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!