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Men’s dress shoe construction. We all wear dress shoes but have you ever wondered what’s inside them?
What’s the difference between cheap and expensive men’s dress shoes? What makes a quality dress shoe?
Goodyear Welt, Blake Stitch, Cemented Soles. We hear these terms all the time. Are they just buzzwords? Is a $500 shoe a sure sign of quality?
Enough’s enough! It’s time to find out.
In today’s article, we take a detailed look at men’s dress shoe construction. I cut a men’s dress shoe in half with a TABLE SAW and show you what’s inside.
Gentlemen, this is men’s dress shoe construction explained – the RMRS way!
1. Men’s Dress Shoe Construction Explained
Ever wondered what the difference between a quality men’s dress shoe and a cheap men’s dress shoe is?
Take a look at the images below. The first shoes a quality men’s dress shoe and the image below that shows you the anatomy of a cheaper shoe with a cemented sole.
And now for the cheap men’s dress shoe construction.
Before I dive into the anatomy of a dress shoe, I will help you understand the individual components which make up quality men’s dress shoe construction.
By the end of this article, you will know how to spot quality men’s dress shoes and the difference between cemented soles, Blake Stitch and Goodyear Welt.
Oh – the beautiful dress shoe (it’s a Wholecut by the way) I use in today’s video is Ace Marks. If you’re an RMRS regular, you know I’ve worked with Ace Marks for a long time. I love their handcrafted Italian dress shoes and I know you will too.
1. Men’s Dress Shoe Terminology – Shoes 101
Men’s Dress Shoes – The Upper
The Dress Shoe Upper refers to everything above the dress shoe’s sole. The Upper is the part of the dress shoe which covers your toes, the top and sides of your foot. It is attached to the shoe’s sole by cement (glue) or stitches depending on the quality of the shoe – we’ll come to that in a moment.
The Dress Shoe Upper is commonly constructed from Leather, Suede or Canvas. Depending on the style of the shoe, the Upper is constructed from one piece of leather (known as a Wholecut) or multiple pieces stitched together (for example – Oxford, Derby or Brogue men’s shoes).
Men’s Dress Shoes – The Insole
The Insole is what you see when you look into the shoe and is what your foot makes contact with inside the shoe. The Insole is usually made from leather and extends from the toe of the shoe to the heel.
Men’s Dress Shoes – The Outsole
Turn your shoe upside down – that’s the Outsole.
The Outsole is the bottommost layer of your shoe and makes contact with the ground when you stand or walk. It is not to be confused with the Upper.
Outsoles are made from leather or synthetic materials like rubber, depending on the type and quality of shoe.
Men’s Dress Shoes – The Welt
What is a welt in a shoe? A men’s dress shoe welt is the subject of much confusion.
Only certain types of dress shoe use a welt.
A welt is a strip of leather which is stitched to the top of the Outsole and runs around the shoe’s perimeter – think of it as a leather race track. The Dress Shoe Upper is stitched to the welt.
The welt is around 3 CM wide and forms a cavity which is filled with a cork material.
Welted dress shoes are more expensive to manufacture than those mass produced by automated machinery with molded or cemented soles.
Men’s Dress Shoes – The Last
A Last is a three-dimensional model of a foot. It is used in design to create the shape of the shoe and to maintain the form and keep stability during construction.
The Last is also used by shoemakers when repairing dress shoes.
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Now let’s take a more detailed look at dress shoe construction. We begin with the least expensive type of dress shoe construction and end with the most expensive.
1. Men’s Dress Shoe Construction – Cemented Soles
Cemented Sole Construction Method:
Cemented soles are also known as bonded soles or glued soles (or “stuck on construction” in the UK).
After the upper is shaped around the Last, the sole is attached with an adhesive – commonly known as cement. Think of it as an extra strong glue – made to withstand friction and heat.
This dress shoe construction method does not use a welt.
Cementing is best when used with a rubber sole. Shoes such as sneakers, chukkas, and bucks employ this method of shoe construction.
Cemented Sole Construction Advantages:
Cementing is quick and inexpensive meaning cemented dress shoes are priced more aggressively their Blake Stitch and Goodyear Welt cousins. Cementing is great for certain types of shoe.
Cemented Sole Construction Disadvantages:
The speed of attaching the sole via cementing can negatively affect the permanence of the bond to the sole. You can not repair a cemented sole once the sole starts to detach. If this happens, it must be replaced.
While we’re talking about dress shoes – check out my video: 3 Amazing Dress Shoes That SCREAM For Attention (and not because I’m sawing them in half this time!).
3. Men’s Dress Shoe Construction – Blake Stitch
Blake Stitch Method:
The Blake Stitch method is a huge step up in quality from the cemented method. Instead of glue or cement, it involves stitching the upper to the sole.
Italian dress shoe manufactures used Blake Stitching because it enables them to create a very sleek-looking dress shoe of high quality.
Blake Stitch Advantages:
Blake Stitching is less expensive and just as durable as the Goodyear Welt.
Some men find Blake Stitching advantageous for the following reasons:
They find Blake Stitching more comfortable than the Goodyear Welt – which we come to next.
They prefer the look of a Blake Stitch sole. Due to the absence of exterior stitching, The Blake Stitch enables shoes to have a closer-cut sole, meaning the body of the Outsole can be cut closer to the upper.
Finally, it’s Blake Stitching is flexible which is beneficial for movement, comfort, and durability.
Blake Stitch Disadvantages:
The Blake Stitch sole has fewer layers than the Goodyear Welt which reduces water resistance (although depending on the types of material used this issue can be remedied).
Depending on your cobbler, resoling can be difficult because a specific Blake machine is needed to do so – but if your cobbler is skilled, this is an easy process.
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3. Men’s Dress Shoe Construction – Goodyear Welt
Goodyear Welt Method:
A shoemaker uses a Last to shape the upper and fasten it by sewing a leather, linen or synthetic strip (“welt”) to the inner and upper sole.
The dress shoe’s sole is attached to the welt by a rapid stitch and a high strength adhesive like contact cement or Hide glue is used to attach the sole to the welt.
Goodyear Welt Advantages:
The Goodyear Welt is relatively waterproof and minimizes water penetration into the Insole.
Resoling is simple if the upper remains viable and Goodyear Welts have been characterized as the most durable (although a Blake Stitch is just as durable).
Additionally, the shoe welt forms a cavity that filled with cork which can make a good mold for your foot after years of wear.
Goodyear Welt Disadvantages:
Welted shoes are more expensive to manufacture than those produced by automated machinery. Some gentlemen find the interior stitching less comfortable than the Blake Stitch method of shoe construction.
Men’s Dress Shoe Construction Explained – Summary
So which dress shoe construction method is best?
There’s no simple answer to that question. Each construction method has its advantages and disadvantages.
If you’re looking for a quality men’s dress shoe which will last you year after year, go for a Blake Stitch or Goodyear Welt. But a cemented shoe will do the job for a year or so and you’ll save money initially.
Understanding shoe construction helps you make an educated decision when you come to buy a pair of men’s dress shoes – ultimately this decision rests with you and depends on your circumstances.
Whatever type of construction you choose, make sure you know how to clean, condition & polish your dress shoes and build this into your daily routine. Even the most expensive shoes won’t last if you don’t look after them properly.
I’ve shown you the anatomy of a men’s quality dress shoe and now you understand the differences in quality shoe construction.
But maybe you’re starting out and you don’t know the difference between a Chelsea Boot and a Chukka; an Oxford and a Derby. Or a Brogue and a Double Monk Strap.