Veblen Not Very Good

veblen

Some things are beyond irony.

Florsheim used to be one of the great American shoe makers. In an era where most clothing products were made in this country by people earning some sort of semi-living wage, Florsheim occupied the position of shoemaker to the middle class. When I started selling Fords in 1995, one of the senior salespeople bragged to me that he “always wore new Florsheims”. Neither East Coast trad like Alden nor Middle West upscale like Allen Edmonds, Florsheim cost less than either but still provided a pretty decent, long-lasting, repairable shoe for a world where grown men did not wear sneakers to work.

Today’s Florsheims are made in India. This “Veblen” normally sells for $179 but is available for less at Sierra Trading Post. Still, one has to wonder why it costs even that much. A new pair of Allen-Edmonds costs about $379 for the high-end lined calf stuff. The average wage in India is about one-tenth of what it is here, and surely the shoemakers are below the average. Materials are cheaper there as well. Factory space is cheaper. Environmental regulations are conspicuous by their near absence.

Let’s be charitable and say that it costs one-fifth as much to make the shoes in India. Therefore, these should be seventy-dollar shoes, not one-hundred-and-seventy-dollar shoes. Where’s the price gap? In the profit to the American importer, clearly. Could the shoes sell for seventy dollars profitably? I’d wager so.

But Florsheims at $70 wouldn’t sell as well as Florsheims at $179. Which means that they are, at least in part, so-called “Veblen goods”, products which sell in part based on the perceived exclusivity of their price. Sub-two-hundred-dollar men’s shoes are pretty scruffy in general so these aren’t true Veblen goods; perhaps Edward Green might be the Veblen-good shoe, since it isn’t four times as good as an Alden yet easily sells for four times the price.

Still, there’s something funny about a shoe being called the “Veblen”. As you can see, however, the market is busy taking some of that price adjustment back. Florsheim Veblens, still plenty in stock at a forty percent discount!

8 Replies to “Veblen Not Very Good”

  1. Tomko

    In my experience Florsheim was high on traditional styling and low on quality.

    I wore through two pairs of them in the mid 1980s and never once went back. And I’m hardly tough on my shoes. Shoe trees all around and Size 7 EEE is hardly Sasquatch.

    Not yet done Alden, but have countless pairs from Church of England and their now shuttered Canadian operation. I also have one pair of Allen-Edmonds that fit splendidly thanks mostly to a very skilled shoe salesman.

    And my CSA steel toe boots are from Red Wing which are just sublime.

    But the real subject here is taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

    It’s a story as old as civilization itself.

    What would it take to give a living wage to folks subcontracting through subcontractors somewhere in an Indian sweatshop? Would it really raise the price back in America. I doubt it. It would just lower the profit of the Rich who are doing what wealthy do: exploit people, natural resources, etc.

    We do the same as middle class, but we just don’t want to face the inconvenient truth as we all line up for our iPhone 6 sometime next week.

    Reply
  2. carl kolchak

    Mentioning Florsheim hits right to my little Northwest side “Little Warsaw” Chicago heart. Florsheim used to made where my Father ( and I) grew up, right across from the grocery store our family shopped at. Now, the building is Loft condos. Seriously did consider buying there, especially now after the housing bust, but just could not bring myself back to the City. Suburbs, Ho.
    The Elephant (and Donkey) in the room is what is happening to the Middle Class. What do they do for a living? The former Mayor Daley (the kid not the Dad) on time said, he did not want Chicago becoming like New York, with only the Poor and the the Rich and no Middle class. well, congratulations, that IS what happened, Here is your prize. I have often said, if I were ever to run for any political office (fat chance ,as i am basically Phil Robertson, if he grew up in Chicago), I would film my only commercial on the West side of Chicago, showing what was there, and what is there now. When I see names like Florsheim and Schwinn, proud Chicago company names, on Cheap knock offs, I want to scream. we cannot continue to be a nation of rampant consumers who produce ZIP.

    Reply
  3. Gert Frobe Body Double

    Yes EG and John Lobb shoes are Veblen’d as fuck but they at least represent a well made shoe. I’d rather have one pair of Edward Greens than 6 new “Florsheims”

    Reply
  4. Will

    If you’re going to buy one “luxury” good, always make it a great pair of shoes. There is nothing worse than having crap shoes. Alden’s are the best.

    Reply
  5. Ronnie Schreiber

    Rancourt still makes shoes in the U.S. as do the Johansen/Capps companies. Johansen charges between $100 and $150 a pair, mostly traditional styles. They even make steel toes. I think my favorite pair of shoes were some French Shriner loafers with steel toes that I got with my shoe allowance when I worked for a small family owned chemical company.

    Reply
  6. Etc00

    Enjoyed your article. Wouldn’t put Alden on par with even Crockett and Jones, much less Edward Green though. For whatever reason, Amercian companies don’t seem to understand luxury products very well. Having worn John Lobb and all of the other makers mentioned, I found EG to be the most comfortable and certainly worth the premium over clunky Alden shoes that wear out much quicker. One pair of Aldens was resolved twice and discarded before the first resoling on a pair of EG that are still going strong after 6 years

    Reply
    • JackJack Post author

      I agree that the American shoes are clunky compared to EG but in my experience the wear rate is equal or, in the case of the double-soled Alden and A-Es, slightly superior to EG and C&J. Good to hear from someone who’s wearing all of them though!

      Reply
      • Etc00

        Cool. Guess I had bad luck then. Alden also did a poor job on the factory restoration with misaligned stitching. Would say that AE is probably a better made shoe though even less aesthetically pleasing. EG and JL use oak-bark tanned soles that last much longer, all other things being equal. Subjectively, they are also much more comfortable and supportive, though this probably varies from person to person. Do you find AE more comfortable than EG?

        That being said, I have one pair of cordovan AEs with 2x sole that are my rainy day shoes and have held up ok. Not very elegant though and always give me dry skin on my feet, which doesn’t happen with any of the UK makers. I’m surprised to hear that the US makers last longer for you. Anything special you do for the soles besides getting 2x?

        Reply

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