How to Tell a Cheap Shoe

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Cheap Shoes
Just reeks of cheap

How to tell a cheap shoe is not always easy. There are a lot of posers in the industry that try to pass off as a good quality product but is really just a cheap shoe and nothing more. The question is how to tell this? It can be tough, especially when you have salesmen in your ear whispering sweet nothings to convince you to buy. Or in the case of modern-day online shopping, super high-quality imagery that elevates the quality of the shoes solely in pixels but not in reality. So let’s look at a few details that can usually give us an indication that a shoe is not as good as it is trying to claim to be.

Cheap Shoes

The Last Balance


This won’t be as obvious to the untrained eye, but the more you pay attention to good quality shoes and start to see how the last shape is proportionally fluid, the more you will start to see imperfections in the majority of the stuff you see in departments stores on in the case of online those large brands that have big marketing budgets. When you are spending millions on marketing you are usually spending little on the actual cost price of the product. Few brands have the power to do both. Also because the reality is that it is very hard to scale good quality shoes. Most of the best manufacturers in the world make for themselves and few else.

You will start to see super high toe spring (where the toe elevates off the ground). This, for me, is the #1 detail to start looking for further indications. It is not a 100% fact that this will lead to a cheap shoe but almost no cheap shoes have the correct toe spring. So, if you see the toe facing the sky chances are that’s a cheap shoe.


Cheap Shoes
Sole + Heel Block all as one piece = cheap shoe, fake fudge wheel for looks. The sole piece came like that

The Smell of the Leather


It might seem weird to some but this is usually a sure indication of quality vs cheap. Good quality shoes use high-quality materials to finish/treat their shoes. And you can smell that. Trust your nose. It won’t let you down.

A strong chemical smell is a very good indication of a cheap shoe. The smell of beeswax or the actual leather is what you should be smelling in a good quality shoe. No industrial-like odors. The more you start to smell good quality shoes the easier it will get to understand the difference. And don’t worry what people are thinking when they see you sniffing the shoes. They don’t have to be in your shoes if you make the mistake of buying a cheap shoe thinking it is quality.


Cheap Shoes

The Pattern Balance


Like the last balance, this won’t be as easy to the untrained eye. And like most points in this post, the more you look at known quality shoes, the more your eye will train itself to spot the differences. As the pattern has many aspects to it, let’s break it down part by part.



Cheap Shoes


The Cap Area

This is usually the first place to look and I have no idea why. But cheap shoes always have disproportionate caps with a straight cap or a wing cap. But especially the straight cap. Ever seen shoes where the seam of the cap is literally directly below the lacing area almost leaving no vamp area (the space between the cap/laces where your toes should flex)? If you start to think about it you will recall.

This is not to say that it is a purposeful choice but most often than not, it is simply bad pattern makers because the goal is not to make the best shoe but to sell the most shoes. And it is nearly always an oversized straight cap. Very few times it is a smaller cap.


Cheap Shoes
small heel and one piece (heel plus sole, no separation)


The Heel Area

The heel size should be proportionate to the last. A large heel with a short last looks like an elevator shoe. A short heel with a super long toe looks like an elf’s shoe. There is a balance that needs to be tested. You cannot just slap any ol’ heel block onto any ol’ last shape. And, again, companies that are churning out volume rarely care about this detail. More often than not, most ‘cheap’ shoes have heels too small. Not give you the proper support structure you need as they will be more flat than anything. On the flip side you have shoes whose heels are like cowboy boots but on dress shoes. It does not match. And even if the shoe is of high-grade, putting a wonky heel on there makes it look cheap. Just see the shoes below


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The Mouth of the Shoe (where your foot enters)

When the top of the lacing comes up really high and thus leaves a short entrance of the foot, the shoe looks off. Always. At the same time, when that happens, the side panels (below the ankles) will usually be too high, which also looks off. On top of that, it is usually the same shoes that will have then have a very short facing (the area where the laces fall). You put all of those things together and you get something that is just all wonky looking.


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That oversized stitching

Oversized Brogueing/Stitching etc

Ever see those shoes that just look like all brogueing, like you cannot even see a spec of normal leather? Usually, they have huge wing caps, short-facing areas, a shorter stubby last, and a small heel. And this huge brogueing that nearly doubles the size of the common brogue size. Chances are that is a cheap shoe. In the dress shoe world, there are standard sizes you use for your common brogueing. And when you want to go outside of the norm and are a good shoemaker, you usually nail all of the other aspects of what makes a good shoe. But when you do super large brogueing and the rest of the pattern is off everywhere else too, well that’s just a cheap shoe.


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Small heels are usually an indicator of a cheap shoe. Always the less material, the less cost i.e. cheaper to produce
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Toes to the sky – never a good thing



The reality is that there are a lot of cheap shoes in the marketplace trying to pass off as quality. You know this with certain catchphrases and or verbiage used to market their shoes i.e. ‘handmade’ or ‘no middleman’ etc. Good shoes don’t need slogans to sell them. You see the quality instantly. The strange thing is how many people are actually attracted to ugly, cheap shoes. I guess it really is a learning and exposure process. I won’t lie, when I worked at Nordstrom, I bought and liked cheap shoes. I am guilty too. Thankfully I studied beautiful shoes and went to Europe to experience them firsthand. And there are beautiful shoes here in the US, too. But rarely do you find them in the stores that the masses go to. You have to hunt for those unique boutiques that are off the beaten path!


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The shape is all off and way too much toe spring

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