The good news for those looking to up their ready to wear shoes game is there has never been a better time to do so. A broad range of makers from across the globe offer a diverse selection of quality footwear to suit almost anyone.
In this article, we’ve built a “pyramid” of some ready to wear shoemakers to showcase the depth and breadth of the shoe marketplace.
How to Read Your Ready to Wear Shoes Guide
This article groups manufacturers and brands in to five ascending tiers. While there is, admittedly, some subjectivity here, you can be sure the quality of both materials and craftsmanship will rise as we climb the pyramid. Of course, the price will rise as well.
This is intended to be a guide for ready-to-wear shoes, not a guide for “bespoke” shoes in which a last is made from a model of your foot and built specifically to you.
It’s also not intended to be a guide for “custom” shoes, where a customer can choose laces, mix materials, etc. but still operate in a given size structure.
Three additional points.
First, there will not be precise equality among the occupants of a given tier, though there will be a broad commonality of attributes.
Second, not all manufacturers and brands are represented – there are simply too many – though an effort has been made to reference a cross-section of the market for each tier.
Third, although many shoes on this list are excellent and worth your money, we’ve included a number of popular brands we believe are overpriced for what you get. This is a guide, but not necessarily a trumpeting of “the best” in a given tier.
Tier 1 Ready to Wear Shoes
Carlos Santos (Portugal)
High style for the dollar is the calling card of Carlos Santos. They play a strong hand in aesthetic appeal, with careful attention to design and overall aesthetics. Their boots, in particular, are an attractive alternative to more costly English offerings.
As one of the few manufacturers to offer a patina finish on grain leather, they offer a unique aesthetic at a reasonable price point. And, their mild to wild patina range for smooth calf footwear offers a ton of choice for the customer.
Signature offerings: rugged tall boots, sleek and elegant chukkas.
Allen Edmonds (USA)
This America-based brand has long been the gateway to quality Goodyear welted footwear.
While its reputation was built upon understated and conservative corporate footwear, the contemporary brand delivers an exceptionally broad range from Oxfords and Derbys to boots and casual loafers.
High volume of production (and perhaps sale to a private equity firm) has resulted in spotty quality control in recent years. And, they appear to have outsourced some of their production. But, excellent customer service remains a strong selling point, and they do offer good value for your money.
Signature offerings: the Strand – a cap toe brogue available in a wide range of shades- is consistently popular. And all of their shell cordovan products also merit a close look.
With no fewer than eight(!) different ranges within the single brand, sorting through Loake’s collection can be a challenge.
The top level 1880 Export Grade presents some very nicely finished offerings on sleek lasts, but is limited to pure dress shoes. One step down to the 1880 Legacy range opens up a more diverse selection of dress and casual footwear.
And, one further step down to the Loake 1880 range presents some rugged field boots and a wider range of chukkas and loafers. Descend much further, though, and affordability eclipses desirability.
Signature offering: Pimlico chukka.
Meermin (China, Spain)
This Spain-based company has adopted a business model of outsourcing a significant degree of production to China, with finishing of the final product in Spain. They have, though, put together a very attractive product for their price point.
The Achilles heel, however, has been quality control. As reports on various on-line forums would suggest, too often the final product contains obvious and disappointing flaws. That said – when they get it right, they really get it right.
Their top range Linea Maestro line brings hand welted construction to an unheard-of price point.
A number of different lines, but far and away the best is the Platinum line. They appear to be well made (probably Blake-constructed), but the designs are a bit over-the-top.
They’re also very expensive for the quality of the materials.We’re unsure if Magli actually owns any production facilities though, instead contracting out to third parties.
Pronounced Man-ya-ni, Magnanni are makers of shoes with pointy toes and aggressive lasts. We’d strongly consider taking a half size down from what you normally do.
The styling is in-your-face as well, with deep patinas, heavy broguing, and some interesting leather shades!
Construction is neither Blake nor Goodyear, but instead a Bologna. This is where the shoe upper and lining are formed into a tube-which is then stitched by hand or machine to the very edge of the outsole. This makes for a very flexible and comfortable, if delicate, shoe!
The leather is *okay* at best, but certainly not worth the $435 MSRP.
If you’re a more fashion-forward gent, these may work for you. Pairs can be had for $220 or less during anniversary sales events or at luxury outlets like Last Call.
Tier 2 Ready to Wear Shoes
Made exclusively in America, Alden successfully appeal to a broad range of global buyers too. Comparatively modest production output and excellent quality control have resulted in a range of durable footwear.
Conservative, business-oriented styles come standard, though the real gems lie with more casual footwear in substantial and sturdy aesthetic.
Alden’s offerings in shell cordovan are wildly popular among aficionados, with the warmer shades of shell becoming collectibles unto themselves.
Signature offerings: loafers, plain toe bluchers, “Indy” tall boot.
Owned by the same family as Meermin (but apparently not related brand-wise), Spanish maker Carmina puts out some elegant ready to wear shoes at a fairly budget-friendly $475.
Box-calf leather on the upper, but no word on if it’s full-grain or top-grain.
Lasts are long and generous, if narrow. Even so, you may want to consider sizing down. Consider carefully, though- the shoes ship to you for free, but you’ll have to shell out $35.00 to send them back. They do have a New York City showroom to try on in person, though.
Despite this, Carmina seems to have a difficulty keeping up with demand and are frequently out of stock in many models.
Crockett & Jones (England)
Located in Northhampton – the very heart of English shoemaking – and worn by James Bond, Crockett & Jones deliver a comprehensive array of quality footwear. If you were forced to buy all your shoes from just one manufacturer, C&J would have you covered.
The all-Goodyear welted lineup – unsurprisingly – reflects a very English aesthetic: understated elegance forgoing flash in favour of quiet confidence.
Crockett and Jones also offer a premium “Hand Grade” line for those seeking top grade materials and an even higher level of hand finishing.
Signature offerings: ‘Hallam’ captoe oxford, ‘Brecon’ chukka, ‘Islay’ grain derby boot.
Another English shoemaker, but this time with brighter colors. Many have multicolored uppers or suspiciously high shines. That suggests using inferior leather or stitching bits of colored leather together.
At over $500 a pop, we’d like some more information on materials.
Barker Black is Barker’s attempt to go upmarket. They’re certainly distinctive-the loafers have a unusual skull & crossbones design on the bit-but it just doesn’t work aesthetically. The same money may be better spent elsewhere.
Church’s is an interesting player in the market. Some years ago, they appeared to use corrected-grain leather and half-line even their non-summer shoes in linen instead of leather. Not very nice, and certainly surprising considering the Northampton crafting and significant price tag.
More recently, though, they seem to have re-upped their game. It’s still unclear what kind of leather they use; while their webpage says “calfskin”, brands using full-grain leathers usually say so.
Leather soled and leather lined, though. But, at around $750 a pair, we’d liked to know what kind of leather we’re getting.
Cheaney is owned by Church’s (at least they were the last time I checked), although I don’t think the two have cross-pollinated much. The Cheaney shoes I have seen have been solid, if unexciting. Sometimes that’s best, though.
They also do some third-party collaborations, including manufacturing some of the Edward & James ready to wear shoe line from our friends at Pediwear.
For a review of their boots, you can look here.
Fratelli Borgioli (Italy)
Borgioli is a major producer of private-label shoes, some of which are made to execrable standards of quality and which Borgioli would never want to claim. Hey, they need to survive!
The shoes produced under their own label are very good. Most are Blake-constructed. A few are Norwegian-constructed, though- and they are excellent.
Designs are hit or miss- some are classic and versatile, and others a little obnoxious.
GJ Cleverley (England)
Cleverley is known for bespoke shoes fetching in the thousands. So, why put them here? Well, some of their Ready-to-Wear lineup can be had at Mr Porter for just under $700. You’ll get wonderful lasts and excellent leather. That, and Cleverly doesn’t list prices on their website.
But, according to one of our original moderators, the Cleverley RTW shoes are almost certainly made by Crockett & Jones. In fact, a pair of Cleverly bespoke shoes once arrived his front door in a very similar box to Crockett &Jones, and with the last number 337 on the side!
So, great quality, even if the RTW shoes might not actually be made by Cleverley.
One of our favorite Italian makers. Sure, there are better shoes out there, but Gravati make a great shoe at a great price-and they’re almost infinitely flexible in what they’ll make for you.
Our original author placed many, many orders from Gravati over the years and noted they were always correct and of consistent quality.
The shoes are mostly Blake and Blake-Rapid Stitch Construction, and will run you just over $600.
This firm’s name is a contraction of “William Green and Son,” which suggests that once upon a time there might have been some relationship with Edward Green. Not certain, though.
They’re capable of making very high-quality ready to wear shoes comparable to C&J Handgrade. Grenson used to sell these “Masterpieces” shoes under their own label.
The current designs, though, appear much different than what they once were.
Chunky lug soles on dress shoes, spear-like lasts, and loud advertising on the website makes for an unappealing customer experience.
Prices are all over the place, ranging from $300 for boots with a sneaker-like sole up to a whopping $600+ for some calfskin (read: non cordovan) tassel loafers.
Alfred Sargent (England)
Two separate streams of ready-to-wear shoes are offered by this Northhampton manufacturer – the excellent “Exclusive” line and the even nicer “Hand Grade” line.
Like their compatriots at Crockett and Jones, a wide spectrum of quality footwear is on offer. Where C&J skews slightly toward the casual /field end of the spectrum, though, the pendulum swings more business at Alfred Sargent.
AS strive for – and largely achieve – a sleek aesthetic more commonly associated with English manufacturers sitting a few tiers higher. A black cap toe oxford from them would do nicely in any boardroom or courtroom.
New & Lingwood (England)
George Cleverley himself used to work in New & Lingwood’s bespoke operation, as did George Glasgow and John Carnera, the men who inherited Cleverley’s name and set up the GJ Cleverley bespoke firm in the early 1990s.
Sadly, N&L’s bespoke operation is a thing of the past, and most of their shoe offerings appear to be rebadged Grenson or Alfred Sargent shoes. And, the shop has expanded beyond footwear and is now a general clothing retailer.
The shoes, then, are “fine”, but not anything to crow about-especially for a pricepoint between $600 and an eye-popping $800!
Tricker’s can claim with deserved pride they are the oldest manufacturer of ready to wear English shoes still in production today. Their lineup leans toward the strong and sturdy English country footwear: broad lasts, relatively thick soles and heavy broguing are common features.
While some dressier offerings are available, those looking for more durable footwear in a casual aesthetic are better served by this brand.
Signature offering: Stow Country Boot, which we reviewed here.
While some brands aim for diversity in their product range, others seek to specialize. Since 1930, Viberg of Canada have been boot specialists. And not fancy dress boots, to be sure. Viberg’s Service Boot is truly an icon.
Offered in range of materials including calf, grain, Chromexcel, roughout suede and shell cordovan – with a number of outsole options – this understated derby boot stands ready to meet the needs of both outdoor field wear and premium casual streetwear.
For those who manage to look past this hugely popular model – additional styles of boots are on offer – including Chelseas, Jodhpurs and hiking boots.
Signature offering: the Service Boot.
Tier 3 Ready to Wear Shoes
Enzo Bonafe (Italy)
This Italian manufacturer draws upon a long history of producing high quality, hand-welted footwear. Like Carmina, their range of lasts is unbelievably vast. If there isn’t a Bonafe last that comfortably fits your feet, you have some very unique needs indeed!
Dress shoes represent well among Bonafe’s sleek wholecuts, elegant Adelaides, and understated captoes. An enticing lineup of dressier loafers is also on offer, as well as rugged yet elegant derby boots.
Bonafe are also rightly credited with re-introducing the button boot. These offerings present a wonderfully distinctive addition to one’s dress boot rotation.
And Bonafe isn’t afraid to experiment. A little bored with your closet of calfskin dress shoes? Perhaps a striking wholecut in stingray skin is just what you need.
Signature offerings: wholecut oxford, button boot, shell cordovan jumper boot.
Heinrick Dinkelacker (Hungary)
One of the oldest German manufacturers now produces their unique line of shoes in Budapest. Dinkelacker does not try to be all things for all buyers, though. If you are seeking a sleek and elegant pair of formal ready to wear dress shoes, you are probably best looking elsewhere.
But, if you’re in the mood for a battle tank for your feet, these are the guys. Their calling cards are triple leather soles with brass nails and massive metal toe taps.
With some thin and delicate single leather sole dress shoes you could step on a dime and tell whether it’s heads or tails. With a heavy-soled pair of Dinekalackers you could step on a Volkswagen and not even notice.
Those with wider feet will appreciate their accommodating lasts. And all will appreciate their quality materials and solid construction that lend a sense of invincibility.
Signature offering: A ‘Buda’ful brogue derby, also rendered as an ankle boot.
Lazslo Vass (Hungary)
Craftsmanship, quality hand-welted construction, and impressive value are Vass hallmarks. The traditional “Budapester” style of footwear is readily available for lovers of the heavy, broad and durable aesthetic.
But Vass’ success rests largely upon their expansion into a far broader and more contemporary line. From sleek and elegant oxfords, monks and austerity brogues to chukkas and all boots, Vass can fill any gap in your footwear rotation.
Vass’ more recent foray into the niche of exotic alligator shoes and boots has resulted in a halo range for the brand.
Signature offerings: ‘Kaan’ split-toe derby, ‘Valway’ derby boot, austerity brogue.
Three different levels of quality. Regular-line shoes (now called Studium, I believe) are okay, if rather fashion-forward. The Black Label shoes are better designs. The third line is called Amedeo Testoni and consists of Goodyear-welteand Norwegian construction ready to wear shoes .
They’re well-made, but at $700+ still very expensive for what you get, and many of them are ultra fashion-forward.
One of the well-known elephants in the room. This Italian brand is difficult to place; some entry-level models fall well below this tier and some of the elite models transcend it.
Unless you’ve got a significant level of expertise with the product, then, it can be difficult to figure out just what you’re getting for your money.
Some of the upper tiers of the Santoni brand have appealing models for the well-dressed..and well-heeled.
Striking patinas and unusual twists on traditional designs make the Santoni wearer unlikely to encounter a twin pair while out and about. A worthwhile consideration for those willing to do their homework.
The other elephant in the room. Like Bruno Magli, Ferragamo doesn’t own any of their own production facilities. Also like Bruno Magli, they market shoes of widely varying qualities.
The Studio line shoes are cemented and just not worth the money. The Lavarazione Originale line shoes are generally Blake-constructed and are often attractive and well-made, even if overpriced. The Tramezza line shoes are Goodyear-welted and are very good.
Ferragamo is also accessible; you can find them in most mid-to-upper tiered department stores.
Zonkey Boot (Austria / Italy)
A relatively new brand – not quite a decade old – that draws from both a Vienna-based design studio and high quality Italian craftsmanship. Zonkey Boots design aesthetic is one of striking simplicity.
Sleek ready to wear dress shoes are on offer, but the heart of the Zonkey Boot lineup is found in their tremendously elegant line up of tall boots and chukkas shouting “quality!” in every stitch.
Also worthy of mention are their very stylish dress loafers.
Signature offerings: Model 231 wholecut derby boot, Model 055 chukka.
Tier 4 Ready to Wear Shoes
Shoes in one form or another have been with us for millennia. To design and execute a model of shoe standing apart as not only definitive of a manufacturer, but an icon, is no small achievement.
Corthay have managed this with their Arca, an exceptionally sleek and exquisitely executed 2 eyelet derby. Indeed, elegance and panache present as the defining aesthetic for this distinctively French brand.
Their offerings may not appeal to conservative traditionalists, but will delight all who seek a more expressive element in their footwear.
Signature offering: as discussed above.
Gaziano & Girling Ready to Wear Shoes (England)
Together with Edward Green, Gaziano and Girling represent the pinnacle of English shoemaking.
Elegance is their calling card. If you’re looking for rough and chunky, look elsewhere. Gaziano and Girling make Ferraris for your feet.
Material selection is first rate – as should be expected at their price point – and finishing is superb. Bespoke service is on offer for the very well-to-do.
Signature offerings: St. James II Adelaide, Thorpe split-toe derby boot.
Edward Green (England)
Perfecting the craft of shoemaking since 1890, Edward Green draws upon the foundation of a rich history to build an exceptionally appealing product line.
Consider, for example, the Galway derby boot. On offer as far back as 1930, this model has become a singular icon of the English country boot. Their shoes are no less prominent in the panoply of premium footwear. The Dover split-toe derby is yet another icon for the brand.
Quality, craftsmanship, and timeless design await patrons of this brand.
Signature offerings: as discussed above.
John Lobb Ready to Wear (England, France)
Justifiably synonymous with first rate quality and design, John Lobb Paris are akin to the Rolex of fine footwear. Not everyone owns a pair, but many understand the name represents both high quality and desirability.
Lobb typically go for restrained, conservative offerings – understatement would seem to be the primary design criterion, and quality the overriding goal. That said, the brand has expanded to include models anything but conservative or traditional.
Double monk sneakers, for example would seem to beg a fundamental question: why? But their classic range of oxfords, monk straps and loafers remain a safe bet.
Signature offering: William double monk.
Paolo Scaforra (Italy)
Less well-known than other residents of this tier, Paolo Scaforra deliver exquisitely executed ready to wear shoes and boots ranging from the subtle to the avant-garde.
A signature element on a number of models is the most sublime execution of Norvegese stitching. And the subtle patina finish presented on many of their smooth calf products is a study in understated elegance.
Signature offerings: Model 583 split-toe derby, Model 662 Jodhpur.
Sutor Mantellassi (Italy)
We have a soft spot for Sutor Mantellassi shoes! Their single-row Norwegian stitching is beautifully subtle, as is their innovative use of skin stitching.
Like most Italian producers, Mantellassi has more than one line of ready to wear shoes: a Blake-constructed line of decent quality and a Norwegian or Goodyear-constructed line of excellent quality.
While some models creep closer to $1k, the $700 and below price point is where most tend to stay.
Tier 5 Ready to Wear Shoes
Antonio Mecariello (Italy)
In very short span, this newer Italian manufacturer has vaulted to high esteem among aficionados of fine footwear.
What strikes the eye first is the exquisite finish of their shoes. Colours seem deeper, richer, and more vibrant – and complex patina finishes both mesmerize and delight.
But, what impresses most is the sophistication and maturity in design. The lines of the Mecariello lasts are such the simplest chukka becomes an object of indisputable beauty.
If there is one caveat with the brand, it is their difficult sizing. And, the overall fit tends toward the narrow – so those with wider feet should seek advice from the retailer or manufacturer prior to purchase.
St. Crispin’s Ready to Wear Shoes (Romania)
You’ll forgiven for not immediately associating Transylvania with the finest ready to wear shoes. But that should change with your first exposure to this Romanian manufacturer, named for the patron saint of shoemakers.
High-skill elements such as their delightful wooden peg waists abound. And their ability to provide small adjustments to their existing lasts without the need or expense of creating a custom last results in near bespoke-level fit at a premium ready-to-wear price.
The shoes and boots awaiting the St. Crispin’s customer are exceptional works of sculpture worn on your feet. And the manufacturer is more than willing – eager, in fact – to work with customer requests in fulfilling their footwear dreams.
Choose the model, material, last and colour of your preference and St. Crispin’s will be only too happy to make real your heart’s desire.
Signature offerings: every single pair.
Silvano Lattanzi (Italy)
Handmade shoes of impeccable quality. Lattanzi was originally brought to the United States by Louis Boston. He’s a pioneer here of handmade shoes and very high prices.
He’s known for gunboat-sized Norwegian- or Bentivegna-constructed shoes with flashy antiquing, but he can do more subdued styles as well.
At upwards of $2,000, they’d better be good!
Kiton’s shoes have a eye-popping antiquing similar to what one sees on Lattanzi shoes. The last shapes tend to be sleeker and the designs, while unusual, are generally more conservative.
Also in the upper echelons of the Ready to wear shoes market, they clock in at $2,000+
Sartorial sophisticates know shoes form both the literal and figurative foundation of any well-assembled outfit, and indeed, a well-rounded wardrobe.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this roundup of some of the ready-to-wear shoes available to the customer of discerning taste. Choosing shoes, whether you favor the sleek, Italian lasts of Ferragamo or the thick, “Budapester” designs of Dinkelacker are ultimately a personal preference.
We hope, then, you’ve enjoyed this roundup of some of the ready-to-wear shoes available to the discerning customer today.
As mentioned at the outset, this guide is intended to evolve.
Thanks for reading.
Article Contributors: John Cursey, Roger Pinnock, & Anthony Gorga (thegentnextdoor)