All-purpose classy-looking daily shoes/boots that will last for a while?
July 14, 2015 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a pair of shoes/boots that will effectively function in as many different environments as possible: walking, hiking, sun and rain, dressing up for more formal occasions. (I'm a traveler and I only have room for a single pair of shoes in my life.) Comfort is a huge priority; I want them to feel as cozy as house slippers. Waterproofing would be a welcome bonus but not essential.

In the past, I've filled this niche by buying Ecco shoes; in particular, the Atlanta and the Findlay. They've served me well and have been the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. Unfortunately, the soles for both disintegrated on me — the first after a year, and the second after 2/3 of a year. I'm not entirely sure if this is my fault for walking around daily in these shoes (often along rocky paths) or if Ecco has QA problems, but I'd like to make sure this doesn't happen again if possible. Problem is, I'm not entirely sure how most brands of shoes would fare in daily use, since most people seem to have 3-4 pairs that they cycle through, and mostly for light walking at that.

Right now, I'm leaning towards a brown pair of chukka boots — Clarks Stratton Limit, Rockport Ledge Hill, Ecco Turn GTX. The aesthetics and cushioning of these shoes really appeal to me. (I love darkbrown/oxblood and contrast soles/stitching!) However, I have no idea about the durability.

Any thoughts? Are there other brands I should be looking at that won't fall apart on me after a year of daily use (and that look more like oxfords and not working boots)? Also, what do you think about leather soles versus rubber soles? I see a lot of people on style forums turning their noses up at rubber soles, but every shoe I've tried with leather soles has felt massively uncomfortable compared to my Eccos, and it seems they would fare poorly for hiking and in rain/ice. (But I could be wrong about this.)

posted by archagon to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Leather soles are terrible on wet or slick surfaces, so no leather soles, IMO.

I don't know of a shoe that is and does everything you want, on a daily basis, and that will last, exists.
posted by rtha at 6:43 PM on July 14, 2015

Response by poster: "I don't know of a shoe that is and does everything you want, on a daily basis, and that will last, exists."

Fair. ;)

For the most part, I'm wondering about durability. It seems to me that a sole shouldn't just disintegrate after a year, even with heavy use. Furthermore, after a bit of reading, it seems that Ecco shoes have a bit of a reputation for falling apart. But I really don't know. Most people don't wear shoes like I do, so there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about durability with these constraints in mind, though I've occasionally heard of workers whose boots have lasted for many years in daily use. If the durability criterion is impossible, I'd be OK with replacing my shoes every year. I just want to make sure it's not the brand.

Other than that, I think a pair of leather chukka boots in the style I linked to would satisfy all of my other criteria.
posted by archagon at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2015

I've had my eye on the Carson boot by Bogs for a long time, but have never tried them out.
posted by amicus at 8:10 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I only have experience with Ecco women's shoes, and I also have a ton of shoes but tend to wear the same pair for a few weeks at a time. I own two pairs of tall boots and a pair of sandals, all of which are a few years old and saw heavy use for their first season. They've all held up really well, but I can only compare to other women's (fashionable) shoe brands, and I understand that men's shoes are usually more durable on the whole.
posted by serelliya at 8:22 PM on July 14, 2015

Clarks are really poor quality compared to how they used to be made.

You want a shoe that can be refurbished to its previous state, if possible. To do that, you will need to have a replaceable sole such as Vibram (I'm not saying that's the best, just that it's a known replaceable sole that is built into a lot of sturdy shoes and is easy to get replaced) and some nice strong leather that will meld to your shape instead of splitting.

You could try a brand like Red Wing or Allen Edmonds or Alden (aka Indiana Jones boots). Those will all be up there in terms of price, but dude, you're basically looking at Mormon missionary shoes here: all the time, everywhere.

Actually, yeah: do look for Mormon missionary shoes.

And I know you said you only have room for one pair, but rotating two pairs will be better for the life of your shoes, period. Your shoes will have time to dry out from your sweaty feet and rebound back to a more normal shape, and it helps inhibit bacteria.
posted by St. Hubbins at 9:41 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

BLUNDSTONE. Google it. Wear it. Everywhere, for everything, everyday.

If, after a few years they start to look less smart, wax em. Win.

Seriously. Your question is basically (minus the "look like oxfords") an ad for Blundstones.

For me, I throw a pair of Dr. Scholls work insoles in. I am a winemaker. I wear them in the cave, I get them sopping wet, then I wear them on the super rocky hillside vineyard, then I polish them up and wear them with real adult clothes (granted, I live in Napa, it's the only shoes anyone here who "works" wears, basically). Mine only last for about two years now, but I absolutely beat the ever living daylights out of them nearly daily.

(When you look em up, I have a friend who says, very surprisingly, that the suede version is as water resistant as the leather. make of that what you will. Weird, hard to believe anecdote for a woman making wine for the last 35 years

On preview, yeah, hell yes, go get a pair of Redwings if you can afford it. I have a pair I've been breaking in for TWO YEARS and they are wonderful. But...I got a big deal on Amazon and paid half price ($180?).

I still wear my blunnies everyday, and wear the redwings when we have guests and I need to look "winemakery" but the blunnies are actually more comfortable, while, yes, the redwings are likely to outlast my life. If only because they sit around while I lose interest in tying and untying my shoes. (Yep...I'm that busy. YMMV.)
posted by metasav at 9:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

"I don't know of a shoe that is and does everything you want, on a daily basis, and that will last, exists."

I do. I'm wearing a two year old pair of Blundstone that are just starting to crack at the bend and I have pruned a vineyard TWICE, bottled two vintages, washed a thousand barrels, hosted 50 tastings, slept on one boot like it was a pillow (failure) and learned to knit socks that go just up to the top so I don't look even more weird in boots and shorts, and utterly failed to even pretend to wax this particular pair even once. I grabbed a ripe olive off the tree last year and rubbed it all over my boots. They looked good. I think that was not helpful for the life of the boot. YMMV.
posted by metasav at 10:07 PM on July 14, 2015

Response by poster: "You could try a brand like Red Wing or Allen Edmonds or Alden (aka Indiana Jones boots). Those will all be up there in terms of price, but dude, you're basically looking at Mormon missionary shoes here: all the time, everywhere."

I've been looking into these brands too. (And Wolverine, which everyone seems to love.) Problem is, whenever I try them on, they're nowhere near as comfortable as the run-down Eccos I'm currently wearing. I don't know what Ecco does differently, but they really do feel like a pair of slippers. (And it's been like that from the day I bought 'em!) Not sure why all the high-end shoemakers insist on leather-only interiors.

Also, Allen Edmonds and Wolverine (and probably Alden) seem to insist on leather soles.

Finally, most of the boots these companies produce are very work-y: giant sole, bulbous shape, etc. There's only one or two with a really beautiful classic look.

Will look into Blundstone! From a cursory glance at Zappos, though, they seem to be mostly making Chelsea boots, which I don't like as much as the chukkas...
posted by archagon at 10:17 PM on July 14, 2015

Response by poster: "And I know you said you only have room for one pair, but rotating two pairs will be better for the life of your shoes, period. Your shoes will have time to dry out from your sweaty feet and rebound back to a more normal shape, and it helps inhibit bacteria."

Alas, I have but one (maximum legal carryon sized) suitcase, and it's currently impossibly full.
posted by archagon at 10:25 PM on July 14, 2015

Response by poster: Oooh, just discovered /r/goodyearwelt for some more recommendations, especially in the $100-$300 price range. Will give this list a closer look...
posted by archagon at 1:04 AM on July 15, 2015

Just in very general (from one backpacker to another), I would buy:

* a comfortable, waterproof, outdoor running shoe (unless you do high mountain hiking in which case you need a boot)
* pack a super light, flat ballerina in black (or other neutral color) which you can slip anytime, anywhere you don't wanna look like a backpacker
posted by Fallbala at 2:39 AM on July 15, 2015

Seconding Blundstones. It's a bummer you're not into the chelsea boot thing - lack of laces is a huge feature for me. My last pair lasted 10 years of heavy wear - not my only shoe, but I only ever have two pair of shoes in rotation at any time, and the blunnies were probably on my feet half of that time. They held up to rain and snow and mud and rocks and outdoor work involving lots of scraping and scuffing of the uppers, and they look good with skirts and jeans and tights and everything, and I can wear them to work in an office situation, and they feel like slippers to me.

I haven't tried these personally, but Dr Martens make a few chukkas - in more than one sole, I think, in case the normal sole isn't comfortable for you. I'm partial to the Elate sole.
posted by you must supply a verb at 5:31 AM on July 15, 2015

Sorry, again with the Blundstones - while I would suggest the 500s in stout brown, it looks like they do have a lace-up/chukka.
posted by you must supply a verb at 5:37 AM on July 15, 2015

What you want is to break the bank and get a pair of the made-in-France goodyear welted Mephistos, as here. Many Mephistos are ugly and even the "classy" ones don't, IMO, have the grace of a proper dress shoe. But I've actually got a pair of the linked ones (second hand via eBay) and they're good, solid, comfortable shoes. I don't think they'll fall apart on you even after a year of heavy wear.

Frankly, I have some really sturdy boots from French and English makers - Trickers, Paraboot, Heschung (all via eBay; new would be totally unaffordable) and while they are fantastic, well-made shoes, they're also heavy and they're not really designed to hug the foot. The shoes you link are definitely "comfort" shoes, which are a different thing - meant to be lighter, cushier, more molded to the shape of the foot. That's why I'd recommend the Mephistos, as they have much of the same welted construction as Paraboot or Heschung, but in service of a different idea.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on July 15, 2015

Keenes. Try REI. They have a lot of stylish yet rugged walkers. The wonen's line has a lot of different styles. They never die.
posted by Oyéah at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2015

I have a few thoughts, not specific shoe suggestions:

I'm not sure if it's reasonable to expect ANY shoe to see heavy, daily use and survive completely intact for more than a year with no upkeep. Polishing, moisturizing the leather, seeing the cobbler periodically for minor repairs.

It's possible to have thin vibram soles attached to leather soles, for better traction and water durability.

I have some leather-soled shoes that I have worn heavily in all weather, and they're ok, but they do require regular upkeep. I make sure to condition the (top) leather on a regular basis, especially when they see a lot of rain/snow. I've had them re-soled after a year, and they went in at least one other time for other tlc.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:33 AM on July 15, 2015

I can't say enough good stuff about Alden. Not all of their soles are leather. They will require a bit of a break in period to really feel comfortable.

I wore my leather soled cordovan wingtips every day for two years in San Francisco. That included a walk down (and then back up) Potrero Hill, and required navigating several SOMA alleyways. Never had any problems, though they did have to be resoled after about a year and a half. I recently walked all over Portland in them (from Downtown, across the bridges way out east, then up to the North part of town near Mississippi). Completely comfortable. I mean, they're not Nike's, but they're the shoe I travel with because they work almost in any situation. I recently went hiking through an apple orchard in them. Had to get them shined after that ($2.50 at Nordstrom). They would not work in deep mud.

You may benefit from SuperFeet but you should bring them with you when you try the shoes on to ensure proper fit.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2015

Have a look at Josef Seibel. It's been a few years since I've owned a pair, since their women's shoes don't really suit my style, but every pair I've ever owned (erm, 4?) has been as comfortable as a slipper and durable.
posted by another zebra at 11:21 AM on July 15, 2015

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