I'm not ready for a relationship, but I will commit to a pair of shoes.
May 8, 2012 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me buy comfortable but stylish shoes?

I rarely buy new things, especially good quality, expensive ones. Basically I'm a cheap-ass with punk tendencies. I normally shop at thrift shops.

But my poor little feet are covered in blisters. I have to walk a lot to get where I need to be, and I don't have a decent pair of shoes to wear. I want to buy something that I can walk km's in every day that will last me for years. They have to be sexy enough that I can wear them every day and not feel like a schmuck, though.

I'm looking for suggestions. I've considered getting boots like Doc Martens. Are they comfortable? Do they have good arch support?
I'm also open to sneakers. Are Converse good quality, will they last a long time? Also, which companies are the least assholish?

I'd like to avoid looking sporty, or like a teenaged boy. I'm female, 24. If I could find some kind of extremely comfortable, and not at all fragile, leather boots, that would be amazing. But keep in mind that I am a cheap-ass and anything more than $150 seems unbelievable to me. It's also because I'm really absent minded and if I buy something nice I will lose it in a matter of days.
posted by costanza to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love love love my Chuck Taylors, but you will walk through them if you walk a lot or if you're in a place where you'll be wearing them year-round. I walk to work and wear my CTs pretty consistently from April - November, and it takes me about two years to walk through a pair.

Then I get excited because I can buy a new pair in a different colour!!
posted by AmandaA at 6:31 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

But keep in mind that I am a cheap-ass and anything more than $150 seems unbelievable to me.

As far as shoes go, boots justify their cost in make far more than any other item. If you plan to wear a single pair of boots every single day, spending anything less than $150 is throwing money away; cheap boots need to be fixed and replaced. You can be cheap and end up spending more money over the long run, or you can be thrifty and spend more money up-front to save later on. Try to build up up $200 and spend that on a pair of boots that will last you seven or ten years, instead of $100 on a pair that will fall apart after two. If you want a pair of stylish boots that will last, invest in a pair of Frye boots. I've usually gotten pretty good mileage out of Docs as well, but they don't go with many outfits, tend to start looking gross pretty fast, and are difficult to make straight-up sexy-looking.
posted by griphus at 6:36 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're just not going to find daily-wear leather boots that will last you years for $150. It just straight up doesn't happen, unless you can catch some sort of absurd sale or are willing to stalk ebay like someone possessed. People will probably argue to the contrary but they will not be wearing their boots daily, across seasons. The next jump up in price, to around $200-$300, will actually fulfill your needs, assuming you can handle leather shoe maintenance. That means stuff like rinsing off salt and mud before it dries onto the leather, occasionally cleaning them with leather soap, and maybe even getting them resoled after a couple years. Check out Frye boots. Doc Martens aren't as comfortable and the lace-up design is less weatherproof. You could possibly get some off-season Frye boots for around $150, but they'll probably be a kind of funky style or color. Frye

Shoes just really aren't worth being a cheapass about. Whatever the 10-years-ago equivalent to these (but brown) have lasted me over a decade, and I didn't take care of them for the first 5 years.
posted by Mizu at 6:38 AM on May 8, 2012

I bought a pair of Dansko Rylans a few months ago. The black ones are on sale at Amazon right now. They have remarkable arch support (slightly high for my low arches, actually), and are ridiculously comfortable for something with an almost 3-inch heel (because of the 3/4 in platform on the front). They dress up or down nicely.

I added a thin pair of Spenco insoles and wore them without any breaking-in period during a trip where I walked miles and miles, and the only time I had even close to a blister was when I wore tights with no socks and my feet slid around a bit (they run slightly large). I can't speak to their durability yet, but Danskos are supposed to be high-quality, and I love love love them.
posted by mneekadon at 6:52 AM on May 8, 2012

I bought these boots, which are probably your style, a couple years ago and they have help up really well. They are $100, but I got them on sale for $80. The uppers are great quality, but the soles are total crap; I paid $50 to get excellent quality rubber soles.

They are very comfortable, and they will probably last you a couple (2-3) years with daily use. I agree with Mizu that you're not going to find something that's going to last you 5+ years for $150 though.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:52 AM on May 8, 2012

Best answer: I guess I'd ask myself some questions before I bought anything:

1. Are these year-round boots? If so, how is that going to work in the summer? (I used to wear combats year round back in my young day, although that sounds unbearably overheating now.)

2. What is the shape of your foot? Is the front part wide or narrow? Do you have high arches? Do you have a narrow heel? Are your ankles thick or thin?

3. Are your feet delicate? Do you blister really easily? Do you have characteristic places that you blister?

4. Will you always wear socks or sturdy tights or are fishnets (or no socks at all) in the picture?

5. How much heel do you want?

Things are darn expensive nowadays. I remember when I thought that $100 was an earth-shattering amount to pay for new shoes; now it seems ridiculously insufficient for anything good-quality. (Granted, I buy most of my shoes gently used on Ebay, but they originally cost a lot more than $100.)

Here is what I would look for in a boot: sewn rather than glued soles (look carefully, makers try to disguise this) ; calf leather if possible; leather lining all the way to the toe (no canvas/fabric as this does not support the surface of the shoe and promotes creasing/cracking); and a really good fit.

This isn't actually a very good time of year for buying new boots. You can always find good boots on Ebay, but fit is equivocal. I would be tempted to buy something at a consignment shop to get through the summer and then re-up in the fall.

Frye boots are all right, but they are IME very stiff and run narrow, so if you have a wide food or a tendency to blister, you will want to be careful.

Camper boots are good quality for the money, but they alternate between trendy and clompy.

For glued boots, I think J Crew does all right - but again you'll want to wait for fall.

Have you thought of Fiorentini/Bakers? (If you wear a woman's 41/10 and have average/skinny calves, me-mail me, as I have some F&Bs to sell) They will run you a cool $300 new, but I know someone who wears them every day and they've held up very well.

Or you might try men's boots if your feet are a women's 8 or above - the Allen Edmonds Fifth Street and Darlton are exceptional buys in the $300 range.

The other thing is that you will get less wear out of boots if you wear them every day. This is all right, actually, as you'll probably be able to (or want to) get a new pair in a couple of years. If you're dressing for punk/thrift fashion, you might as well just wear everything til it falls apart since you'll be wanting a change by then anyway. (if my memory serves me well.)

However, if you do wear them every day, get a pair of cedar shoe trees and tree those boots every night. It will extend their lives by absorbing moisture from your feet and keeping the leather from drying into cracked/creased/deformed shapes.

I don't really like Doctor Martens any more. I was able to compare one of the new "Made in England" pairs with one of the old early nineties "Made In England" ones, and the new ones are nowhere near as good. Maybe the specs are the same but the materials are cheaper. I'd be inclined to get myself fitted in DMs and then buy a gently used vintage Made In England pair via Ebay, which will probably set you back under $40.
posted by Frowner at 6:58 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Doc Martens come in a lot of different styles and I can tell you that in the UK they are issued to Post Office delivery people as part of their uniform. Because the job has so much walking you wear out your shoes - you get one pair a year and you can choose between trainers or Doc Martens.
Something like the £80 ones on this page.
posted by glasseyes at 7:01 AM on May 8, 2012

Wow, good answer from Frowner above also.
posted by glasseyes at 7:04 AM on May 8, 2012

As an alternative to Chuck Taylors, I would recommend PF Flyers if you need something with arch support. After buying a pair of these, I decided I would never buy Chuck Taylors again--they're awesome aesthetically, but they're just not worth the pain. PF Flyers aren't as attractive, but they're visually similar enough and, more importantly, way more comfortable.
posted by dean_deen at 7:11 AM on May 8, 2012

Best answer: I came in to recommend Frye as well.
If you like the look of those harness boots that Mizu linked, I've found that the Target version looks identical and has held up well for the last 2 years for me (not at all daily use though).
Don't buy other Target boots though, I've tried a bunch and they don't last at all.

The main thing is that you can't wear the same shoes every day. If you want to do that, get 2 pair of the same thing and rotate.
When you wear shoes, the moisture and heat from your feet get into the leather a little bit. If you wear the shoes again right away without letting the shoes "recover," then you are rubbing against already-weakened leather, and breaking it down and reshaping it. A little bit of that is good because it molds and stretches to your foot. But very quickly, it means that your shoes are wearing out and warping.

I find that if I alternate shoes (this goes for elastic in bras as well btw), both sets last longer than if I wore through two in a row. Like if you wear through the boots in 6 months of every day use, you would think that if you buy 2 pr and alternate daily you would get a year, but actually in my experience it's more like 2 years.

People are telling you to buy $200-$300 boots instead. I don't think you need to. Get 2pr of cheaper boots and alternate them.

In addition to Frowner's suggestions, I'd also look for "full grain leather."
There is full grain, top grain, and composite. Those are listed in descending order of quality and longevity and also descending order of price (usually).
Lots of cheapo boots that say they are leather are actually the composite kind, which is impregnated with plastics and not what you or I would call leather.
posted by rmless at 7:21 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just in my experience, Merrell shoes last freaking forever and they are incredibly comfortable.

I have a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs that I've worn regularly for about five years and they are still in wearable shape, and they are the most comfortable shoes I own.

Jungle Mocs are not super fashionable, but Merrell has a huge variety of styles. My friend the other day pointed me to these Merrell boots which she highly recommends, but I don't have any experience with personally.
posted by mekily at 7:39 AM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a guy. I'd recommend lookinginto Clark's; I'm not sure where you are, but here in NYC there are a few stores, and others at malls int he suburbs. I bought my first pair the day before going to London, hit the ground, and walked like 6 miles. Most comfortable walk of my life.
posted by troywestfield at 8:08 AM on May 8, 2012

I'm madly clicking on all these links as I'm in the market for some new shoes too. I've been looking at Sea Vees as a potential casual solution, but I haven't bought 'em so can't recommend 'em yet.

Just wanted to pop in to echo what rmless and Frowner have said re: care of leather shoes. If you're after some shoes that will bear a lot of beating around and heavy intra-day use you should definitely consider at least two pairs. This allows you to alternate pairs and give your shoes time and space to recover. It sounds a bit gross, but even the least sweaty of us dump a lot of sweat (salt!) into shoes when they're in use. Leather is skin. Salt is not awesome for skin maintaining its supple condition. Wearing continually without giving the shoes an opportunity to re-balance themselves can lead to premature wearing and degradation of the leather, which then means your investment in a 'good' pair of shoes is nulled out.

Cedar trees for sure. Not plastic shaper trees. They're not good for helping the moisture wick out.

Get some oil based shoe care stuff (not alcohol based shoe polish; that's good for a shine but not good for your shoes).

That all sounds like a lot - it's worth getting these things over a few months if you can stretch to it. It will help prolong the life of your shoes.
posted by pymsical at 8:09 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two things to say before I make my suggestions:

Chuck Taylors, while a staple to my teenage self, are some of the shittiest shoes on the planet. Really. They only lasted me months. They tear along the seams, the sole wears out, and there's absolutely no support in the footbed.

Someone mentioned Steve Madden: Also, no. Those aren't real shoes. Those are cheap designer shoes made to look like real shoes. I tried some on in the store once, and they felt like fake leather glued to plywood.

I'm seconding Clarks, and Merrells. Mekily pointed some out, and I think they look rad as fuck. I know people who are utterly dedicated to both Clark and Merrell, and have shoes for 4 or more years. Also, since it's spring, you can find a lot of boots on sale.

[I see by your profile you're in Canada. I've linked to Clarks-USA, I'm pretty sure they'll ship to you.]
Here's a mid-calf leather boot from clarks, on sale.

Here's a combat-style lace-up boot from clarks. Slightly less stylish, but still awesome.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:21 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clarks Canada. (Though Clarks seem to be on sale at The Bay right now, per their website, so I'd start there.)

pymsical makes a really important point. Two pairs of shoes, rotated and cared for as described in pymsical's post, will last more than twice as long as one pair of shoes you wear every day.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:34 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good, comfortable shoe brands:

Born, or BOC

You will be sad with Doc's. Very heavy, not very good support. Ditto Chuck Taylors, I have high arches and my feet ache, my sister has flat feet and loves them.

The best dress shoes are Cole-Haan Nike Air shoes. Here is a pair of boots at Nieman-Marcus for $136.

Do not dick around with shoes. These are your feet!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:36 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you live (apparently not America), but there are outlet stores you can get the super expensive "nice" shoes at without paying more than $150. I have done very well at DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) outlets. I hear you on the pricing-- the way I go through shoes (see below) I will be PISSED if I spent hundreds on Quality Shoes and then once again when I go outside, find out I can't wear them. But DSW is doable.

But as someone else with easily blistered feet, I think you are going to have to find out for yourself which shoes work. For instance, I can't wear Chuck Taylors or Docs at all--the one time I wore Docs for a Daria costume, my feet were blistered for a solid month. And that was with blister inserts in--which slipped down and stuck to my heels where I didn't want 'em. My feet are whining little bitches that really hate shoes, so it's constant trial and error. I wouldn't even say "get this kind of brand" most of the time because it really varies. I usually live in about 2 pairs of boots in colder weather and 2 pairs of sandals in warmer, but they only last a year or two, max because I walk all the time. Sneakers are almost always by default not going to be painful to wear, but since I want to be more dressed up than that, I get nice pairs of black boots.

What I've really learned is that (a) I cannot buy shoes online whatsoever, (b) if there is anything that is not 100% totally comfortable about the shoes when I try them on, forget it--it will only get worse. Don't listen to any bull about the shoe "stretching" or something like that. Even the tiniest of rubs will make a blister. And (c) how you walk indoors is drastically different from walking outside, and there really is no way that you can replicate Outdoor Stride compared to Indoor Stride in a shoe store, no matter how big it is. Even if you pick out the most comfortable pair inside the store, and hike all over the store, you may still be unpleasantly surprised once you go outside on hard concrete while dodging traffic. I haven't found a way to solve that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:58 AM on May 8, 2012

Two thoughts:

#1: Sneakers. You absolutely don't want Converse sneakers unless they have removable insoles like the Jack Purcell's or most of the Varvatos kinds. I love the look and style of Converse, but only the ones with removable insoles will be comfortable. Even then, the insoles are crap, which means you'll want to buy some actually comfortable insoles to replace them with. Do this, and you've got an amazingly comfortable pair of sneakers.

#2: Shoes. I find Ecco and Bostonian shoes to be very comfortable, and they tend to look really good too. Especially the Bostonians. I walk a lot (and I do mean A LOT), and I don't tolerate uncomfortable shoes.

Do you have a Nordstrom Rack near you? That's a great place to try on a billion kinds and find out what really works for you. And they're cheap too. Can't beat that!
posted by 2oh1 at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2012

All of my day shoes are penny loafers made by Cole Haan. I never bother with socks and own several different colors; the price is worth the quality of the product. Here's an example of a pair from Nordstrom; the best time to maximize your savings online are in July, before September, and post-holiday December. :)
posted by lotusmish at 12:21 PM on May 8, 2012

yeah, I meant to say *times

posted by lotusmish at 12:35 PM on May 8, 2012

I really dig campers - great styles, very comfortable, and last a long time
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:44 PM on May 8, 2012

Absolutely Merrells. I have sandals, slippers, clogs, boots... All are awesome, and there's never any break-in time. Very good arch support while I am nursing a stress fracture in my foot. They also come in half-sizes.
posted by waitangi at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2012

Seconding Born as a good brand with some fashionable styles! I've got several pairs of born shoes and boots that look great and have lasted years. Winners in Canada carry these often so keep an eye out for them!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 2:35 PM on May 8, 2012

La Canadienne is based out of Montreal and makes a lot of boots that get good reviews on Zappos. They typically retail in the $200-$400 (USD) range but some of them are on sale right now at Zappos- mostly leather, waterproof designs.
posted by tangaroo at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2012

For dressier/professional shoes, you may want to look into Cole Haan Nike Air collection (in addition to Campers, Dansko, Merrell, and Born. Someone also told me Taryn Rose shoes are good in this category.
posted by superfille at 3:39 PM on May 8, 2012

Here's an idea ! I recomend z-coils. I have 4 pair and LOVE them. zcoil.com. They run around 180.00-220.00. Here is how I came about them. I was at a hair show in Orlando Florida. I didn't come prepaired with proper shoes, and I had to walk 3 miles to the Hair Show. I had a bunch of shoes in the back of my car that I was going to take to good will but didn't. I choose a pair and went to the hair show. I too, am particular about how I look. When I got to the show, I was exausted with blisters on my feet. I was on the floor at the show with to many people, and saw a bunch of people at this one consumers area. Low and behold, I found the shoe of my dreams. I have 4 pair, in various colors, and the heal is a spring, and they even have sneakers! Any way I bought a pair and left. I had had it with the day. They are the most expensive pair of shoes I have bought, however, the best, and if you like boots, they have those to, and the spring is concealed in the heal. Hands down, the best shoes I've ever had, and it distributes your weight so that when you take a step, rather than having an impact of three times your weight, it does not have an impact. Try them, :)
posted by brittaincrowe at 3:49 PM on May 8, 2012

If you want comfy all season, walk all day boots, you want Blundstones. I know, they are expensive per boot, but they are NOT expensive per wear. I'm at least 4 years into my second pair, maybe more and when I clean them they look dressy enough for skirts.

I wear mine until I pull out the sandals, my husband also wore his as winter boots, almost every day in Toronto with wool socks. And was plenty warm enough. I also wear them in sunny southern California when my toes can't be exposed.

I think their rubber soles make them more comfy than Fryes and I think they are lighter than Doc Martens.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:19 PM on May 8, 2012

Merrell makes great boots. And I love these Dansko shoes to wear with dresses to work. I know that more than $150 seems astronomical to you and I like to stay in that range too, but a good pair of boots will last a long time and be sooo comfortable. I dress almost entirely in thrift store clothes, but good underwear and shoes are worth spending money on.
posted by Jandoe at 9:33 PM on May 8, 2012

Docs give me blisters after a few days of wearing them every day. I can get away with alternating every second day, or better, every third. On the other hand, I find they last a long time. I bought my current ones second hand already in 2004 and they look exactly like they did then. I don't take any special care of them, either - just polish them once a month or so (should be more often, probably).

I have bought boots for $30 and boots for $100, and I have bought $200 boots that were second hand for much much less than that. I've never spent more than $100, so I probably shouldn't be answering to say that expensive boots are unnecessary, but honestly, I'm the sort of person who wears the same shoes many times a week, and most boots I have bought have lasted years.
posted by lollusc at 2:54 AM on May 9, 2012

Women's shoes are generally made for fashion. Good men's shoes are made to be repaired, re-heeled and re-soled, so if you can find good loafers or other good men's shoes that you like, it's a reasonable option. I have serious arthritis in my feet, and I bought a pair of Born boots from Zappos. They fit well, have lasted well, and are very comfortable. I can usually wear Danskos, Merrells, and Teva sandals in the summer. Clarks are usually well made, and I've had good experience with Keens.
posted by theora55 at 8:57 PM on May 9, 2012

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