Shoes: high-quality, stylish, comfortable, repairable
January 27, 2014 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for brands of women's shoes that are high-quality, stylish, comfortable, and repairable. Is that so much to ask?

I live in a city and walk a great deal, so I need shoes that are comfortable and durable. I strongly prefer to get high-quality shoes that can be repaired at my local cobbler when needed, rather than buying a new pair at that point.

Style-wise, I tend to like Clarks and Naots, but this question is inspired by my cobbler explaining to me that my awesome Naot boots that he's having to repair for the 3rd time have plastic soles that are not good for resoling (and that I wore down within just a couple of months).

Best brands for long lasting, stylish comfort?
posted by spindrifter to Shopping (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Fluevogs. They even say on their FAQ that all of their shoes are "cobbler-friendly". Style-wise they're a little funky but they have a large range, and if you're more sedate they have normal color choices for most shoes they make. Also if you want a shoe that is billed as for men and you show up in-store presenting female, they will enthusiastically assist you and not say a thing about gender. (I have no personal experience with the other way around, but apparently they're good for men looking for heels, too.)
posted by Mizu at 11:39 AM on January 27, 2014

Mephisto (avoid their lower level AllRounder brand for extra quality.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2014

I love my Ecco booties, but they are definitely not leather soles.
posted by janey47 at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2014

Frye Boots have leather soles, as do Cydwoqs.

Note that leather soles are not always great in bad weather -- I tend to prefer rubber for traction when it is icy/snowy. If you are in that sort of area, check out La Canadienne.

I walk a lot too, and generally have to replace the vibram heels on my favorite (Clarks) boots a few times a year. I've always thought of it as normal maintenance, fwiw. Is it the heels or entire soles that you are replacing?
posted by susanvance at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

What kind of shoes do you want?

For shoes to be truly resolable, they need to be welted (there are ways to resole some other kinds of high-end shoes if you have the original last, but for the purposes of this question...). Most of the time, I have had shoes semi-resoled - that is, the sole has multiple layers, one of which is sewn to the shoe and the others of which are glued to the sewn one. My cobbler removes the glued layer and replaces it. You can't do this with a totally glued shoe because the whole sole comes off and the design of the shoe is such that you can't just glue a new one on (the shape of the shoe, the shape of the sole, etc). If you have a very fancy cobbler or can return the shoe to the maker, you can have a total re-sole, where the shoe is resewn over the original last. This is much more expensive - probably about 1/2 the cost of replacing a medium-expensive shoe (ie, $150 - $200 for the total resole).

There aren't a lot of welted women's shoes. Even high-end women's shoes tend to be made using a non-welted stitching method because this gives a sleeker profile.

To get welted shoes, you will need to pay, particularly as high-quality women's shoes are much rarer than men's and hence more costly. (If you wear a women's 9.5 or up, I recommend just getting some highly detailed men's shoes - like the kind of loafer that is made in colorful leather or has frilly detailing. I wear a women's 10 and I only buy men's shoes.)

This is a diagram of a welted shoe (with a thin sole - many are chunkier/more layered).

Makers I can think of: some Frye, some Fluevog, some Dr. Martens, some Walk-Over (but some of their women's shoes are glued/"cemented").

The Trippen Vivienne is one of the best shoes ever. Back when I wore girlie shoes, I wore these exclusively for several years, put a LOT of foot miles on them (I walked a 4 mile round trip to work) and got a resole. They are super comfortable, accommodate orthotics if needed, they're cute - and sometimes they pop up on eBay. (If you wear a women's 10, I am planning to eBay a nearly new pair soon.) Ped Shoes is very reliable and takes returns. If you know your size, you can order them direct from Trippen in Germany and get a much wider selection of colors and leathers - I've done this and they too are very reliable.

You could also consider Rancourt. I have a pair of boots from them and they are really nice. If the colors on their women's page don't grab you, take a look at the men's - they can do a lot of semi-custom work with regards to leather. The tassel loafer is super cute.
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on January 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Also, if a welted shoe comes with a leather sole and you don't want a leather sole, you can have a cobbler glue a sole cover/toppy over it. These come in various thicknesses, ranging from super-delicate (and suitable for dressy shoes) to chunky and robust with a big tread. I have had this done with many shoes. Now, if the weather is horribly wet, you are still best off with a totally rubber sole, but if it's merely snowy/damp/slippery, a sole cover over a leather sole is fine. I usually get a sole cover on all leather soles anyway, as it extends the life of the shoe considerably. (If you get the really thin kind, keep an eye on them - you can walk right through them in a couple of seasons if you walk a lot every day and don't alternate pairs.)
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2014

Response by poster: FWIW, my cobbler is happy to repair boots with rubber soles -- he has glues that work well rubber-to-rubber. In the problem case, it's plastic-to-rubber, which, because so many different plastics exist, it's much harder to know if a glue will work until we try it and it sticks over the long term or doesn't.

Thanks for suggestions so far!
posted by spindrifter at 11:52 AM on January 27, 2014

(These Fluevogs have a "partial Blake" construction - now, I don't know what the hell that is, but Blake-soled shoes have a quicker and more fragile method of construction than welted shoes. If you get something like these, inspect them before you wear them - if they have a multilayered stitched sole, they will be semi-resolable but cannot be resewn (Blake really can't). If they have a more single-layered sole, they can't be resoled.

If you have a shoe with a thin blake sole (like, it seems like it's just one layer of thick leather) your cobbler can chip off the heel piece and glue on a one-piece vibram (or similar) sole. Some of these Vibram soles will be fairly thin and will add only maybe 1/4" to the sole profile; others are chunky and can add upwards of 1/2". I have some shoes that had a thick sole to begin with and my cobbler basically made them into platforms by using a super-chunky Vibram sole.
posted by Frowner at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2014

As for the suggestion of Fluevogs, I can say that I have many pairs of Fluevogs, ranging in age from 2 to 23 years old, which are all in excellent repair. I've had one pair of Fluevog boots reheeled, one pair of boots stretched, and heelcaps replaced on one pair of pumps. Other than polishing, I've needed no work on any of the rest of them.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:00 PM on January 27, 2014

I agree with Frye--my wife's pair of Frye boots is probably 10 years old and going strong.

I think Eccos, Clarks, Camper, etc. are all just disposable shoes. They're fun, you wear them for a year or so, and you throw them away. They're not built to last at those price points--and women's shoes, in general, aren't made to be rebuilt like men's shoes. But the good news is that women's shoes are more expensive, and the media tells you that you're supposed to have 25 pairs. (You have my sympathies!)

Also, a small pitch for Arturo at Boston Shoe Repair on Oliver Street in the Financial District (as it looks like you are in Somerville). I don't know whether he's your cobbler already, but he is really the best cobbler I have ever used. He's done work on my wife's Cole Haan ballet shoes (with the Nike Air heel) that I wouldn't have thought possible. A real craftsman.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

PSKaufman is not cheap -- I bought mine on sale at -- but, built to last -- Goodyear welt!

Not all Fryes have leather soles; my Frye "Engineer" boots are rubber soled. (They are very rugged and thoroughly recommended.)

The other thrill-to-the-quality footwear that jumps to mind is Quoddy; they repair their own stuff, too.
posted by kmennie at 12:05 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a preventative measure, before you even wear the boots to the point they need ot be repaired, have a full vibram sole added to the bottom- should cost about $20-30 bucks, but I've found that it defintiely extends the life of my shoes (particularly boots)
posted by larthegreat at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2014

(Watch out for "heritage" brands like Frye and Fluevog - while both still make some great shoes, their salad days are behind them. Fluevogs used to be made in England, then Poland - and those were all very solid shoes. Now they're made...oh, all over the places, and the quality is all over the place too. And for Frye, I've seen some really crap Frye shoes - mostly to do with terrible leather and finishing rather than soles, though. Anything where someone says "I bought these in [years ago] and they are still going strong", you should look and see if the production has been offshored or otherwise dramatically altered since the speaker bought their old bots. Clarks used to be great, for example, before the mid-nineties. They expanded, put in a ton of mall stores, and now they're one step up from junk.

(Red Wing actually tried this kind of expansion, had it fail and seems to have returned to a lot more US production, although watch out if you're looking at their 1000 mile/heritage collection - about 1/3 are US-made and the rest are offshore, and the company is obviously using the US-made ones as a way to build brand (and, IMO, mislead) customers about the other ones.)
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

1000 Mile boots are actually Wolverine, although Frowner is not wrong about Red Wing pulling this stunt too. That said, the women's 1000 Mile is explicitly made in the USA, and I hear good things about their quality.
posted by snarkout at 1:44 PM on January 27, 2014

This isn't in answer to your question exactly, but in response to you constantly replacing soles, have you tried metal sole protectors? My dad is a heavy heel-striker and on his expensive leather loafers he's used a metal protector that is nailed to the bottom. Not sure if this would affect gait/comfort and it might make you very clickity-clackity as you walked down the street, but might be worth pursuing to save your otherwise good shoes?
posted by rawralphadawg at 11:25 PM on January 27, 2014

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