Repairable shoes in NYC
September 23, 2012 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Where can I buy a repairable shoe in New York City? I just discovered that the reason shoes are so cheap in America is, they're apparently constructed in some way that makes them impossible to fix. I'm willing to pay extra up front if it means that I can just get new soles sewn on instead of going shoe shopping every year. In terms of style, all I want are plain black leather oxfords or derbies, no pinking or toe caps or anything else that would make it harder to polish. In terms of budget, I'm currently paying $50 a pair every six to twelve months, and I'd like not to exceed that by too much (so, e.g., I'd be happy to pay $200 for shoes that reliably last two to four years). Bonus if anyone can explain why my cheap shoes are impossible to repair. If two piece of leather can be sewn together once, why not twice? It's not like thread holes wear out...
posted by d. z. wang to Shopping (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Allen Edmonds Leeds. Plain black oxford, no cap or broguing. Resoleable and recraftable (watch the videos on the AE site). Sub-$300 new and should last you a decade or more with good care. You can also find deals periodically through Lands End and the AE site.
posted by The Michael The at 5:18 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Allen Edmonds or Red Wings. My husband has both kinds, have been resoled multiple times, and has had them, as TMT says, at least a decade.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:20 PM on September 23, 2012

(Link to the Leeds) Actually, the price has jumped quite a bit since I bought mine last year, to $345 list. Still worth it, though.
posted by The Michael The at 5:22 PM on September 23, 2012

There's a very good previously, not exactly on this topic, but delineating the tiers of shoe quality. Also, this.

Something like the Red Wing 101 "Postman" (which you can find for just over $200) might fit the bill, and they do repairs at their own factory.

If two piece of leather can be sewn together once, why not twice?

Often, cheap shoes are simply bonded at the sole rather than stitched and/or welted, or what stitching exists is decorative rather than functional.
posted by holgate at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, most cheap shoes are glued, not stitched at all.

The Leeds is a great shoe. You can tour the Allen Edmonds factory in Wisconsin and see them being made. In general, the term you want to look for is "Goodyear welt." Any shoe with Goodyear welt construction can be resoled.

Keep in mind that the resoling itself is not always cheap. I had a pair of Red Wing boots redone at the factory and I believe it cost $95 (including shipping both ways). You can probably get it done more cheaply at a local shoe repair place but it's still going to cost a bit of money.
posted by enn at 5:57 PM on September 23, 2012

Put This On has recently recommended Meermin and Andrew Lock. Of Meermin one of their writers wrote, "[a]t the risk of seeming like I’m committing the same sin, I’ll say that I think Meermin offers the best value, if not simply the best shoes, among the relatively more affordable brands of footwear I know of." They say they're similar in quality to A-E, but cheaper and a bit more stylish. I've never seen either, though.
posted by ecab at 5:57 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your cheap shoes are glued, not stitched. You can have a cobbler glue a protective 'topy' or some other glued layer onto the sole to extend its life if you do this fairly early in the life of the shoe.

Even if they are stitched, they're not going to be re-stitched by a casual cobbler. Here is the scoop: a good shoe is made on a last, or shoe form. That's where the shaping and stitching are done. A thin layer of leather is stitched onto the body of the shoe and then other leather or rubber is either glued or stitched onto that. That other layer is what your neighborhood cobbler is most likely to replace. To re-stitch the whole shoe requires a last, and as I understand it the last has to be pretty similar to the original one, or ideally the same. That's why you can send your shoes back to Alden or Allen Edmonds (or any of the good UK shoemakers, but they're in the UK and you are not) for 'recrafting', which renews the sole and the 'sock' of leather inside the shoe. But in general, as long as you care for your shoes and get them resoled as needed, you don't have to have them fully recrafted. A caution: don't wear your good shoes until there is a big ol' hole in the sole/until that base layer is worn through. Then only full re-crafting can save the shoe, and sometimes not even that.

Honestly, though, you should have a couple of pairs of shoes. Only serious workshoes like the better Doc Martens can really stand up to day after day city wear. Allen Edmonds are very nice - if you pay attention and shop the big sales at Nordstroms or call their ding-and-dent warehouse (the information is somewhere on their website) you should be able to stay close to your price range. Caution: AE makes a few pairs of glued shoes. They are the cheapest ones they offer and are not re-soleable. Do not buy these - they are too expensive for glued shoes.

The AE Leeds is a great shoe - it runs a little short and narrow, though.

But seriously, have you considered Docs? A pair of Made In England Doc Martens bluchers will last you for-fucking-ever. They're not the most elegant shoes in the entire world, but if you're just wearing blah $50 glued shoes anyway Docs can only be a step up. Good old Doc Martens! Once again at least some are made in Northampton. If only I could travel back through time to 1990 I would tell them that outsourcing would dilute the brand and only bring sorrow, and that they'd come crawling back.

Oh, and Mephisto also makes some nice welted shoes. The Mephisto Marlon is a great shoe. (Most Mephistos are not welted/sewn) Those are expensive, but if you look around you can get them on sale. If I were going to wear a single pair every day and expect them to hold up for a few years and wanted something more elegant than Docs, I would get Mephistos. They aren't as nicely lasted as AEs and the leather quality isn't as nice, but they are darn comfortable and absolute tanks. I am sure you can buy them in New York - just call around to places that sell "walking" shoes.
posted by Frowner at 6:02 PM on September 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I believe Ecco shoes are repairable, though you'd want to investigate more first. Something about the construction means the soles aren't available, but it appears there are shops that will replace them with Vibram soles. Eccos have, in the past, shown up at Nordstrom Rack in fairly large numbers, but the last time I looked, the pickings were quite slim.
posted by hoyland at 7:31 PM on September 23, 2012

Cheap shoes are not impossible to repair. More likely, they're not cost effective to repair.

It's entirely possible to find Goodyear welted shoes below $50. However, a complete resole is likely to cost more than that, probably significantly more. As a result, it's not economical to do so. If you're wearing out the soles in six months, buying premium shoes buys you the privilege of spending $$$ every six months getting them resoled.

Furthermore, even non welted shoes can often have their life extended by a cobbler doing a cemented resole. This generally does not involve any restitching, but rather, grinding the existing sole down such that an aftermarket sole, such as Soletech or Vibram, can be glued on. This can usually be done at least a couple times, provided the procedure is done well before there are holes in the shoes, and the rest of the shoe is structurally sound.

It sounds like what you really need is a long wearing shoe more than a repairable shoe. Doc Martens have a rep for long wear, and are available in basic oxford style. Another possibility is to look for a place that specializes in work shoes. Long wearing work oxfords are a pretty common item.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:32 PM on September 23, 2012

Grenson. Unfortunately you can't buy them in NYC, but they're the best value I've found in my reasonably wide search for shoes. And they're fashionable.
posted by anewnadir at 9:31 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want to explore Fluevogs. Durable, repairable & stylish.
posted by MT at 11:04 PM on September 23, 2012

Seconding Fluevogs. Frye Boot Company also makes shoes which are repairable (as well as their excellent variety of boots). I have pairs of both brands of shoes that are over five years old and which have seen a lot of Pacific Northwest rain and slush.
posted by sweltering at 1:34 AM on September 24, 2012

I know they're not the most stylish but Birkenstocks can be repaired as well. I haven't had a pair since college but the pair I had then were re-soled countless times and come to think of it, were probably the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned after they'd molded to my foot...
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:14 AM on September 24, 2012

Fluevog, Birkenstock, and Frye are a bit out there, stylistically. I'm looking for a plain black oxford or derby, no toe caps or pinking or buckles or patent leather or crazy flame decals, please.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:21 AM on September 24, 2012

The other way to go with this, of course, is to find a shoe-repair guru who can fix anything.

I believe I have found such a guru. He's a sad-faced Russian guy in an obscure shop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and he can fix ANY shoe ever ever. (And, for that matter, anything made of leather.) This man is a Shoe Genius.

And cheap, to boot!

Sorry, couldn't resist.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:55 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

As it happens, Allen Edmonds is running a big sale starting today, and Amazon has some similar prices plus extra discounts too. Details here.
posted by The Michael The at 3:29 PM on September 24, 2012

Just bought a pair of Allen Edmonds Fifth Ave and I'll be going by the Dr. Martens on Spring St. later this week for a more everyday pair. Thanks, everyone!
posted by d. z. wang at 7:07 PM on September 26, 2012

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