Cheap Shoes For Life

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It’s a universal truth, that shoes made in the UK are good, very good. They are well put together, sturdy, made with materials far superior to that of a mass produced shoe that you would find in a High Street “Fashion Emporium. They generally look better too, are more substantial, a better shape, and a better and more standardised fit.

However, there is, like everything of quality, a price to pay. A quick glance at Church’s website shows a price range of £240 to £780. Cheaneys, Crockett & Jones, Grenson, Sanders and Alfred Sargent prices are fairly similar. Which is entirely understandable, it takes time, effort and cost to make these shoes, they are usually handcrafted in a factory by workers that have many years of experience and take great pride in their work. There’s no false flag-flying heritage here, these are brands that have been doing it a long time, in the same county, Northamptonshire, for a couple of hundred years, to exacting standards. They are an item worth paying for.

A splendid pair of Church Chetwynd formal brogues, resoled with Dainite soles.

A splendid pair of Church Chetwynd formal brogues, resoled with Dainite soles.

How can I get affordable quality?

But let’s look at how you can buy into this, to enjoy the longevity and comfort and quality, but for the price of the ubiquitous, bog standard, made elsewhere shoes. There are a lot of secondhand British Made shoes on eBay. And as you are buying something that has been built to last, and I mean built, even those that seem at first glance to be on their way to the Clothes For Charity Bin at the end of the local Tesco Car Park, well there is a future, a way out of it, to be worn again with pride. Doesn’t that make you feel warm inside?

So, let’s look at the options, the brands, what to look for and how to bring them back up to a standard that will give you a lifetimes use. A well made British Shoe just feels and looks better, it has a certain profile and presence, but not all brands are equal, especially so with shoes. We are narrowing it down to British Shoes made in the County of Northamptonshire, the traditional centre of shoemaking in the UK.

What is the most reasonably priced brand?

I’m going to deal with NPS and their brand Solovair first. NPS had a long association with Dr Martens as indeed their styling confirms, also the name Solovair is Sole Of Air, a pun on AirWear. The full story of their involvement with Dr.Martens is covered by Nick elsewhere so I will let you find out that way, it’s definitely worth a read. These brands cover the cheaper end of the market, relatively speaking, at £180-£250, and second hand making between £40 – £130 usually. I am a huge fan of them, they are like Dr Martens that we don’t have to break in, the leather is soft and the soles extremely comfortable. They don’t come up secondhand as often as the others so you have to be patient, but they are an absolute bargain. My only caution would be to avoid the safety shoes, they have a built-in metal toecap, great for dropping stuff on your toes, not so good when going for a walk. The soles, made by themselves, are very hardwearing, unlike Dr Martens sold today now which actually have a Facebook page dedicated to their lack of longevity. Should the soles eventually wear down a new pair can be ordered from their website for £15, which can then be handed to your friendly local cobbler.

And the more expensive ones?

Let’s look at the rest of the brands now. I’ll lump these together, as the same buying advice and repair process applies to them all. We’ll discuss the condition, what you can do to bring up to scratch, and average pricing.

On shoes of this standard, the soles will almost always be either leather or quality rubber. The rubber will be either flat, Dainite or commando. See pictures for the difference. In the worst case scenario, which still isn’t that bad honestly, the rubber will be worn down, or the leather will be so worn the stitching will be worn through too, the leather upper will be creased, possibly cracked, they will look as if they’ve never seen a shoe tree.

If the shoes look like this, let them go, regardless of price.

This reader is where the bargains lie. There are, as I type, plenty of shoes starting at around £30 and I reckon most in this condition will sell for under £50. But as these shoes will have been constructed using what’s called Goodyear Welting, or the less common Veldtschoen, they can be rebuilt. and renewed. Let me explain the basics.

What do I do if they are ropey underneath?

Generally, your friendly local cobbler will be able to fit soles of leather, providing they originally did, or rubber. My preference is always rubber over leather (for shoe soles that is). Leather certainly looks right for formal and sounds great on certain flooring, however, it doesn’t last as long and, more importantly, it’s a bit slippy on most surfaces, it soaks up water, and therefore isn’t nearly as practical. So if you are intending wearing the shoes day to day then rubber is best. Dainite is great, it has a slim profile that suits a narrower formal fit shoe or a wider more Country style. It grips fairly well too, though not on slippy, wet surfaces. Commando soles are certainly the most practical option and give country brogues a fantastic profile and overall look. You can have it fitted as either a separate heel and toe or as a full sole. Generally, outside London, a full resole in both materials will cost you around £25-£40 for the full sole. if you want the best one, Vibram is around £40. You can read more about soles here.

So you’ve had them resoled. So let’s look at the uppers, always leather, either smooth, pebbled or suede. If you’ve managed to score a pair under £50 there’s a good chance the uppers will be a bit sorry looking. First thing, get them in a pair of shoe trees and leave them for a while, this will let you see the extent of the damage, whether it’s just a bit of lovely patina or whether they’re knackered. Often the leather will be a bit dry, as it hasn’t seen any care or attention for a long time. Fear not. There’s plenty of good products on the market to help you.

How do I care for my great new shoes?

First, you want to give the leather a good feed. Not Sandwiches. Leather Food, a cream that will be rubbed deep into all the marks and cracks and will bring the hide back to life. There are many instructional videos and texts online about the best products and best method so I won’t add to it. Next, we’ll come to the polish, pick a shade nearest to your shoes and get rubbing. I have always bought Saphir polish which comes in various grades and colours and for different types of finish. I find their Pate De Luxe is a very reasonable price and works so much better than all the stuff available in your local supermarket.

A pair of vintage Cheaneys Veldtschoen shoes in decent condition

Cheap Shoes For Life

I’m not going to tell you how to polish your shoes, again there are lots of experts out there giving instructions, suffice to say do it when required and it’ll make your shoes last longer. A new pair of suitable laces will also really lift your shoes, look at the lace holes and buy a suitable size and colour. A cheap and effective upgrade. And buy shoe trees, even it’s just the standard plastic bendy ones that are a few pounds a pair, it’s better than no shoe trees, keeps the shape and again helps the longevity.

Do the makers restore their shoes?

I should mention here that many of the manufacturers do their own full refurbishment service should you wish, where they’ll fully refurbish the uppers and fit new soles. Cheaney as an example charges about £115. It really is like a whole new pair of shoes and can be done up to three times. Be warned though, there are certain caveats: If your shoes are too old, they might not still have the lasts to refurbish them, if they are too far gone they may be unable to work on them, and they may also refuse to work on them if they have been worked on by others. If your shoes are fairly recent, in good condition and not been fiddled with before, you’re golden. Grenson refurbish around 400 pairs of shoes a week.

A pair of top of the line Grenson “Masterpiece” brogues, resoled with red Victory soles

So what might I expect to pay?

So let’s look at average costs. As I mentioned earlier, £30 is really a starting price. They’ll need the work mentioned above. £30 to £70 is where the bargains can be had. Brogues and pebbled Derbies will tend to make the strongest money. Plain Derbies, Cap Toe and a more formal Brogue will generally be less. At this price they will, again generally, need a resole however the uppers will generally be in decent condition, just maybe needing a good clean.

Do your eBay searching by brand name and size, take in what’s available and the pricing and try to spot a bargain, use the function that blows up the size of the picture and have good look.  Keep a close lookout for damage other than normal wear and tear. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for a picture that you think may be helpful to you. It’s your money they want!

More than £70 and you are looking at a shoe that is in the condition you could happily just put on and away you go. They will still have a bit of patina, and let’s not forget they may have been worn for many years, but do not worry about that. In fact, embrace that history. Church’s and Cheaney tend to make the strongest money, with the rest slightly less. I would try not to worry too much about the actual brand, the quality of them all is excellent. Just concentrate on them being in the style you prefer and that you’ll get the most use from. A lot of specific sixties and seventies styles are still around too, but unless you want something very obviously retro rather than timeless, I would avoid them. With these shoes, there is often a width fitting listed E for narrow F for standard and G for Wide. Worth thinking about.

Does the colour matter?

Brown or Tan shoes are certainly more wearable and more versatile, but if its shoes for more formal wear, black tends to actually be a bit cheaper. If you are spending over say £120 then you are really looking for shoes in excellent condition that may have already had a refurbishment, are possibly still boxed, nearly new even. But like anything bought on eBay bargains can be had, look for low starting prices, listings finishing at odd times or mistakes in the actual listing.

Anything else I need to know?

So before you head off down the High Street or even log on to one of the online fashion giants, stop. Think on. You’re a grown up now, you need grown-up shoes. For the same money you could end up with a beautiful pair of made in Britain, hand made shoes, with a long tradition of craftsmanship behind them, that will last as long as you look after them. And people notice shoes, they really do.

if you have any further questions, tips or comments, just add a comment below!

Text by Shaun Brown (@these_rough_notes on Instagram)

3 Comments

  • Doubledenimdad on Instagram 15/06/2019 at 13:37

    Great article, have managed to pick up a few good pairs of loake from ebay over the years. If you dont mind slight seconds , tk maxx have been selling loake, barker and even trickers at great prices

    Reply
  • James 15/06/2019 at 17:45

    Great timing on this. I’ve been in need of some fresh black shoes and thanks to this I’ve picked a £30 pair of Grensons on eBay to try breathing some new life into.

    Reply
  • ianB 15/06/2019 at 21:21

    As pointed out Loakes can be a bit cheaper – I had a pair of John White impermeable (or impregnable) that’s weren’t that expensive but took a lot of hammer and still looked good.

    Now started looking and https://loakefactoryshop.co.uk/ is tempting me!

    Reply

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