Dress shoes are an essential part of every man’s outfit. But why is there such a wide pricing range?
Why is one pair $35 and the other nearly $400?
Is it just a brand name you’re paying for?
I’m going to compare three pairs of dress shoes at three distinct pricing points in this article.
So, let’s get the candidates in the room.
The first item on the list is a $35 pair of Target shoes. The next pair is $150 and comes from a small boutique brand. Allen Edmonds has the final pair, which costs $395.
So, what’s the difference between these several pairs of shoes? Let’s talk about cheap vs expensive shoes.
Quality of Leather
To begin, we’ll look at the leather.
The cheapest dress shoes are unlikely to be made of genuine leather. They’re going to use a faux leather instead of the real thing.
It resembles the real thing in appearance, but it’s actually made of plastic.
Its main benefit is that it is cheap, however it has some significant disadvantages when compared to genuine leather.
The first is sturdiness. Over time, faux leather will wear out and crack.
Then there’s the appearance. You won’t get the lovely color diversity of a real animal hide because this is plastic that looks like leather.
Any dress shoes that cost less than a hundred dollars will be constructed of imitation leather.
Let’s take a look at those mid-tier shoes now.
They’re constructed of top grain leather, which is a step down from full grain leather, which is the highest quality.
Top grain leather is thinner because it has been sanded to remove surface flaws.
This means the shoes will take less time to break in, but the leather will be less durable.
Full grain leather, which is the thickest and most durable cut of hide, will be used to make the $400 shoes.
Looking at how these shoes hold up over time is one way to fully see the differences between these leather varieties.
I’d just been wearing my cheap faux leather shoes for about an hour when they developed large creases. These aren’t going to come out.
The top grain shoes aren’t as awful, but with less than 10 hours of total wear time, they’ve developed some moderate wrinkles.
How about the $400 pair of shoes?
I’ve had a pair for about seven years and have worn them for well over 100 hours.
Not only have I spent a lot of time walking and sitting in these shoes, but I’ve also spent a lot of time dancing in them, and the leather still looks great with only minor creases.
Using a shoe tree after each wear is the key to keeping the leather looking this good. However, the quality of the leather is also important.
Even shoe trees couldn’t prevent creases in two less expensive pairs of shoes.
Let’s go on to the soles of the shoes.
Rubber soles will be sole on low-cost dress shoes since they are the most cost-effective to manufacture.
A leather sole will nearly always be found on a high-quality pair of dress shoes. The leather sole is more attractive, breathable, and will eventually fit to your foot’s shape.
You’ll be hard pushed to locate a pair of shoes under $100 that don’t have a rubber sole.
Quality of Construction
Let us now discuss construction quality.
The way the sole is joined to the leather upper is a clear giveaway of quality.
Your less expensive shoes will be glued together, whilst your more expensive shoes will feature a Blake stitch or a Goodyear welt.
The cheap pair of shoes appears to have a Goodyear welt at first inspection. However, it’s just plastic molded to look like a welt, but it’s still a bonded shoe.
One of the major benefits of a stitched or welted sole is that it is much more durable.
The Blake stitch will have a thinner profile, whilst the Goodyear welt will be more durable and weather resistant.
A Goodyear welt may be found on both my $150 and $400 dress shoes.
My $400 dress shoes’ soles are nearly worn out, but luckily, a stitched shoe can be taken to a cobbler who will replace the sole.
However, if the sole of those glued shoes wears out or comes loose, it’s time to toss them.
My cheap shoes will probably last one to three years, whereas my $400 pair of shoes will likely last 20 years or more with a few resole jobs.
I’m not sure how long the $150 pair will survive, but I’m guessing roughly five years.
Although the sole may be replaced if it becomes worn, I believe the top grain leather upper will begin to fall apart after a few years.
They probably cut costs on the build quality at this budget point, thus they’re more likely to fall apart over time.
Let’s discuss about the shoe lining next.
A cork lining will be found in the sole of a high-quality pair of dress shoes. As you walk, this will cushion your foot.
It’s a minor point, but it has a significant impact on how comfortable the shoes are to wear.
You won’t find any cork in the cheap-cost pair of shoes. More than likely, you’ll be dealing with rubber or plastic. It will get the job done, but your feet will surely notice the difference after a long day.
Cheap vs Expensive Shoes Verdict
It’s time to reach a decision.
So, which of these three shoes is the greatest deal?
Let’s start with the most affordable footwear.
Do I think it’s a good idea to buy them? In fact, I do.
If you don’t have enough money to buy a nicer pair of shoes, grab them to hold you over till you can afford something better.
What about the mid-tier shoes? Are they worth the investment?
These, in my opinion, should be avoided.
You’re still sacrificing a lot of quality, so you’d be better off saving your money.
The $400 pair of shoes are well worth the investment.
They look fantastic, are really comfortable, and will last you for decades if properly cared for.
If you can’t afford them at full price, keep an eye out for a bargain or buy factory seconds, which is exactly what I did with my pair.
I acquired these for $250 seven years ago, which was a wonderful price.
So now you understand the difference between cheap and expensive dress shoes.