Soon after getting my very first costume design job, I sprang for a pair of red velvet Prada platform sandals I’d seen touted in an issue of Vogue as the season’s must-have. I scrimped and saved and finally took my money— in the form of crumpled $20 bills in a Mason jar (I was so green, I didn’t even have a credit card!) — to the Prada store in Beverly Hills and bought the shoes, cost be damned. Not only did those shoes instantly cut my feet to ribbons, every single strap on them soon broke in rapid succession. I dutifully took them to my shoe repair guy, who carefully hammered each strap back in place with tiny little nails.
A few months later, I opened up the September issue of Vogue only to find those same red velvet Prada sandals now on their “Out” list for fall. I instantly felt foolish but didn’t realize just how badly I’d been played until years later. Spending more money on something doesn’t always guarantee quality — and sometimes, what you are paying for is simply an illusion. So before you spend a bundle on a pair of shoes, make sure you know how to spot a truly well-made pair.
1. Look for full-grain leather
Full-grain leather is made from a hide that has been only minimally treated. It has not endured harsh chemical treatments and so with care, should age well and last for years. You should be able to clearly see the grain and pores of the leather on a pair of full-grain leather shoes. Most shoes are made of corrected leather, which has been sanded down to remove imperfections and then coated with sealant. You won’t be able to see the tiny pores of the hide when you look closely, since they’ve been sanded away and dulled over with the sealant. With wear, corrected leather shoes will eventually crease and peel. Most shoes you own will be made of corrected leather, and that’s fine! Just don’t get suckered into paying huge bucks for them.
2. Check the soles
The soles of a costly pair of shoes should be bonded securely. A really well-made shoe will have a sole that is stitched into place— as well as being glued. If a shoe sports a sole affixed only with adhesive, it will eventually come unglued and start flapping as you walk. And if you notice globs of glue oozing out from where the sole meets the upper part of the shoe, they aren’t worth the money. Not only is it unsightly, excess glue eventually causes the shoe to separate and fall apart — and there isn’t any good fix for it.
3. Stick your hands inside
Make sure the insole of a shoe you are considering purchasing isn’t wrinkled or bubbling up anywhere. A bad insole is a telltale sign of a poor- quality shoe. Look out for rough-edges or stick-on labels inside the shoe, since very well made shoes will have their labels stitched to the insole.
4. Does it pass the smell test?
If costly shoes happen to smell like burning tires, they aren’t worth the cash. Really good shoes have a pleasing scent that calls to mind leather, polish, and wood.
5. Listen closely
Try walking in any shoes you plan to buy on a hard surface before you commit — not just on the plush carpet of most shoe departments. Squeaky sounds are a dead giveaway of subpar shoes. Also, keep an ear out for wedges and platforms that sound hollow inside.
6. Forget a crummy zipper
Zippers that don’t zip up smoothly and easily will eventually break — and replacing a zipper on a shoe is an annoying, costly proposition.
7. Check the heel caps
Stiletto caps that aren’t tightly secured to the heel will soon come loose, exposing the heel spike — which can result not only in it being ground down as you walk (a condition that isn’t easily repairable), but can also make it dangerous to traipse on smooth surfaces without slipping and falling. (If you find yourself with a lost stiletto heel cap in a pinch, you can temporarily cover the exposed spike with a pen cap. Just choose one that has a flat top, not a pointy one.)
8. Beware of bits and bobs that are ready to fall off
Embellishments (such as rhinestones) that aren’t properly secured are a sure sign that not enough care went into the making of a pair of shoes, and getting a heavy-duty needle and thread into the cramped space inside of a shoe to fasten them is tedious at best — and impossible at worst.
Excerpted from The Accessory Handbook by arrangement with Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Alison Freer.
Photo Credit: iStock