Made In The USA, Affordable (And Used) Edition: The $59 Wilberts, Two Years Later

Would you buy, and wear, a set of used shoes? I don’t think most people would, but there is a solid case to be made for certain used-shoe purchases. To begin with, it is often possible to get a nearly-new set of American-made dress shoes for half the price of Chinese department-store junk. Furthermore, if you pick the right shoe, you can get a pair of used shoes and a set of new shoes for 2/3rds of that shoe’s street price.

To demonstrate how this works, and to show you how to achieve footwear nirvana for the price of a two-top dinner and drinks at Applebee’s, I decided in January of 2016 to buy a set of used Allen-Edmonds off eBay and to see what happened next. My long-time readers know that I own close to a hundred pairs of dress shoes from A-E, Alden, Grenson, Crockett&Jones, Bruno Magli, Edward Green… with the exception of Ferragamo, Gucci, and TOD’S, I think I have an example of pretty much every high-end shoe out there. I don’t typically buy used shoes. As you will see, however, there was no penalty to my having done so, and over one hundred wearings later, I’m still feeling good about my purchase.

The Allen-Edmonds Wilbert, which sells for $345 new, is a good example of a “business casual” shoe. It wouldn’t pass muster on Wall Street or at the famous “white-shoe” firms, but if you work a middle-management job in an office somewhere it meets all the requirements. The cushioned rubber sole makes it compatible with a Chicago winter or a quick motorcycle commute. Nobody is going to tell you how gorgeous your shoes are, but it’s a massive step above the square-toed plastic-coated garbage from Cole-Haan or Kenneth Cole.

I periodically search eBay for shoes in my size because sometimes a retailer will get sick of trying to sell something odd or exotic, like shark or ostrich shoes, and they will take them straight to auction. That’s how I came across a like-new set of Wilberts in 10.5D for $59.95 Buy It Now with free shipping. The photos showed a square rear sole and very little visible wear. So I pulled the trigger.

Used Wilberts in my size are not uncommon. I’d like to think that I found the best pair out there, but I’ve seen equal-quality stuff for sale in the two years since.

As fate would have it, I’ve spent the last two years working vaguely-defined positions in the so-called FIRE fields, shuttling from one cube farm to the next with a little bit of Agile-seating hell somewhere in the middle. These are not jobs for which people dress up, so although I will occasionally put a first-rank outfit together I’ve spent most of the days wearing pretty middle-range stuff. Lot of jeans and “Cordarounds”, a lot of random-pattern shirts from Turnbull&Asser or Brioni, and of course my trusty Wilberts. I say that I’ve worn them over 100 times but that’s probably conservative; I know I’ve worn them to work at least twenty times since New Year’s Day.

Everything went well with the shoes. I polished them about once a month but I didn’t take any particular care of them beyond that. I wore them in the rain and snow, on the motorcycle and in the truck. After a year and a half, only the wear of the soles and the shaping of the vamps belied their use. Late last summer, however, I was sitting cross-legged on a kart track rewinding the starter on my son’s Comer-K80 engine and I realized with a sense of delayed horror that I still had my “work shoes” on. I’d scraped the outsides of both Wilberts down into the leather. They looked awfully bad when I got in the truck at the end of that day.

I could have polished them back into compliance, but I thought I would try something different. These shoes had been made in the “Chili” color, which is a sort of blood red. I had an idea that I would “antique” them the way that Edward Green antiques some of their best shoes.

A new set of antiqued EGs is about $1,200, so I thought that if I could mimic their look for $59 it would be worth doing. Over the course of three nights, I patiently rubbed dark-brown polish into the existing finish. To my immense joy, the scuffed areas picked up more of the dark brown, creating a nice poor man’s antiquing.

I’m still wearing these “antiqued” Wilberts to work, twenty-six months after their purchase. I think they look pretty decent for Midwestern work shoes. If you see me at a party or at a major press event, I promise I’ll be wearing something a lot nicer — but for a day in a cubicle these are just dandy.

Now here’s the best part. Once these shoes wear down to less-than-wearable condition, which will certainly take a while longer, I can have them recrafted for $125. At that point they will effectively be brand-new shoes, and I will have a total of $184 in them.

The alternative, of course, would be to pay $150 for these pieces of overseas garbage. They will discolor, split, and warp. You won’t be able to recraft them unless you have a patient local cobbler. You won’t get two years out of them, not at over two hundred pounds with a distinctive limp.

I’m pleased with my Wilberts. They are frugal and fit for purpose. Think of them as the five-year-old Corollas of the shoe world: cheap, without glamour, but long-lasting and eminently respectable. If any of you need some help finding something similar, let me know. I’ll be your used-shoe huckleberry!

65 Replies to “Made In The USA, Affordable (And Used) Edition: The $59 Wilberts, Two Years Later”

  1. totitan

    A 100 pairs is a lot of shoes. Just for grins I went upstairs and counted how many shoes my wife owns and it is 28 LOL. Apparently there’s a big difference between West Coast and Midwest as far as what’s acceptable regarding clothing and Footwear. We have spent the last 45 years living in Anchorage Alaska and in Ventura County California. Both places are decidedly casual. Now we’re headed to Colorado which is in a lot of ways just like Alaska.

    Regardless I enjoyed reading your article as always keep up the good work

    Reply
  2. Scout_Number_4

    They’re made in India, but I’ve gotten great mileage out of Clark’s–notably down the ladder from what you wear, Jack, but sufficient for my office and customers’ facilities out here in the NW. It’s difficult for me to find casual shoes that can accommodate my both my inserts and my knobby heels, but perhaps I need to consider eBay.

    Reply
    • nobody

      I’ve owned (and put a lot of mileage on) several pairs of Clark’s desert boots, but a couple years ago I took a gamble on a pair of Astorflex desert boots, and I will not be going back to the Clark’s. They’re made in Italy and the leather is of a noticeably higher quality than the Clark’s. They’re not available in wide sizes, but they have stretched to fit my EEE foot so well that they are now the most comfortable shoes I own. They cost a bit more than the Clark’s (though I just realized Clark’s desert boots MSRP for $130?? don’t think I ever paid more than $85 for a pair), but so far they seem to be wearing very well.

      I looked at the Allen Edmonds desert boots, as I also like to support the US makers (have a couple pairs of AEs, some Rancourts, Redwings), but realized they are also made in Italy (and cost twice as much as the Astorflexes). I have a pair of Redwing chukkas that I would like to like better, but the canvas lining prevents them from stretching to my feet, leaving them less comfortable than the Astorflexes even though I managed to get the Redwings in EE.

      Reply
    • Scout_Number_4

      Took your advice, Jack, and have acquired a couple of pairs of AEs in 12E via eBay….and I’m impressed. I don’t have the money for a fun car or racing school, but by God I do need comfortable casual shoes. Thanks for the tip, sir.

      Reply
  3. Dirty Dingus McGee

    A question if you will;

    How do you keep the shoe from acquiring “shifter toe” (that black smudge on the top of the shoe from the rubber of the shift lever)?

    Reply
  4. S2k Chris

    I bought two pair of AEs, a brown pair of Park Aves and a Black pair of Fifth Aves, and figured I was set for the next 10-20 years. I sent my brown pair in after about 3 years for a recrafting and after not hearing from them for several weeks, I called and they informed me something something can’t be recrafted, they can destroy them for me if I want. Umm, I don’t want, send them back, and they arrived with no explanation. So I stuck them in a closet somewhere and went out and bought a $180 pair of Johnston and Murphy’s, which I can afford to treat as disposable. I can’t stomach that with a $350 pair of shoes.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I’d be curious to see a picture of those shoes when you have time. Only once have I had A-E refuse a recraft — it was the third go-around for my 1999-purchase MacNeils.

      Reply
      • S2k Chris

        They look fine cosmetically just a worn sole. Something about the last had slipped? IIRC they offered me 10% off a new pair as compensation, which wasn’t even as much as the ~25% off sale they have every other month.

        Reply
  5. Nick D

    I got a used pair of MacNiel longwings in a slightly odd size (11E) and have been very happy – they were my second real pair of AEs. Many have followed suit.

    Need to get them resoled this year, but will probably use a local cobbler that I’ve had great luck with.

    Reply
  6. tommy in texas

    About 6-7 years ago I bought my first pair of AE shoes – the McAllister Wingtip in Merlot. They immediately became my favorite office shoe. I wear them about 75% of the time during the workweek.
    I’ve had them recrafted once – about 3-4 years ago – when I needed to replace the leather sole. They came back looking like a brand new pair of shoes.
    Doing some quick math, I estimate I’ve worn them about 1200 times.

    Reply
  7. Michael

    I’m 1 for three n the used shoe game. Two pairs of Allen Edmonds didn’t work out but a pair of new old stock 1990’s Frye penny loafers were perfect. I need to try and sell those 11.5 Medium AEs.

    My son will be working as a landscaper this summer. I sniffing at some B-stock Red Wings at STP. He’s almost 16 so I think his foot is almost done growing . I hope they may last him a long time.

    Reply
  8. Dan

    My first pair of Allen Edmonds shoes were a pair of used MacNeils, I got about 2 years out of them but they’re really at a point where they need to be recrafted.

    I’ve put on a lot of miles on them across 5-7 different countries I’ve worn them to.

    Reply
  9. NoID

    Here’s one for you: Can you recommend a good safety shoe than can double as an everyday office shoe without wearing out? I’m not sure if this has ever been a problem for you, but I hate having a second set of safety shoes at work when I need them so routinely. On the flip side I also hate clunking around in boots disguised as shoes, nor do I enjoy driving manual transmission vehicles (an occasional occupational delight) in said footwear.

    The closest I’ve come is a set of $100 Florsheims that in just one year were in tatters. I blame the inability of the cheap, shiny “pleather” to cope with the midwestern winter and salt. But as a shoe, they were perfect. Basically a dress shoe with a steel toe, nobody ever believed me when I told them I had foot protection on. If I could find something in that style but with a little durability, I’d be a happy camper.

    Reply
  10. maybeI'llregistersomeday

    I have a pair of Wilberts, worn maybe 1-2x per week few times over the last 3 years, about due for a re-sole. I must say the uppers look less worn than the shoes pictured here. Jack, do you use shoe trees? I also have an uneven gait and weigh 230, but mine definitely look less worn.

    I cant fathom having 100 pairs of shoes. Owning that many would have negative utility for me, as

    1) I live in coastal calif and dont have room in my humble abode for that many shoes.
    2) There arent that many unique designs of mens shoes; some must look quite similar to others. The excess would drive me nuts. I routinely go thru my closet and get rid of items i havent worn in a year or two. LIke to have just enough

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I do use shoe trees… the visible wear is likely from rubbing the shoes on concrete and riding a motorcycle with them…

      You would be surprised at the variation in men’s shoes. There are twenty different materials, at least ten different major styles, various color combinations…

      Reply
      • maybeI'llregistersomeday

        I am aware that, to the connoisseur (or pedant), there are that many subtle variations. Practically, 8-10 dress shoes can meet even the discerning gentleman’s needs. Above that is fashion masturbation. But beat off if you must!

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          The problem with drawing a line between “need” and “want” is that someone else may draw that line in a different place…

          Reply
  11. Nick

    Jack,

    A few years ago you talked my into purchasing a pair of NB 2040’s, so thanks for the recommendation. Can you point me in the direction of a very comfortable dress shoe that will last? I’ve tried Allen Edmunds but the sole has always felt too stiff for me. I shattered my calcaneus years ago, and since then I can only wear shoes with a very “soft” sole.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I would look at Red Wing. They do some very soft rubber soles.

      In the realm of true dress shoes I think Edward Green makes the softest leather sole.

      Reply
      • ComfortablyNumb

        Just be aware that not everything from Red Wings is made in the USA anymore, if that’s important to you. The Heritage line is, and some of their oxfords border on “dress shoe”. I’m currently wearing the Weekender chukka. Very durable and very comfortable for high-mileage use.

        Reply
        • Nick

          I just wish they offered widths other than D in their Heritage line. They’re all a bit too wide for me. I do try to buy American, but ultimately I have to find something comfortable enough to wear.

          Reply
          • nobody

            That’s strange, as they used to (I’m currently wearing the classic chukkas in 10.5EE). But browsing their website it does look like it’s now, unfortunately, D or nothing.

  12. Josh Howard

    Welp, I’m going to try 2 sizes. For the 80 bucks it cost me for a 12 and a 13…. watch my foot be a 12.5 . Ebay is fantastic for this sort of thing.

    Reply
  13. bbakkerr

    “Would you buy, and wear, a set of used shoes?”

    Yes, anytime. Not sure why shoes should be treated any differently than any other slightly more durable than average item, whether clothing, bicycles, vinyl records, cassettes and 8-tracks, pets, cars, etc. I’m always looking for upgrades at the finest thrift, consignment, used stores in town.

    When I was a kid, it was shameful to shop at the Salvation Army, now it is a sign of saving the earth or some such shit. Reuse, recycle, feel holy. God help you if you buy a dog from a breeder (ahem, puppy mill) vs. the the local dog recycling center.

    I ran a marathon in a pair of $15 Asics from ye olde thrifte store, and besides saving the $, the look of horror that “real” runners display when I tell em that is priceless. I upgraded to returned $50 Hokas from REI after that and felt like I splurged.

    Reading the reasons on the tags at the returns section at REI is one of the great joys in life. “item is the wrong color” … guess it changed since you bought it. “gloves are too warm”, “shirt doesn’t fit after I got fat” … hmmm. Who are the people who spend $375 on some rainproof pseudo-mountaineering expedition wear anyway? I have a distant memory of REI being affordable, but I digress.

    Saving money on shoes, jeans and down vests leaves more money for the more important things in life — bikes, cars, turntables, etc.

    Reply
    • tyates

      I did have some Ebay bucks that were going to expire at midnight a few months ago and grabbed some LL Bean hiking shoes because it was the only thing I could think that I needed. Of course at 12:15 I thought of ten other things, but that’s how they get you I guess. So far they’re working out okay, although breaking them in did seem to take 3x as long as normal. Not sure if that’s because they’re used, or just tough heavy shoes.

      Reply
  14. Charlie

    How do you feel about crepe soles? I’ve been wearing Clarks Wallabees for a few years; while they’re incredibly comfortable for the first 4-5 months, after that the soles have compressed down and lost their spring. I’ve been looking for something better, preferably made in the US. Padmore and Barnes makes a higher quality version of the wallabees since they were the original manufacturer, but they’re irish made. In addition, my left sole always ends up 1/4″ thinner from my clutch pedal. Looking through AE’s selection, I found both the Montauk and Southside to be good-looking. Would they hold up any better, or is the lack of longevity just an inherent quality of crepe soles?

    Reply
    • nobody

      Also, it seems the new Padmore & Barnes are mostly made in Portugal (though their website seems almost intentionally misleading). Still probably preferable to Clarks in that regard though.

      The only US crepe-sole boots I’m aware of are Redwing Heritage or Rancourt.

      Reply
  15. ComfortablyNumb

    I’m a 10.5 in AE as well, at least in the 65 last. If you’re ever short on cash for guitar strings, let me know if you want to offload any lightly-used specimens.

    I was thinking about trying the AE Road Warrior, probably the LGA, for my next high-mileage office beaters. Same basic idea as the Wilberts, I think.

    Reply
  16. Rick T.

    What polish do you use? I was a Kiwi in a can guy. Have tried Bickmore products recently. They appear good for cleaning and conditioning but do nothing for the inevitable scuffs and scrapes of shoes tucked under office furniture.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I use the A-E squeeze tubes most the time. No matches or rags required. I use a horsehair brush, one for each color.

      For odd colors, I’m still lighting Kiwi on fire.

      Reply
  17. Dr. Ribs Revere

    Jack, I am not likely a stylish dresser nor do I understand Midwestern cube farm fashion but soon after reading your post I saw this article (http://putthison.com/post/171807802328/ugly-shoes-that-are-actually-kind-of-great-if-you) and made a mental connection.
    Doubtful I’d be caught wearing any of them, though I value well constructed footwear that can be resoled and looks good for the long run regardless of trends and fads.

    Side Note (1): recently saw someone in the city wearing those Balenciaga sneaker atrocities couldn’t believe someone spent big $$ on those and actually wear them in public.
    Side Note (2): a lady in my office actually wears those gucci half loafers and half Donald Trump’s hair, makes my stomach turn when I her walking around in them.

    Reply
  18. MIke M

    Love the site.

    I want to try this route on the shoes. I am a huge AE fan. I have been done the AE recrafting on my last three pairs.

    I feel they are the best shoes out there.

    Have you done a review on American Giant? I have a AG sweatshirt and just got my first polo from them. High quality products made in California and South Carolina.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I need to buy one.. the problem is that I have two USA flint and tinder hoodies that are effectively immortal.

      Reply
  19. Shocktastic

    Red Wing makes a heritage line of boots called Iron Rangers that you can wear in a butch dress-casual environment that I wear when rubbing toes with evil hospital administrators. I have boots from a fantastic company based in Spokane called Whitesboots.com that makes an incredibly tough full grain leather boot from their SmokeJumper line for wildland forest firefighters that I have worn since 1992. My favorite dress shoes are black cap-toe Dexters from 1989 when I was a lowly shoe-slave at Nordstrom that I wore when I was married & I want to be buried with. Dexters used to be like AE & Aldens until sold out to Chinga.

    Reply
  20. Martin

    I own a pair of Wilberts, and they are my daily drivers. Comfortable, good-looking but not flashy, and decent in snowy weather. I’ll probably need to send them in for refashioning this year, as the sole is pretty worn and fraying around the edges. Undoubtedly the best pair of shoes I own, if not the most expensive.

    Reply
  21. the passenger

    I had a pair of slightly used Wilberts that I bought on eBay, but they were not as comfortable as I expected, so I resold them. I work in a casual office in an urban setting, so rubber soles are a must for me for street walking. I have “only” about three dozen pairs of shoes, but only about three of those are what would be considered traditional dress shoes, and I wear them infrequently. My favorite AE shoe is the Long Branch wingtip boot with a very lightweight lugged sole. I got them from their online “factory seconds” section, and they are among the most comfortable shoes I have. I also have a pair of the Astorflex chukkas mentioned by nobody above (bought from Huckberry), and I can second the quality, though I found that I needed to add Superfeet insoles to make them comfortable enough for walking (that could just be my cranky, middle-aged feet).

    Reply
  22. Ronnie Schreiber

    Inspired by this post, I found a pair of black Allen Edmonds Bridgeton tassle wingtip slip ons at eBay with an opening bid of $15 but it said make an offer so I bid $12 and the seller took it. With shipping they cost less than $20. They look to be in nice shape, with slightly worn original soles and heels. I’ll report back later in the week when they arrive.

    Reply
  23. Andy

    Thanks for the tip on these shoes. After only a few days of checking eBay, I managed to find a pair of nearly-new looking Wilberts in my size for about the same price you paid. They should arrive later this week.

    I already own three pairs of AE dress shoes (thanks mostly to reading your articles about them), and they are my primary footwear for work. However, I’ve been feeling the need for something to bridge the gap between my MacNeils and my walking shoes and Red Wing boots, especially after finding out how incompatible an Ohio winter is with leather-soled shoes this year. The Wilberts look like just the thing.

    Reply

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