Value for money in shoes

July 25, 2009

One of the reasons I have this blog, apart from enjoying hectoring you about my economic moral superiority, is that in making a pretence of being a sensible person online, I feel some pressure to live up to my own hype. So I’m wandering around town peering in windows*, feeling like spending some money, and then I think: Stephen, is that frugal? And then I don’t. See? The blog works, not for you, but for me.

For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking I need new shoes. My main pairs of black and brown shoes are both near wearing out. I am enough of a traditionalist that I believe I need a black pair and a brown pair in order to be a properly-dressed chap.

Unfortunately, both the pairs of shoes in question date from a time before I really cared much about frugality in the footwear department, and so neither pair can easily be resoled. Instead I’ve been pottering around shoe shops at lunchtime, marvelling at how much ugly and flimsy shoes cost.

Anyway, I finally bought some expensive shoes the other day. Really quite expensive indeed. Very sturdy, resolable, stylish rather than fashionable shoes, but expensive. Allowing for inflation, not as expensive as the Docs I bought in the 80s, but expensive. And the pleasure I felt in admiring my well-shod feet was somewhat mitigated by a sense that I had failed to be frugal.

Part of this sense stemmed from some ignorance about a fundamental issue: how long should a pair of shoes last?

Luckily my friend Mary told me a simple rule of thumb which I think seems pretty sound: one dollar per wear. So $100 shoes that get worn twice a week should last out a year.

By that criterion, the old Hush Puppies I’m replacing were successful. They cost about $200 some years ago, and have easily been worn once a week since. The Campers, which I loved and found very comfortable, were not. Their soles are so soft that they’ve barely lasted two years, even though they cost more than $300. I’m afraid I won’t be buying another pair again.

Interestingly, the cheap as chips sneakers I got from the Warehouse also pass easily, especially since I abuse them for martial arts training. They cost $15 a pair, so they’re well on the credit side of the ledger. It’s like pure profit every time I wear them… I’m hoping to get 10 years out of these new shoes and feel the same way about them.

So yeah, anyway, what counts as good value in shoes to you?

*A more common-sensical person, and honestly I am that person most of the time, would not peer in shop windows in the first place. Most of the time. Except when I need shoes.



  1. $1 per wear seems really expensive to me. I bought two pairs of shoes from the Last Footwear company in the mid 90s and I still wear both of them. I paid probably $400 for both pairs, so at $1 per wear they should have lasted 200 wears each, or at twice a week, 2 years. That’s why I prefer paying a big amount upfront but doing it rarely – quality lasts.

    I don’t wear shoes inside though (sometimes slippers in the winter), and I go barefoot outside alot in the summer (footwear gets used when it’s needed eg gardening, town).

  2. I am a girl and have a slight “shoe-thing”. The rule of thumb above sounds good and these days I go for style rather than fashion.

    I have also found that leather and sound construction are good things. In my old job when I was on my feet most of the time I bought Soul Shoes (made in Raglan). After a while they fitted to my feet and were incredibly comfy (although perhaps not so stylish). The makers did resoling too. Also excellent value.

    In other frugal shoe stuff I’ve just taken my partners’ expensive work shoes into the local cobbler for resoling and re-heeling – $25!!! And today I op-shopped some Overland boots in excellent nick for $6.99

  3. I’m still wearing a pair of leather-soled Minnie Coopers MaryJanes I’ve had for twelve years. They’re still making the same style, and I still love them. They’re classics. I’ve had them resoled three times, and they’re due for another retread soon. I feel smug everytime I wear them.

  4. I think $1 per wear might be considered an upper limit, or a minimum requirement, depending on how you look at it.

    Jeeze, AAML: seven dollars for boots? I am seething with envy. What a score.

  5. They are gorgeous leather boots too. Checked the RRP – $219!

  6. love this blog

    that is all

  7. Cost per wear could be a useful measure, but not all wears are equal. If you wear a pair of shoes hundreds of times, but each time they are uncomfortable and ugly, then no matter how cheap they are they were a waste of money. If you wear a pair of shoes only twice, but each time they make you feel like a million dollars, then they were a bargain!

  8. I always buy the same boots: elastic-sided, black leather ankle boots. Bought my current pair in a winter sale in Cambridge when I was so pregnant with Becca (now five and a bit) that a team of shop assistants had to help winch me into them. Can’t remember what I paid: maybe about 50 quid? Have had them resoled once. Still wear them at least 4 times a week. Best shoe buy ever.

  9. tom: “redefining value”.

    i have some old caterpillars that cost me something like $300 in the mid-90s, but i wore then dayin dayout for three or more years.

    meanwhile, i have some canvas shoes from the warehouse ($20) that i’ve never worn… $20 down the gurgler right there.

  10. As I’m currently vaguely looking for a decent pair of comfortable black leather shoes, can anyone recommend a brand that’s comfortable, long-lasting, and reasonably stylish? I’m tempted to get another pair of docs (last pair lasted an unfeasibly long time), but wondering if anyone else had useful opinions/experience.

  11. Jack: recently, I’ve bought a few pairs by Democrata (available at Atticus). They tend to be stylish without being too modish, comfortable, and hard-wearing enough if you look after the soles & heels. While I’ve no idea what labour & environmental conditions are like in Brazil, I tend to avoid Chinese-made where possible, so that’s a plus. They’re also relatively affordable at about $300, and Atticus often have sales so you can sometimes pick them up for much less.

  12. i lost a toenail trying to break in the only pair of docs i ever owned.

  13. I think that Bruce Sterling manifesto is worth recalling here, particularly the point that you should spend more time selecting shoes and beds than you do buying a car. A good pair of shoes will seriously improve your life.

    I was lucky enough to find some dark blue Scarpa hiking boots 6 years ago. They were a couple of years old and only cost me $4, and I estimate they would have been worn probably 1300-1400 times in that period, including up a fair number of mountains.

    They’re smart enough for 80% of occasions (if I had to wear suits it would obviously be less), extremely comfortable, and absolutely reliable. What they also have, being mid-high range boots, is stability. They give your feet great control over any surface, in comfort. They’re warm and dry, but also breathable so your feet don’t sweat and they stay odourless. You know I’m in love with these shoes.

    I doubt I’ll ever have such luck again, but that’s okay. They’re on the edge of decline and will need proper (expensive) repairs soon. It’s almost worth buying new again because I know that they’d last me most of a decade.

    So, my advice? Consider a restrained pair of boots (La Sportiva, Scarpa), and don’t let the price put you off.

  14. If you wear a pair of shoes hundreds of times, but each time they are uncomfortable and ugly, then no matter how cheap they are they were a waste of money.

    And if you wear them a thousand times, and each time is a dream, then you’ve done well.

    Frugal isn’t the same as cheap, and in shoes you normally get what you pay for. There isn’t often a free order of value on the side.

  15. I have the particular requirement that all covered shoes should also be able to fit my orthotics (if I also had this requirement for sandals, I’d never buy any…).

    Favourite pair of shoes? The Garmont boots I took down the Ice for fieldwork. Lived in them every day for nine weeks straight, on limited numbers of pairs of socks. Never a single blister or rubbed toe, and we were walking on sharp rockfields & carrying equipment often quite a few km a day. They still look near-new, and I think I’ll have them for decades, so definitely worth their $400 (most expensive wearing-item I’ve ever got). They are also my favourite wear-in-airports shoes – beats trying to fit them into a suitcase, and I can carry a backpack through all the airport-mazes without having to think about my feet.

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