|Bontoni shoes, Picture Courtesy of Style Buff|
Throughout my time in the shoe industry, I have always been plagued by the most subjective question in the world: "How long will these shoes last?" In all honesty, I really hate that question and to be quite blunt, I feel that the people who ask it are truly lacking in common sense. How am I supposed to know how long your shoes are going to last? How is anyone supposed to know? There are 5 trillion factors that will be taken into account when trying to even give a rough estimate. For example, where you live, what the weather is like where you live, how often you wear your shoes, do you use shoe trees, do you rotate your shoes etc. etc. I could go on and on and on with a million and one questions that I could ask to even begin to give a rougher-than-sandpaper estimate to how long your shoes will last. But even if I do my absolute best to tell you that they will last at least one year, you could wear them in the rain the next day, soak the sole leather, not use shoe trees to absorb the water and step on something sharp that then creates a tear in your sole and thus having you needing to replace it.... They could be John Lobb shoes, and you will wonder why your £1000 ($1600) shoes did not last long. But it was not their fault, it was yours!
Now, what brings this on (even though I should have written about it a long time ago) was the fact that a reader emailed me asking a justified question about shoes that we both own and his concern for their longevity and it made me want to provide knowledge to the masses about the truth to your shoes estimated life span. I feel that many people are misinformed to what buying an expensive shoe means. In no way is this in response to my reader (as his question was very valid and justifiable), but a chance to hopefully give people a better idea of what it means to own good shoes, care for them and the assurance of them lasting the amount of time that you would like them to.
|Too much beer, not enough conditioner|
The Shoes Upper
The shoes upper is by far the most important part of the shoe. Once this is gone, the shoe is no longer salvageable. Think of the leather on the upper as your own skin, only that it is no longer alive and does not have a body to take care of it naturally. You, the owner, replace that ever-working body, and are thus responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the skin. Now there are many ways to do this. Naturally, you will want to think of the things that your leather does not like, for example water, wine, beer (especially -- I know!!) or any liquid for that matter, dirt, food etc. You need to make sure that you can hopefully limit the amount of times that your upper leather has to make an encounter with these things, because the less able you are to do that, the less likely that your upper leather will last long. Now obviously you go through life and do many things and it makes no sense to tip toe around on your nice shoes hoping to never ruin them, but there are precautions that you can take, such as checking the weather and having galoshes to be prepared, not wearing them to the pub when you know that you are going to get drunk or always using the sidewalk (pavement) instead of walking on grass or dirt etc. These are all common sense type things that I believe many people forget to think about but then are so mystified when they ruin their shoes quickly.
Now outside of being observant to your surroundings, there are several things that you need to maintain your leather. Those things are: a good leather conditioner (like the one that I sell), some good wax polish, a nice and soft horse hair brush, shoetrees, dust bags, some nylon (women's tights) and ideally the box that the shoes came in. With the proper use of these things (and taking into account the paragraph above), the life of your shoes could increase ten fold. The most important things, in my opinion, out of that entire list, would be the conditioner and the shoetrees. Both of them act as deterrents to things that destroy your leather e.g. liquid of any kind (even sweat) and drying out your leather. So, if you can't have them all, at least have these two.
The Sole of the Shoe
The sole of your shoe is also very important as it meets face to face with the concrete for each and every step that you take. But remember, the sole is made out of leather, not rock and due to that, it is by no means indestructible!!! But that does not mean that it should crap-out any time soon after purchase either. But like I said, this will always vary depending on how you are with your shoes. Let's take me for example. I am a very hard walker. Even though I have around 100 shoes (40 dress), the heel and toe (especially) regions of the sole get worn down very very fast. This is why I, more often than not, need to put on toe taps (blakies) as a way to ensure that I do not need to replace the sole, when it still has tons of life left. I know this about myself and therefore know that I need to do something to prevent a premature replacement of materials. And it does not matter what shoe it is, I will wear those toes down like no tomorrow. It could be G&G shoes, a bespoke one or even some cheapo and that leather won't stand a chance, no matter how high quality it is. It's an annoying problem no doubt, but it won't change. So that being, you need to figure out more about the way that you walk and how hard you are on your shoes, to ensure that you will properly maintain their life span.
Another thing is that fancy decoration will usually bring on easy ruin. For example, there are two ways that you can have your goodyear welted shoes appearing on the sole: with the stitch showing or not. These are referred as open and closed channel stitching. To get a better idea see the pictures. Now, there is plus and minus for both. But for the sake of time, let's just look at the closed channel stitching. Now this is where you don't see the stitching on the bottom of the sole. It leaves a very clean look and is more often than not shown on higher-end shoes. So, the positive is that it looks good, but the negative is that it creates a weak spot on the outer edges of the soles' leather. Why you ask? Well, when creating a closed channel stitch, you have to cut (very finely - see picture below) into the side of the sole to open it up and create the channel. The piece of the leather that you will open up with be around 1-2mm thick (quite fine). Once you stitch the sole to the welt, you will then close the channel by gluing it back onto the sole. That being, your stitching (on the sole) is literally only being protected by a 1-2mm piece of leather that is glued on (by no means permanent, especially when water is involved!). If you get caught on a wet day, you will most likely over soak this area and if left too long in this weak state, it will be very easy to rip it apart, either fraying the edges or worse, begin to show the stitching.
So just remember, even if you buy only shoes that cost loads of money, that does not mean that they are going to last you forever if you don't treat them right. Shoes are not rocks, they are not invincible and they do break down. Granted, an expensive shoe should always last longer than a cheap shoe, but if you are one of those people that believe that just because it is expensive that it should last forever, then you will always be sadly mistaken. Even diamonds can be destroyed!