The Case for Expensive Shoes

By Chris Birk on 12 October 2010 (Updated 7 October 2011) 31 comments
Photo: Roubicek

Scrimping and saving tend to become art forms during bleak economic times. But many cost-conscious consumers cling to a short list of must-haves that are worth purchasing no matter the price — or the day's final numbers on Wall Street.

High-quality shoes should make the cut every recession.

That doesn't mean you need to drop $900 on a pair of Esquivels. (Although you better believe those hand-crafted beauties are going to outshine and outlast the $20 bargain basement pair at the nearby shoe emporium.)

But opening your wallet once to purchase a great pair of shoes can save you from having to go back to the well — sometimes just months later — to replace poorly made products. This is almost always about function over fashion, although with shoes, like most things, you often get what you pay for when it comes to aesthetics. (See also: 5 Ways to Get Discounted Designer Shoes Without Using eBay)

Here's a few more incentives to never skim on footwear.

Comfort

Cheaply-made shoes just aren't comfortable. Much of the cost of shoes goes to material, and much of that material is between the ground and the person wearing the shoe. If you wear your shoes day in and day out (which you can do with a quality pair), make sure that you buy a well-made, high-quality shoe. Your feet will thank you.

Durability

In the long run, wearing a well-crafted shoe each day for several years is much less expensive than wearing a series of cheaper shoes for less time. Sure, the upfront cost is slightly more, but you'll wear a better quality shoe for substantially longer than a poor quality shoe, and you'll get more wear from them simply because you'll want to put them on. When you shop, look for a classic design that will be in style for years — your shoes may very well last that long.

Style

Speaking of fashion, more expensive shoes tend to come in classic styles that will be in fashion for years to come. Sure, there are always those trendy outliers, but overall, the shape, colors, and style of a higher quality shoe will endure for years, giving you plenty of use. In contrast, lower quality shoes are generally designed for short-term use and are geared toward the trend of the moment, rendering them quickly unstylish when the trend passes.

You should certainly hunt for a deal whenever possible, but don't be surprised if one is hard to come by. There just aren't a lot of Ferragamo coupons in the Sunday advertisements.

3.75
Average: 3.8 (8 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

31 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
Matt

Great post! I recently wrote about something very similar. Seems most people would prefer disposable shoes, but I see it otherwise.

http://www.organicminimalist.com/2010/09/where-did-all-cordwainers-go.html

Guest's picture
Guest

That's a very male perspective on shoe buying. While I don't necessarily disagree, often the most expensive women's shoes are (a) more expensive because of style/ branding, rather than quality (b) incredibly damaging to the feet and (c) so insanely expensive that buying moderately priced shoes would be cheaper in the long run. See, for example, Louboutins, whose more classic shoes, at $1000, are distinguishable from most others based on their extra-high wobbly heels and their trademark red sole.

Guest's picture
Guest

I disagree with this entirely. Every high heel I've bought from a discount shoe store (Payless, K-Mart, etc.) has ended up being uncomfortable once you've had them on more than an hour or two. Whereas the $100 shoes (that I buy for half that price at DSW with coupons and when they're on sale) are so comfy I can wear them an entire 9-hour work day and not have any foot pain or sore spots.

It takes time and attention to detail to craft a well-made shoe that fits the actual shape of a foot - and that time is reflected in the price of a quality shoe vs. a cheap "throw-away" shoe that you'll end up not even wearing all that much because they hurt your feet!

Guest's picture
Guest

I recently purchased a used pair of Allen Edmond shoes from eBay for $30. The retail price was $300 so I paid 10% of the retail price for shoes that I can have resoled. They were in great condition and already broken in. When I wear them, nobody knows that I am the second owner of them. They just compliment me on the shoes.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with Guest above. Women's shoes tend to be of poor quality regardless of the price. Most often you pay for brand name and style, something that's also true for clothes. Men tend to value quality higher, and therefore get higher quality garments for their money.

Also, "wearing a well-crafted shoe each day" could be interpreted as it's safe to wear even high quality shoes every day. This is not true as shoes have to rest and dry out completely between uses. It's also a must to take care of your shoes and shine them regularly if they are to last (no pun intended.)

Guest's picture
Laura D

I'm inclined to agree with the poster who said it's slightly different where women's shoes are concerned. Although I absolutely agree with the premise of the post, it's trickier to equate price with quality as far as women's shoes are concerned. There is a definite dropping-off point. Fashion is also more subtle for women--we have a LOT more choices than you guys! which means a lot more chances to invest in a pair of expensive boots only to realize that the legging/boots trend now looks hopelessly dated. I guess, for women, it's just a little harder to find that ideal spot where price and quality intersect.

Guest's picture
Kristy

Yes, could somebody please run an article on which brands actually sell high-quality women's shoes? If I could buy one pair of shoes a decade, that would be great, but I can't figure out if anyone actually makes shoes that last.

Guest's picture
Holly

I agree with Kristy. What women's shoe brands qualify as quality? I bought a pair of $300 Via Spigas that I got from a DSW clearance rack for $20, but they didn't even last a full year before the bottoms were heavily damaged and parts of the patent leather were cracked.

Guest's picture
Kim

Great post! I have recently "refurbished" my Birkenstock Footprints dress/work shoes for the third time, bringing my total years of wear to 7, for an initial outlay of around $100 a pair and probably $50-$75 in repair costs over those 7 years. I think it's worth it. I can buy a $20 pair of shoes that fall apart in 2-3 months, or I can buy carefully (and generally new or barely worn, on Ebay) and have my shoes for years. I gave up on fashion shoes when I gave up on frivolous spending. They're not the most sleek or stylish things but they are sturdy and do well for work in an office. Physically, I feel better in good, supportive shoes, and my conscious rests a little easier when I know I'm being a responsible and careful consumer. I am happy to see like minds in these comments!

Andrea Karim's picture

It's true that not all expensive women's shoes will provide comfort and durability. I'm so fickle and lazy that I always buy shoes that are cheap, knowing that I won't have them for more than one season.

It would be interesting, though, to know which, if any, women's brands are known for high-quality construction. Hmm... maybe I will be writing this article over the next few days....

Guest's picture
Guest

Cole-Hahn, Mephisto, and 1803 are quality brands. Ecco used to be before Made in China.

Guest's picture
Margaret

Josef Seibel shoes will last a long time and they are very comfortable. Unfortunately most are hideously ugly, I must say Germanic. If you can find some that are passable, you'll probably have them forever--they don't wear out.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have tried almost all the high end shoe brands and own them. I would say hands down for craftsmanship is Gucci. Gucci is just the best in terms of construction and materials. I would say that Chloe is the best for luxurious materials. Their scalloped ballet flats are made of luxuriously soft lambskin. I have never felt a shoe like that before. I would say that Chanel is a close second (vs. Gucci) when it comes to quality. I have worn these shoes SO MUCH and you would NEVER know, unless you looked at the insole. They are amazing quality. And for most comfortable shoes, Ferragamo. They are still very well made, but the different width options really helps if you have wide or very narrow feet. Other brands I own are Giuseppe Zanotti, Jimmy Choo, Roger Vivier, Louboutin, Dior and Tods. Honestly, with all these brands there is a certain lightness and luxury to the shoe while it is still impeccable quality. No shoe from Cole Haan or Payless will ever off you that luxury. Just go into a high end store like Saks, Bergdorf Goodman or even a brand boutique and you will feel that luxurious quality of all the shoes being offered.

Guest's picture
Laura D

I wanted to add that for women with small feet (I usually wear a 6.5), boys' shoes are a great value if you're looking for a basic sneaker. Even basic boys' shoes at a place like K-Mart, if you can believe it, seem comparable to the women's athletic shoes you can buy at the mall. Granted, I'm not a heavy user of running shoes or anything like that, but I traveled all over Europe in a pair of black boys' basketball shoes and they held up amazingly.

Guest's picture
Belinda

Size 4 1/2 here. :-) I just bought a great pair of sneakers in the kids' department at Target for $14. The same shoe in the women's sizes was $30! Sometimes it's worth it to have small feet.

Guest's picture
jim

I've heard that Dansko is a pretty high quality brand for womens shoes.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work in retail and am still wearing my Dansko clogs that I bought in fall of 2004 (it's now spring 2011). Function over style, definitely, but when you're on your feet for 10 or 12 hours, quality matters!

Guest's picture

I absolutely agree that when it comes to shoes, be willing to invest in several high quality styles that you can wear with just about everything in your wardrobe. If they are comfortable and go with everything, your price-per-wear will be greatly reduced. Great article!

Melissa Tosetti
www.TheSavvyLife.com

Guest's picture

Expensive shoes, like so many items that can be displayed (clothing, shoes, watches, handbags, cars) seem to fall into one of two categories: expensive because of quality material and construction, or pricey to appeal to the insecure, the showoffs of the world. Of course, there can occasionally be overlap between the two categories, as with the popularity of the Herman Miller Aeron office chairs, which are high quality, but because it's a "name," also appeals to the showoffs.

Quality women's shoes (and most quality things, for that matter) tend to fall into a price range, an upper as well as lower range; from what I've seen, shoes over $400 are for display (stilettos, by definition, are too impractical to ever be "good" quality, as the heel is so narrow as to be able to fall within sidewalk cracks, making them quickly scuffed [this is also a problem with "kitten" heels, although they are lower, the narrowness causes them to be scuffed quickly], so both types of shoes should be avoided, no matter how much or how little they cost. (I speak from experience with the kitten heels, which looked terrible after just a couple of wearings, as the heels sank into cracks various times. Thank goodness I only paid $40 for them, but still I'm miffed.)

Anyhoo, good quality shoes in a variety of sizes (which is a mission for me, as I wear a size 11) are available from Nordstroms, online or in their stores, as the chain began as a shoe store. The store is a wonderland of fashionable, comfortable shoes (even the regular shoe section, not just the designer shoe salon), and it has a sale at least once a year (usually in August, I think). Quality shoe brands I've happily purchased from there (from the regular shoe section) include: Franco Sarto, Standing Room Only (SRO), Magdesians. I think they also keep in stock brands such as Trotters (formerly known as Old Maine Trotters), Aerosoles, etc., and other of the "comfort" brands (which used to be called "orthopedic" shoes, but they upgraded).

In the Washington area, quality "comfort" shoes can be found at one of the Comfort One shoe chain stores, or online. Comfort One carries lots of the quality "comfort" brands such as Mephisto, Arche, Dansko, Aerosoles, Birkenstock, etc. It pays to get a customer discount card, and get the e-mail alerts for sales, which can be substantial.

However, even the less expensive (and needlessly denigrated) Crocs brand, at least the Mary Jane ones that I wear on a regular basis, hold up quite well, and can be purchased online as well as from stores.

Guest's picture
Christine

Attilio Giusti for womens work shoes are well made an super comfortable. They are not well known in the States so you can find them on sale at the end of the season (full price 300$ ish.

Guest's picture
Vibeke

I couldn't agree more. There is an additional aspect: health. Good shoes and boots are designed to keep your joints and back healthy and your feet warm (or airy, as the case may be). Health should allways be our first priority when we make spending desicions IMO. T-shirts, scarfes and costume jewellry can be used as fashion items if you crave such things (as I do).
But shoes - not so much.

Guest's picture
mic43ll3

I agree that cheap shoes are a false economy for many people. I walked the soles off of three pairs of Walmart shoes last year, then gave up and got a decent pair of Merrell mary janes. Not only have they lasted far longer than the Walmart pumps, they only cost twice the price at Marshalls.

Also agree with Coming and Going that kitten heels get caught in every crack and sidewalk grate and aren't worth the investment. Fool me once...

Guest's picture
Lizzeh

I agree entirely with this article. Cheap shoes are just not worth it. The only time I'll get "cheap" shoes is for working out- and they still had better be quality and comfortable and I'm willing to pay about $60 for them. I expect that if I am working out in them every day they should last me about 2 years. i usually look for new balance.
For every day I am pretty much exclusively a Doc Martens gal. I know it's not 1996 anymore- but they are still the most comfortable and durable pair of shoes I can find. AND they are starting to be a bit more fashionable in my opinion.
My first pair I got when I was 16 and I got rid of them when I was 28 and I donated them because they were still perfectly good I just didn't use them anymore. TWELVE years for a $100 pair of boots- I'd say they did their time for the money for sure.
I am a pretty low maintenance girl though. A summer pair - sandals. a winter pair- boots or shoes. and I'm happy. Some day I may add a "girlie" pair for dresses but since they are not essential I've gone without.

other good brands for women are usually very earthy, not so much fashionable- dansko, birkenstock, simple, teva, keen...

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree to some extent. I like the well-made quality of expensive shoes, but in women's shoes they are not necessarily more durable. I cheat by trying shoes on at good stores and then finding them on ebay. Even shoes advertised as "used" there tend to be almost new, but lots of the shoes are new. Because I have to have shoes that are very comfortable for walking, I mostly buy Mephisto and I have a lot of them. There is no way I could possibly buy these shoes at retail prices.

Guest's picture

Good article!! I'm always looking for ways to save money on shoes. Buying quality and buying online (for me) is certainly important as I always need a new pair to match this outfit or that outfit and it can get pricey. Zappos is a great option (free shipping both ways). My favorite shoes are Danskos as they are so comfortable. Here is my experience on shoe hoarding and finally parting ways with some of my shoes! I'm sure a lot of women can relate.

http://www.jan-leasure.com/save-space-end-shoe-hoarding/

Guest's picture

I can't agree with this post more. I used to be a big "cheap shoe" collector, but I ended up with a closet full of sort of cute, incredibly uncomofortable shoes I never wore.

The thing that I have found with high-quality, well-made shoes is, not only are they more comfortable and longer lasting, but they also are easier to repair.

When a shoe is made from genuine leather with a rubber sole, for example, a cobbler has a lot more to work with than if the shoe is made of some crazy man-made material. And often the cost of repairing your shoes is at least half the cost of a new pair of shoes, and it extends the life of a pair of shoes that you love and that fits you well.

The other thing I do to mitigate the higher cost of good quality shoes is I try to buy them on sale as much as possible. I have a few classy shoe stores that I frequent, and I'm on their mailing lists for all their sales. Whenever I see that they're having a sale, I stop in and see if there's anything they have that fits what I need. I often save 50-70% off the retail price, and end up with a cute/comfortable/durable pair of shoes that I will be able to wear and repair for several years.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not a bad article, but there's so many different types of shoes that I feel there should be a few caveats given that what people consider cheap at Footlocker is a big difference from what is considered cheap at Payless. In the case of runners and athletes I'd say price is no substitute for careful fit and experimentation since the gap between a $40 and a $60 shoe is often small and the differences above $80 are then in turn often even smaller still. That's why many runners like myself often purchase several pairs of the same shoe if they find a model that for whatever reason happens to fit our needs best rather than dicker about trying to compensate for yearly changes. Frankly, I have yet to find a pair of $80+ running shoes that last long enough or feel good enough to really justify taking them over a well-fitting pair of $40-$60 shoes, particularly given that there frankly isn't much science to support the idea that an off-the-shelf pair of Nikes will really help prevent injury anyway.

Maggie Wells's picture

Dude, I have one word for you: Fluevogs. They never wear out. I am currently wearing a pair I bought in 1995. I buy one pair every other year. This summer I took 6 pairs to the shoe repair guy in town to have them resoled and cleaned to the tune of $46. Even the heels are comfortable. They are mega-expensive (The starting price is usually 200 bucks) but well, well worth it. Fluevog fans tend to be fanatical about them. Particularly good if you like classic shoes with an interesting twist and your foot is not narrow.

Guest's picture

The Case for Shoes? Open and shut case! Non-negotiable!:0)

Guest's picture
Leah

I disagree. Shoes are made to hit the ground all day long. No matter how great a quality of shoe you buy (I'm assuming most of us are investing in work wear shoes here), it will still get dirty, scuff, and eventually wear out. Even if you never wear shoes outside and only to cocktail parties. Also, for women's high heel shoes, the heels will inevitably get stuck in a crack somewhere and damage the material on the heel.

You can get very comfortable, long-lasting shoes at a very reasonable price. If your shoe is uncomfortable, perhaps you should try a new brand or a new size.

Guest's picture
Guest

Great post and I completely agree. High quality shoes are an investment into the health of your legs and feet, beauty and comfort. I purchased a pair of special occasion Riches et Celebres (see www.retc.it) pumps that are hand stitched (incredibly high quality and durable) and designed to elevate and cushion the foot for optimal comfort, and they live up to their promise. It's the best shoe decision that I made, and I truly believe that a great pair of shoes can last you a long time and you should enjoy your pumps instead of waiting for the end of the night so you can take them off.