TimelessMan has and will always focus on the higher end of menswear and tailoring, globally. But a lot of TM readers are not yet at the point of being able to afford most of the clothing and products featured here, or their priorities lie elsewhere (perfectly reasonably) and spending circa 1,500 (like my Saint Crispin’s) – 4,000 (like my bespoke Cleverley’s) Euros on a pair of shoes just isn’t a realistic option at this point in time, or into the future. Given the popularity of the recent article on quality, affordable, online options for menswear, I thought the same theme would be equally useful for quality men’s shoes.
The purpose of this article is to highlight a few of the shoemakers who I’ve had personal experience with, and who I see as the best makers for the entry point for quality men’s shoes.
There are other shoemakers out there who make a decent shoe for less than those listed here, but the lasts typically lack refinement, the leathers are of lesser quality, or the brand pretends to be one thing, but is another (such as claiming a “Made in England” title, when the shoes are mostly made in China, with final details being completed in the UK to allow the claim to be legal).
Anything from the high-street brands can be thrown straight in the bin, given they’ll fall apart in 6 months anyway. Most high street brands rely on the cheapest possible construction and materials and then place huge mark-ups on the shoe and spend everything on branding, expecting you to return in 6 months for your next pair. Don’t fall for it. Buy quality shoes.
The brands listed below are well made, well designed, authentic to their claims and will, if properly cared for, last for many years, able to be re-lasted when the time comes. Anything less than this and you’re working on a false economy.
The minute the Albaladejo family realise they could charge twice as much for their shoes, we’re all screwed. Made in Mallorca and now in the 5th generation of family ownership, Carmina produce excellent shoes (the images above are all Carmina shoes), for a fraction of what they should. Prices have stepped up in the last 2 years, but they’re still very good for what you get.
Their range of lasts is extensive, from the sleek, soft square Simpson last, to the more sturdy Oscar last, better suited to boots. They also make in different widths on most lasts, so you’ll won’t have any trouble finding something that works for your feet. The designs cover the entire range of classic men’s shoes, from oxfords to jumper boots, and everything in between.
Last year they launched their custom program, allowing customers to design their shoes online, working from a range of in-house templates, selecting everything from leathers to brass nailed sole monograms, rivaling that of many of the high end makers MTO programs. There’s an up-charge for this (around 20%, from memory) but for anyone who wants more say in the design of their shoes, it’s a good option and still a lot cheaper than similar quality shoes from other makers.
The only thing I’d love to see Carmina start doing is a fiddleback waist.
Full disclosure; Justin’s (Fitzpatrick) a friend of mine, so I can’t guarantee impartiality here, but a part of the reason we’re friends is that I respect his passion for shoe-making and his encyclopedic knowledge of the craft. He lives and breathes shoes and has done so for a long time. He’s a thoroughly decent guy and one of the rare individuals in menswear who isn’t full of sh*t.
Many will know Justin from his successful blog The Shoe Snob, which he started years ago, when apprenticing for Stefano Bemer in Florence. having left Seattle to pursue bespoke shoe-making, with no idea how he would make it work. He’s since moved to London and, a few years ago, launched J. Fitzpatrick. Made in Spain and Goodyear welted, his shoes vary between classic styles and classic with a modern interpretation (like his button boots). I own a pair of Windermere’s in Mocha Calf and they’re as versatile a shoe as you could hope for, working with most suit colours, and equally comfortable with jeans.
I’ve been meaning to find out why you’d start a shoe company in the middle of the second world war, but it seems to have worked out for Carlos Santos.
Manufacturing in Portugal, family owned Carlos Santos shoes are the most affordable of the makers listed here.
I bought a pair a few months ago, specifically for this article, to see how they perform first hand and I can happily recommend them. Sturdily constructed and Goodyear welted, they’re a well made shoe, perfectly suitable for everyday wear. The last could do with being a little better refined, it feels a bit clunky to me and some subtle changes would make it much more visually appealing, but all in all (and for the price) it’s hard to find faults here. The only other thing I’d have liked would be to have the welt clipped more closely to the upper. It’d only take a fraction of time to achieve for each pair, but the result would be a much more streamlined look from above.
You can buy Justin’s shoes directly from his e-shop. Carmina and Carlos Santos also have their own e-shops, but I’ve found Skoaktiebolaget to be the easiest to purchase from online. Leatherfoot is also a good option for Carmina’s.
There are other makers out there who, I’m sure, make a similarly good product, but I haven’t had any first hand experience with them and I’m not likely to anymore, but the 3 makers listed above provide all anyone needs for a lifetime of quality shoes, priced very fairly.