Monday, June 25, 2007

I love shoes...

No, not like that.

Like these, and these, and these, and especially these: drool.

Anyways, so I bump into this story about how Tony Blair has worn the same pair of shoes for 18 years.
The shoes in question, an 18-year-old pair of hand-made leather brogues that have only been re-soled once, were made by Church's in Northampton, central England.

"I know it's ridiculous, but I've worn them for every PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions), I've actually had them for 18 years," Blair told The Times in an interview, adding that "cheap shoes are a false economy."

According to a spokeswoman for Church's, a 134-year-old company, the shoes Blair bought would have cost 150 pounds ($353) when he bought them, and cost about 290 pounds ($682) now.

If y'look enough, you can find some common ground with most folks, and Mr Blair is right that cheap shoes are a false economy. My favorite shoe store in Vancouver, for years, was Sheppard's Shoes, but I gather they've closed their Granville Street location and now deal direct, online. S'okay, the shoes are still killer.

But I remember when most shoes found in shoe stores were well-built and solid leather. Bata Shoes, for example, used to carry very well made classic leather men's shoes at prices ranging from very normal to...okay, well y'could get a pair of very high end water-buffalo brogues with double-welt soles (I did)...but over the years Bata has seemingly devolved to selling moulded sole trendy running shoes; at least that's all there is in my town...

(Disclaimer: I do have a soft spot for Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops.)

These days what y'get is plastic or faux leather (read: ersatz, placebo, spurious, as in: not even genuine Naugahyde) or, if you're lucky, leather and cloth stitched and glued together in a George Jetson/Dennis Rodman mash-up with a sole that's guaranteed to wear out, making your uppers useless, in about two years. Or you can head over to Wal-Mart and pick up some "man-made material" they call 'em dress shoes (as if...) with cleverly molded plastic soles that mimic everything about a real dress shoe except the comfort and quality. Why, they even fake the stitching so you can pretend the shoes ain't crap.

But damn straight, those Church's can last 18 years with a resole or two. Easy if you're even a bit careful.

And y'know something: Canada used to have a good few companies that made premium quality, fine leather shoes, too. I have a pair of John McHale shoes (thick leather soled, burnished medium reddish-brown blucher cap-toes) that equal the best I've seen from today's British shoemaking elite. I cherish them like diamonds, and I treat 'em like gold. I bet they're twenty years old or more. They look pretty much new, and they fit like the day they were made: perfectly. Really though, the rest of my good shoes are British.

Ah, but dontcha know: some of the world's best riding, western and police boots (some say the best boots) are still made in Alberta...

(Edit: I found an ad for the exact model McHales that I own...they're from the 1950s...), that's more than 50 years of wear.


Ian Scott said...

I admit I don't wear them every day.. but I've got two pair of Bostonians, one in brown, the other in black - the brown pair I've owned for probably 12 years, the black pair for 10.

One problem I have with dress shoes is that I have long feet (size 12 or 13, depending on the manufacturer) - and leather dress shoes in those lengths, I've found, tend to 'curl up' at the toes after a while.

The brown pair of Bostonians have done a wee bit of curling but the black ones (Brogues) have not.

Both pairs shine up very nicely with spit and polish.

Neither are very good for slippery conditions though - with flat soles - I dread walking in them in the winter when there might be a bit of ice around.

But I suppose that is what overboots should be for - but seems most don't wear those anymore.

Ron said...

Hiya Ian: Overshoes are still available and snow and rain can still do muchos damage to fine leather soles, so the overshoe is a great idea--but even at the best of times, leather soles don't do that well in rain and snow, which is where Goodyear comes in with their excellent stitched but rubber soles. If it's just the grip that worries you, most cobblers can put a thin rubber traction sole on leaher soles. In the meantime, you can seal the side edges of leather soles with sealer and that helps bigtime, but leather soles still wear more when they're wet.

Cedar shoe trees are the answer for that curling you're mentioning and they'll help you get years more wear out of your fine shoes; well worth the investment.

Anonymous said...

I am from Europe and I am sorry to see that canadian people are wearing very bad quality shoes.
In Europe, we have very good brands and I was wondering do you think taht canadian people would be interested in buying good or even luxury (dress) shoes?
Do you think it could be possible to sell shoes between $500 to $1200 in Vancouver?

Jonathan said...

Hi Ron,

I stopped in the Value Village in London Ontario this past weekend and picked up a pair of beautiful brown leather McHale wingtips. They have Goodyear branded soles and the upper leather is immaculate. I got them for $13.00. What do you think they're worth? What year would you guess? I would be happy to supply pics if interested. When I googled the brand your blog was but one of two results. Seems to be a pretty obscure brand. Thanks.

Ron said...

Jonathan: you lucky bugger ;-)

The best McHale shoes are quite beautiful but McHale does not exist any more as a company as far as I know. They were Canadian :-)

The value is something you'd have to decide but I think equivalent quality in mens shoes these days goes for about $400--$600...or more.

Quite seriously, my McHale shoes are every bit as well constructed as my Church or Alan Edmonds shoes and light years above even quite nice shoes like Bostonians.

I'd *love* to see pics.

Anonymous said...

I too have a cherished pair of John McHale Customs. My dad bought them in the early '70s. He always extolled the virtues of good shoes, and although at 15ish, I was into Addidas, I could still appreciate the quality and attention to detail. He gone now, but I still treasure and WEAR those shoes on a regular basis. They're killer with jeans. One full resole as well. all leather. They still shine line day one, ( because he also pounded into me, how to properly shine shoes.) I've seen shoes in stores in Montreal and Toronto costing $600 - $800 that don't hold a candle. TRICKERS of England is close.
John R.