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The average woman owns in excess of 20 pairs of shoes, with only a quarter of this collection (in most cases the comfortable and practical pairs) being worn regularly. It’s not just the thrill of the shop that leads us to purchase more than we need – a comfortable, durable and stylish shoe is the holy trinity of shoe design and finding a pair is one of life’s holy grails. So how do you go about buying fewer shoes, but buying the right shoes? We’ve spoken to some experts to find out.
Justin Fitzpatrick is a shoe designer for J.FitzPatrick and reports on all things ‘male shoe’ through his blog, The Shoe Snob.
Aimee Croysdill is an international stylist for actors and musicians and creates signature looks for every occasion from the red carpet to everyday chic.
The Cornerstones of Comfort
When it comes to shoes, style does matter, but ultimately our feet are a glutton for comfort, not punishment. The disdain we feel after wearing an ill-fitting pair for one day is enough to resign a £100 plus purchase to the back of the wardrobe for eternity.
Fitzpatrick tells us that our shoes should:
- Support the arch of your foot
- Cup your heel comfortably
- Have adequate space in the toe
"Comfort comes from good support, so if the shoe does not feel supportive, don’t bother with it. You will regret it in the long-run," he says. As well as fitting the real shape of your foot, materials are key to comfort. "Buy good quality leather that is soft and breathable – it’s normally easy to tell by the feel – a good quality leather will just melt at your touch," says Davey.
A Repairable Shoe is a Durable Shoe
Shape, material and soles. The most durable shoe will nail all three. Davey tells us that shape is vital for durability. If you’ve got the wrong shape of shoe for your foot, "you’re forcing the material of the shoe to bend and wear which will eventually collapse and fall apart."
As for materials, leather is the ultimate material for shoes because it is long lasting and will flex to fit the shape of your foot. And according to Davey, the soles really are the ‘soul’ of the shoe when it comes to durability; they should be constructed in a way that can be repaired when it wears down. Look for shoes that have been built using a Goodyear welt. It is the most durable type of shoe construction available and any cobbler can re-sole a Goodyear welted shoe without the need for specific machinery.
Always ask your shoe seller whether they provide a shoe repair service, paid for or free. The best shoemakers will have one, or at the very least be able to advise on aftercare and supply tips to make your shoes last as long as possible.
When choosing a BuyMeOnce shoe style, think classic. We asked Croysdill whether she thinks it’s possible to own a BuyMeOnce shoe collection – a limited capsule that will see us through years of everyday wear, from winter to summer and practically every wedding and event that our social calendar can throw at us. "Absolutely!" she says.
As a guide, Croysdill suggests the following styles for women:
Loafers or Brogues
Think Northampton-made and brands such as Grenson, Tricker’s and Church’s. Buy a pair constructed using a Goodyear welt and you can repair and own them for years. Church’s and Tricker’s use the Goodyear welt for every shoe (this could change if they introduce a new range so always double check), and Grenson use it for every shoe except their moccasin collection.
Sliders are the perfect runaround shoe and a summer essential. Go for a classic double strap, like an Arizona Birkenstock, in leather, suede or nubuck. These shoes are constructed with a footbed that anatomically matches your natural footprint so your foot can stretch, flex and move naturally. It’s not often that you read ‘orthopedic’ and ‘stylish’ in the same sentence, but high-quality natural materials, iconic designs and a comprehensive repair service make this shoe a BuyMeOnce no-brainer.
"A chelsea boot or a cuban heel in black or brown will never go out of style," says Croysdill. Again, think 'Northampton’ and go for a brand that uses great leather, a Goodyear welt construction and offers a decent repair service or after sales advice. We love these Church’s Monmouth Chelsea Boots. With good care, they will last for years.
[Edit: We have removed our recommendation for Dr Marten's boots from this article due to their recent change in warranty policy. You can read more about it here.]
BuyMeOnce asked cobblers everywhere which high heels they think are the most durable. British-made LK Bennett came up tops. Try these LK Bennett Stila Patent Leather Courts.
For the perfect summer sandal, which works just as well at weddings as it does running for the bus, check out these beautiful and durable clogs by Swedish Hasbeens. Handcrafted using naturally tanned chrome-free leather, natural rubber and sustainably sourced lime tree and alder wood, this 70s throwback shoe will be a wardrobe staple for generations to come.
For the Gents
Fitzpatrick has a definitive list that isn’t too dissimilar from Croysdill’s selection for women. The best classics are unisex.
"Every man should have a good pair of Oxfords," says Fitzpatrick, "maybe with a nice bit of broguing on it." He suggests Septieme Largeur for great entry-level, high-quality shoes. For true beauty, go for a ‘wholecut' – where the upper is made of one piece of leather. It goes without saying that you should also consider Northampton-made brands such as Church’s, Tricker’s and Grenson. These Chetwynd Featherweight 450 full brogue Oxfords by Church’s have all the BuyMeOnce shoe credentials.
Fitzpatrick says your BuyMeOnce boot can be a Chukka, Derby, Balmoral or Chelsea – it’s up to you, as long as they fit the contours of your feet and they’re made with good quality leather.
The ‘Achilles’ white sneakers by Common Projects are a perfect off-duty trainer with a timeless urban design. They are hand stitched in Italy with high-quality leather and are so versatile you can wear them with practically anything.
How much should you spend?
Comfortable feet have expensive taste. Fitzpatrick’s number one tip is not to buy cheap shoes, because you will end up spending more money in the long run. Davey empathises with the initial high cost of good quality shoes: "I think it’s very difficult nowadays – not everyone has their own shoemaker and affordability is a big factor. If you spend that little bit more on the quality, it will definitely end up being cheaper in the end."
Blisters from new shoes are like crying on your birthday but are often inevitable until you reach shoe comfort nirvana. "If you have certain spots that cause you trouble, you can always use the oils in your skin and the strength of your fingers to rub the areas and soften up the leather," recommends Fitzpatrick. Unless the shoe is made using very soft leather that instantly moulds to your feet, as Davey’s shoes do, you simply have to wear them until the leather softens.
Building Your BuyMeOnce Capsule Collection
Remember that this list is just a guide and what means ‘style’ to one person can mean something entirely different to someone else. It’s a personal balance.
Christian Louboutin would probably hate for someone to look at his shoes and say, ‘Oh my God! They look so comfortable!’ But comfort is a huge part of feeling fantastic. So work your contour hugging, classic design shoes and when it’s time to get them repaired, revel in the fact that not only have you saved yourself a ton of money and wardrobe space, but you have also succeeded in keeping another pair of bad shoes out of the landfill.
Questions to Ask in the Shoe Shop
- Do these really fit the shape of my foot, support my arch, cup my heel and have enough space in the toe?
- Are these shoes made using good quality materials? Leather makes the best uppers and inner-soles and rubber makes the best outer-soles.
- If you're buying dress shoes, boots, loafers or brogues, have they been made using a Goodyear welt so that they can be re-soled after years of wear? If you're buying plimsolls or trainers, ask about the quality of the leather and the stitching.
- How do I care for these shoes after I’ve bought them to ensure they will survive years of wear? Can the sole be easily repaired or replaced once worn? Does the manufacturer offer a repairs service?
- Are these classic? Will the style outlast the latest trends and will your grandchildren still covet them when you’re gone?
We’d love to see your BuyMeOnce shoe capsules, whether they are complete or in progress! Share your photos with us through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #BMOShoes
Supna Chavda is a former content producer for BuyMeOnce and is now pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer. She occasionally dabbles in floristry and enjoys a good stout.