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From the Ground Up: Shoes


There are many things about being female that are just plain unfair. Women’s clothing many times does not come with pockets or the pockets are small and useless (and yes I know many women refuse to un-sew the openings because ‘it ruins the line’). Women’s shoes many times are built along the philosophical lines of Chinese footbinding. But my major beef (or bone to pick depending) has to do with simple shoe quality. No matter how expensive women’s shoes are, unless you are getting something like orthopedic shoes from your podiatrist (and those can be absolutely costly and we won’t discuss the fashion factor), or perhaps something like the penny loafers still handsewn by Sebago, you are getting a shoe that is held together with glue.

Ah, but you say, “Aunt Toby, I don’t care about that – they just talked to me…and asked me to buy them and take them home and love them…”

And Aunt Toby’s answer to that one is: “Poppycock – if you want to truly save money on clothing and shoes, you have to buy things that you can wear for a long time , can maintain and can get repaired if need be.”

When you buy shoes that are being held together with glue, with plastic heels that are covered with fabric or glued leather, the number of events that can turn those shoes into something that goes into the garbage can are many. Fabric and glue do not stand up to rain, sleet, snow, salt or commercial ‘ice melt’ products used on sidewalks. Driving a car in shoes built like this scuffs up the leather and fabric on the heels, and though they can sometimes be repaired using solvents and pulling the covering back down over the heel insert and regluing, many times the repair cannot be done so that they look really good – leather will only stretch so far; fabric doesn’t stretch well at all.

See the photograph above. The men’s shoes belong to the DH and are years old – the DH is a guy who has five suit or sportcoat/dress slacks outfits that he wears in rotation to work every day of the week, with dress shoes to match. He also is hard on his shoes and goes through the ball of the sole. These shoes probably cost, retail when he bought them, $125.00 several years ago. The DH always buys heavy leather shoes with leather linings and welted soles. What you are seeing here is a welted sole – this is a separate piece which is sewn in such a way that the sole sticks out a teensy bit from the shoe itself.

Repeat after me: Welted Soles Are Good. And the reason they are good is shown by the flipped over shoe in the photograph which shows the following: Welted Soles and Heels can be taken off by the shoe repair person and replaced…over and over and over again. As long as you have ‘the upper’ intact (that’s the part we think of as ‘the shoe’), you can still sew on another sole and hammer on another set of heels and Voila! The DH just got his soles and heels replaced; he basically has a practically new pair of shoes.

Let’s do the math:
Original Cost: $125.00
Age so far: 6 years
Number of times worn a week: 2
Number of times worn in current life: 2x52x6…………624.00
Number of times resoled and reheeled: 2, 1@$25 and the latest, @$35…$60.00
Maintenance: Cleaning and polishing on a regular basis.
So, total cost to wear to today’s date: $125.00 + $60.00 = $185.00
Cost per wearing: $185.00 divided by 624 wearings = $.296…..29.6 CENTS.

The lonely little green dress shoe there belongs to me and has a wraparound sole put on with industrial glue along with a heel unit that comes down into the sole, a pretty common design these days. That pair of shoes breaks just about every rule I’m going to state below with regard to shoe investment: They are olive green, a once trendy color. They were a bargain which I have not gotten much wearing from. I can’t get them repaired due to the sole design. They will probably end up in the trash.

With women’s glued shoes, all you need is one really nasty piece of weather the first time you wear them, or a mis-step into a pothole filled with slush and salt and boom! That one wearing is going to cost you the entire cost of the shoes. And how much did you spend on the past pair of dress shoes you got? OK…so you hold your nose and buy the Chinese made ones from the big chain place and you only paid $35.00 for them. But still – you wore them how many times before they fell apart, you got tired of them because they were out of fashion, or you decided they hurt? Unless you got 118 wearings out of them, they cost you more than the DH’s shoes cost him. And he still has these shoes with the brand new soles and heels on them which will last him another 2 years and another 208 wearings, which will lower the cost per wear to….22 cents per wearing. You can never catch up. Your per wearing cost for shoes is always going to be more…unless….

Unless you do certain things to
a) increase the lifetime wearability of your shoes
b) increase the lifetime fashion-ability and style of your shoes
c) monitor your shoe wear

Now, for me to tell women to go out and buy welted dress shoes is really sort of fruitless. Even if you lived in a place like New York and could find an actual custom shoe maker there (and there are several), you probably would not be able to get a welted shoe made on a dress heel last. You would get a shoe that fit you better. You would get a shoe that would have components that you wanted and at a quality you wanted, but you would probably end up with a glued shoe. So, how do you increase the lifetime wearability of your shoes?

1) Stop thinking of dress shoes as a shoe you wear all the time…in the rain…in the snow…in the salt. Dress shoes are what you wear when you get to the office or the party or whatever – but wear the tool for weather that was designed for muck, mire, rain and salt: boots. There are all sorts of really cute ‘Wellie’ type boots out there in crazy patterns and nice colors (and lots of sales now). Invest in a pair of boots – especially ones that have a removeable innersole. They will protect your feet – carry your shoes. This will instantaneously increase the wearability of your shoes.

2) When you buy shoes, buy leather shoes. Yes, I know there are folks who do not want animal hides touching their bodies. I accept that. But unless you are getting fabric shoes made from hemp (and there are those out there too), vegan shoes are made out of vinyl products which come from petroleum. I’m not going to get into the whole political and economic thing about petroleum based products here – what I AM going to talk about is foot health. It is not healthy to wear shoes that do not breathe. Your foot is made of skin – it breathes and needs another breathable item surrounding it to protect it. Fabrics breathe but are not terribly protecting or durable. Leather breathes. It is also something that you can protect and waterproof to a certain extent with the application of colored waxes called ‘shoe polish’ (remember THAT stuff?). I happen to think that the act of cleaning and polishing shoes is really neat – but then again, I am also someone who has very fond memories of sniffing mimeograph stencils when they were first handed out (something that I am sure accounts for some of my more odd personality quirks 45 years later). But polishing shoes protects them and that also increases the lifetime wearability, thus decreasing your cost per wearing.

3) Switch out your shoes; don’t wear the same shoes every day.

Increasing the lifetime fashionability and style of your shoes. How do we do this?
1) Pick basic styles in basic colors. I don’t care if you like national school bus chrome yellow or Tahitian blue in your clothing. Can you find yellow and turquoise shoes? You bet, especially if those colors are ‘in season’. But next season, boom…they are not, and into the trash those shoes will go. You’ve just increased your per wear cost exponentially and added more to a landfill someplace. But basic colors that you can wear with anything: luggage tan, cream/off white, black and brown. If you wear a lot of navy blue, you might think of getting a pair but the problem is that navy blue seems to be a color that hews to that old saw about Eskimos having 100 words for snow: The navy blue you have in your favorite dress or suit will probably never match what you see in the shoes…better to go with black shoes and let it go at that. I hate white shoes. Period. As for styles – go with basic stuff that goes with what you wear. If you dress formally for work, get pumps (or, ‘court shoes’ as they are called in the UK) with a heel that is comfortable for you. If you wear pants, you can either wear pumps or something flatter such as an oxford or loafer style. Expect to pay some good money for leather – buy something solid, with a good sole (not something like what is above that can’t be taken off) and don’t get funky heel styles (like a Louis Heel which is the leg-o-mutton sleeve of shoe-dom). Also, once you find a manufacturer with shoes that seem to fit you well, that means you have found someone with a ‘last’ which is good for your foot. Remember that manufacturer or manufacturers on a card in your wallet. These are your ‘go to’ shoe makers. Mine are Franco Sarto(tm), Aerosoles(tm) and Naturalizer(tm), all three of which seem to use a wider last, even on their B widths.

2)Don’t buy shoes on sale unless they are on your list of ‘I need’ – in terms of basic styles and colors. I do not care if they call to you like Snoopy’s chocolate chip cookies or the calls of Odysseus’ Sirens. You do NOT need Tahitian Blue strappy sandles for that one summer dress in your closet. Be tenacious. “I need a dark brown tie shoe with a two inch heel in leather.” There you go.

Monitoring shoe wear.
What happens to your shoes when you take them off when you get home? You ARE taking off your shoes when you get home, right…and changing into something else…a pair of sneaks or something else. If you have gotten them wet, are you just leaving them dripping in the front entrance on the rubber mat or are you drying them off, putting shoe trees in them or paper and putting them aside to dry (not on the hot air registers please)? When you take them off, just take 30 seconds to take a look at them – are they scuffed; do they need a polish; are the soles and heels ok? Don’t do what most of us do and throw them under the bed until the next time you drag them out and discover that they need attention. Take care of that now or put them with whatever you take to work tomorrow so that you can drop them off at the shoe makers on your way to get them repaired. The shoemaker is really your friend; these folks are many times true artists and have all sorts of magic tricks they can use to replace and repair. But they can’t do much if you leave things so long that the leather on the heel of those dress pumps is all scuffed up and rolled up the back of the heel insert. So, having maintenance done before the shoes are in terrible shape is a good thing to do.

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