoes. It would be worth your time to watch Episode 2, Season 1 of Put This On regarding shoes.
posted by Silvertree at 11:50 AM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: Im a woman!
posted by ADent at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might want to contact the mods and ask them to throw the word "woman" somewhere into your question title.
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on May 7, 2012

Shoes that are high quality will be very comfortable, last a long time (a decade if you take care of them and don't wear them two days in a row... they need a rest!), and are a great value since you won't buy a new pair every year. You should have a black pair to wear with Navy / Dark Gray / Black Suits. Dark Brown to pair with gray suits / tweeds / khakis.

Some brands that are good:

Allen Edmunds
Alden (some of their line is sold at J. Crew these days)
A. Testoni
Cole Haan

Cole Haan has more traditional construction shoes (all leather soles), and also a line with Nike Air in them, which is very comfortable for a long day on your feet. I wear mine when I travel for business. Johnston and Murphy is good, but not as high quality as the others listed above. J&M produces a lot of their stuff in Asia, and some in Italy. J&M and Cole Haan both have outlets, so if you're at an outlet mall, you can usually save 35-50%ish, or get a Buy-2-get-1-free deal.
posted by zpousman at 12:01 PM on May 7, 2012

Aldo, Nine West and Steve Madden all end up falling apart on me after maybe a year or two, but my pairs of Cole Haan heels have survived for years and are have always been incredibly comfortable (Cole Haan is part of Nike, and use their soles for a lot of their shoes). Even if you do manage to wear them down they are made well enough that a cobbler can actually work on them and put them back together (unlike Aldo ect). They are rather expensive, but are totally worth it once you factor in comfort and how long they will last.
posted by zara at 12:14 PM on May 7, 2012

I recommend Ecco over Aldo, although I'm not fond of them embossing their logo in leather, fortunately they've cut down on the practice somewhat. I also have a pair of Rockports that I picked up at Winners which have lasted 9 years, call me pleasantly surprised.
posted by furtive at 12:18 PM on May 7, 2012

Clarks over Ecco for walking shoes that will last 5 years and a couple of arctic winters/snow salt stuff etc before even beginning to show wear and tear.
posted by infini at 12:20 PM on May 7, 2012

As far as "fakes" on eBay, I wouldn't worry about it much, especially if the shoes are advertised as gently used. I generally buy lots of better brands on e-Bay and have had great luck. My favorite brands are Arche, Fluevog, Pikolinos, and Dansko. I've gotten amazing deals because lots of sellers price their shoes at lower price point, hoping that it will get the interest of more buyers and a bidding war will ensue. Sometimes, that doesn't happen (right now I'm wearing a pair of like new Arche Dricks that I got for $30 on e-Bay).

My advice would be to go to shoes stores and try on the brands you like so that you have a good idea of how they fit your feet and what size you wear. You are still rolling the dice to some degree when you buy without trying on, but you'll have better luck. Also, make sure any shoes you buy on eBay have lots of good pictures, especially of the sole.

One word of warning, be careful of shoes with latex and polyurethane soles. If they've been stored a long time, they can be prone to crumbling. I had that happen with one pair of Ecco and one pair of Arche. They were like new shoes, and the soles had little wear, but they very quickly disintegrated when I started wearing them. This is a known issue with Ecco.
posted by kimdog at 12:32 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had terrible luck with buying good quality, as opposed to just high-priced, shoes.

Clarks (as mentioned above) are the highest quality of shoe that I have ever purchased. The used Clarks that I bought at Goodwill lasted 4 times as long (2 years) as the $100 walking shoes I bought at a fancy place (6 months before the sole wore through). New Clarks would last even longer - my mother-in-law regularly gets 5+ years out of her Clarks.
posted by jb at 12:36 PM on May 7, 2012

The brands I buy on eBay are Cole Haan, Prada, and Tods/Hogan. All of these manufacturers do have outlet stores, but they haven't given in to the lure of producing cheaper goods for those. All of the above, along with Ferragamo, aren't brands that aren't really faked, so you should be okay buying them off eBay.

You'll want to go to a department store or other retailer that carries the brands you're looking for to actually try on shoes from your selected designers, especially if you're buying them from a seller with a final-sale policy. Make sure you try on both flat/low and high heels; in flats, I have to go up to a size 36.5 in Tods, for example, but size 36 heels means I won't fall out of my shoes.
posted by evoque at 12:37 PM on May 7, 2012

Fluevogs don't really get faked I think b/c the market isn't really big enough. But I would only buy them off ebay if you either have a store in your city and can figure out your sizing or you are willing to put in the time to resell them if they don't fit. The different shoe families can have different sizing fits (which is annoying). Also some Fluevog styles can be incredibly uncomfortable depending on your feet. I'm also a fan of Dansko professionals although they are nowhere near as cute as some of my vogs, and Clarks (6pm.com has a sale on them so a lot are <$100 now), but I walk a lot in my shoes.

Most people are focusing on the shoe part of your question but I think for clothes basically you can get almost everything for way less than retail by shopping at store sales or via ebay (but yes the more popular brands are faked).
posted by tangaroo at 12:56 PM on May 7, 2012

I am currently wearing Bottega Veneta black lizard pumps, purchased on eBay for $75, NWB (new with box), dreamy. They are easily $500 shoes. Do your homework (go to fancy store, try on for size, go back to eBay, get alerts, wait patiently, stalk heavily) and have fun.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2012

Without knowing your taste/fashion, I have fallen madly, deeply in love with Vintage Shoe Company. I currently own two different pair of boots from them and while they are spendy (spendy!!!), I do not regret either purchase, they fit and wear like boots that I will have for 20 years (though they will likely need to be re-soled). Zappos sells them if you can't find them local so that should allow you to try them on, get a feeling for the fit, figure out if you are gonna fall in love, etc.

[Pro-tip: Vintage is a Berkshire Hatthoway company and as far as I can tell so are all the brands sold at Shoeline.com. As a result, Shoeline often has the best prices you'll find for any of the BH Holdings brands].
posted by ilikecookies at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Added OPs gender to the question, carry on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:41 PM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies! to the people who gave advice for guys, thank you, too. I will use your advice to get shoes for my husband.

I would like for you to give me names of brands that you can't go wrong with...

Up to now you guys have recommended
cole haans
salvatore ferragamo
vintage shoe company
bottega veneta

as for ebay, these are the ones I've been looking at, for example. Suede is a little bit out of my comfort zone, but they are cute.
posted by ADent at 2:55 PM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: [actually I linked another of the finalists, non suede]
posted by ADent at 2:56 PM on May 7, 2012

Is your width 3A? If so, let me also recommend Bally and Munro American as good labels for narrow feet.

Go to a fancy store like Nordstrom and try a bunch of shoes on to get a sense of how different manufacturers' lasts fit you.

If you are a 3A in width, the Clarks narrow may be too wide for you, and the Clarks medium will almost certainly be way too wide for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2012

Not sure if you'll be able to afford it, but Stuart Weitzman shoes are very well made, and last you for years and years.
2nding the Nordstrom rec. They don't generally scrimp on quality.
posted by Gilbert at 3:17 PM on May 7, 2012

I can't tell you about long term wear yet but I love Gentle Souls! They are so buttery soft!
posted by biscuits at 4:29 PM on May 7, 2012

You should pay attention to the material that the shoe is made out of -- aim for leather upper, lining and sole. You can check this as shoes generally come with a sticker at the bottom identifying what the shoe is made out of. Understand the labels on your footwear.

In my experience, Steve Madden, Aldo and Nine West shoes are nice but are generally made out of synthetics. Clarks has "leather" shoes, but generally speaking, only the upper is leather, while the lining and sole is made out of synthetics. Clarks are great for walking, but as nice dress shoes? They start to look cheap fairly quickly.

If you're looking for shoes that are decent and would last for a while, I would still pick Clarks, which are excellent for walking. Their rubber soles last for a long long time.

However, when you say "quality" and if you say you're intending to spend $150 on a pair of shoes, you can do much better than Clarks, Aldo, Nine West, Steve Madden. You could go one level up to "luxury" (albeit only on sale), stay away from clearance stores and TJ Maxx. Go directly to shop at "designer" brands when on sale. Yes, you might be paying for the brand, but there's definitely a noticeable difference in quality. Synthetics and leather look the same when new, but after a few months, the difference in quality really shows.

If you were in the UK, I would recommend LK Bennett, Hobbs, Paul Smith, Massimmo Dutti and Ted Baker. I think JCrew has nice shoes although a little overpriced.
posted by moiraine at 4:34 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shoes are so personal in the way they fit, that no matter the quality of the brand I would not buy any line that you are not familiar with from some place with no return policy. It doesn't matter how fine the leather or strong the seams are if the shoemaker tends to, for example, make wide shoes and you have narrow heels. If you discover this after buying shoes from a buyer with no return policy then you lose time and/or money re-selling.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:18 PM on May 7, 2012

Ferragamos are really nice quality and classic but the catch if buying on eBay is that you need to know what size you wear and width in this same label, because the sizing is not likely to match up exactly with what you take in a lesser quality shoe. So I would absolutely recommend trying on in a store to know your size before spending that much.

I recommend Delman. Very well made, especially their ballet flats. Not too trendy and can be found on sale at reasonable prices. Stuart Weitzman for office-appropriate styles. Chie Mihara shoes are extremely comfortable and will last.

As far as I know the shoes that get faked are the top, super trendy it-shoe of recent seasons like Isabel Marant's wedge sneakers. For what you're looking for I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by citron at 10:22 PM on May 7, 2012

Fly London shoes and Blundstone boots are super-comfortable, well-made, and long-lasting; I have several pairs of both and I adore them. Fluevogs are also awesome but they are not all as comfy as they could be- the rubber-heeled ones are best for comfort, in my experience- wood heels are a bit hard if you walk a lot.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:28 PM on May 7, 2012

For shoes, I hear good things about Chie Mihara.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:28 AM on May 8, 2012

+1 that the exterior, interior, and soles should all be leather. It is hard to go wrong insisting on all-leather.

Googling stuff like "buy cheap brandname jacket" will often bring up a slew of Chinese sites selling obvious fakes, and the lack or proliferation of results from such a search is a good first step to take in trying to research the odds that what you're buying might be fake. Just skipping the very trendy stuff you can buy for a lot of money in malls will eliminate most of that problem.

Definitely check out discount shoe sites that sell not...discount shoes, but discounted shoes from previous seasons. endless.com, 6pm.com, bluefly.com, and sometimes "flash sale" sites are useful -- I got a nice pair of Stuart Weitzman sandals on Hautelook for $50 a few months ago.

I think you should be wary of outlets and "suspiciously cheap" -- but clearance sales not so much; buying things from the previous season, buying things out of season, is good practice. Buying used is also a great idea -- a LOT of clothing, brand name included, is really, really poorly made now; stuff from even ten years ago is nicer (there are a few previous threads on this), and if you have the spare time to shop in thrift stores, that route can be pretty rewarding. Etsy can also be a decent source of vintage cashmere cardigans and the like. Look for photos of tags -- tags are a good hint as to how much an item's been worn and washed.

"L.L. Bean Signature" might be of interest -- "Lands' End Canvas" is a cheaper alternative. Both have excellent return policies so you can just fling the stuff back at them any time if it starts to pill or whatever after a short interval. I've found J. Crew quality to be too low for the price and the customer service is awful; if you go that route, only do it when you can find stuff you like which is on sale during a "sale section 30% off"; the pricing is ridiculous otherwise for what it is.
posted by kmennie at 6:19 AM on May 8, 2012

Ah, shoes. My specialist subject.

I can really destroy a pair of cheap shoes, so I tend to buy at the high end. A few years ago, I got thoroughly fed up with throwing shoes away all the time, so I decided on a new policy: just two new pairs a year, and make sure they're really good ones. I've managed to stick to this so far and I have to say it has payed off.

First off, the basics. A really good pair of shoes should withstand at least four seasons and numerous repairs. Off-topic no-brainer: care is really important to get the most out of your shoes. As well as regular cleaning and polishing, there are a few less obvious tips for keeping your footwear in good shape.

* Don't wear the same pair every day. Swap them out so they can dry out between wearing.
* Store your shoes on shoe trees. Aficionados will tell you these should be cedar, but plastic ones work pretty well too.
* When not in regular rotation, store your shoes in bags or boxes, away from direct heat and sunlight. Keep them dry.

Now for the budget. I'm quoting euros, because that's what I buy in. At the lower end, you can get pretty nice shoes in fabric or synthetic materials, but you have to buy carefully. For more casual styles, rubber soles can wear very well indeed. I tend not to buy leather soled shoes unless I can spend at least €200, because below that level I've found materials and construction can be a bit suspect. Across the board, look carefully at materials, and details of construction and finish. If you're buying heels, buy the best quality you can afford. The price should hurt - otherwise your feet will. (See my previous comment on high heeled shoes).

All that being said, there are a few brands that have earned my loyalty over the years, at various price points. I'm not so familiar with US brands, but this is what I have learned about shoe shopping in Europe:

* Below €100, Clarks are probably the best all-round performer I've found - they are reliably well made, comfortable and stylish.
* €100 - €200 Unfortunately, this price bracket is no guarantee of quality. I would sooner buy a pair of cheaper shoes than buy at this level, as I personally don't think this price point delivers particularly good value for money. That said, Campers tend to wear extremely well, and cult classics such as Dr Martens and Underground are also surprisingly good.
* €200 - €400 should buy you a pair of very well made everyday shoes in leather or other natural materials. At this level, look for English or Italian craftsmanship, and all leather construction. Classic English brands at the high end, Churches (now owned by Prada) and Crocket & Jones make beautiful, well-crafted, comfortable shoes which wear very well if cared for properly. For more casual footwear, German brand Trippen make fabulous, quirky boots and shoes in natural materials (leather w/wood/rubber soles) which appear to be indestructible.
* €400 and above will score you a pair of real keepers. This is where you should consider designers such as Prada, Fendi, Margiela 22 or Jil Sander. If you're lucky, you might be able to find a pair on sale or on ebay for less. If you do, buy them, but it makes sense to assess the fit beforehand. Handmade shoes such as those made by Marsell are also a great investment at this level.

Good luck, and enjoy your shoe shopping!
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 7:52 AM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

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