Growing up in a village in a developing country taught me a lot about the true value of a dollar. It pays to only buy quality footwear. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a time of small-town shoemakers and cobblers who custom tailor shoes to precision. Finding quality footwear in today’s world of big brands and mass production takes a little bit more knowledge and research than it used to.
Quality of Materials
A shoe upper refers to anything above the outsole. The quality of the uppers determines how your shoes will age and how good (or bad) they look over time. Bad quality shoes usually use cheap upper materials like plastic, low-grade leathers, and thin suede. When it comes to leather goods it’s important to note the golden rule: Not all leather is created equal.
For the very best in casual, work and winter footwear, stick to full grain leather. Full grain leather is durable, breathable and molds to your feet with repeated wear. It’s natural texture also allows your shoes to age with grace and develop an attractive patina over time.
More formal dress shoes will use fine leathers such as calfskin, scotch grain or authentic patent leather. Fine leathers need more care than full-grain leather, but the payoff comes from their quality.
A shoe’s construction is how the uppers and soles hold together. There are two main ways shoes are constructed; stitched and glued. High-quality shoes are almost always stitched. This means that the uppers and outsoles are stitched together with thread, or glued together with good quality materials that would corrode with time.
Casual sneakers, as opposed to dress shoes, are usually glued. The downside is they cannot be repaired or resoled which means you get permanent wear over time. So it is important that the material used for the glue is able to withstand the test of time.
Determining footwear production quality involves taking a closer look at how the shoes are made The highest quality footwear brands handcraft their shoes and boots in small batches. Handcrafted shoes are often made with better quality materials. And because they’re hand-stitched, they receive higher attention to detail during construction.
Price should never be your sole determining factor in judging if a shoe is of high quality. Instead, use price to give you a general clue of where the shoe lands on the quality scale. The easiest judgment of quality is at the cheaper end. High-quality materials and craftsmanship are expensive. If a shoe costs $40, it’s safe to bet that the brand has cut a few corners when it comes to quality.