Walk tall in these shoes

If you buy the best kit, it will last much longer

Columns

This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.


The late father of my dear friend and fellow columnist Johnny Leavesley was a most astute man of business. Trusted by all who had dealings with him, Jim Leavesley possessed a wealth of wisdom, tailored in memorable terms, which he gave freely to his friends. I was privileged to know him and to be a beneficiary of some of his advice, the best being “always buy quality, buy quantity, buy cheap”.

The message is as simple as it is sensible: if you buy the best kit, it will last much longer than inferior brands. And if you buy that kit in bulk, you will benefit from economies of scale. And if you buy bulk in the sales, your normally expensive goods will be a lot less expensive, yet with no diminution in quality.

For 30 years I have done my best to act on Jim’s axiom, particularly when buying from the bootmaker. Footwear, good leather footwear, is not cheap, so to be well heeled one needs to be, well, well-heeled. Of course, you can shop with any of the many internet-only purveyors of “quality” shoes who use aristocratic names to lend kudos and credibility to their plebeian products. But that, to my mind, is only to waste money; their soles will likely be only a little less thin than the proverbial pencil.

Better, far better, to visit a bootmaker whose shoes are made in Britain, and who has a proper shop where fittings can be done and advice on make-up and maintenance can be found. I still remember my first visit to the Church’s shop in New Bond Street. A polite and sure-handed gentleman gently talked me through the shape of my foot, explained that I have a wide sole but narrow instep, that I would benefit from a broad “G” fitting, and that most of the footwear maxims attributed to Lord Curzon are cobblers. After nearly an hour’s instruction, I left the shop £240 lighter but with the comfort of feeling that I had fallen on my feet.

Church’s Consul range

Church’s, to borrow from Mr Kipling, make exceedingly good shoes. Whether you prefer the informality of the loafer or the more conservative Oxford, Church’s (now owned by Prada) have a shoe for you. I have only ever bought their Consul range with its elegant simplicity set off with a double stitched toe cap; indeed I still have that first pair I bought in New Bond Street — brown, despite being “in town” — and they are wearing well.

Of course, with prices now feathering four figures, not everyone will feel that their pockets are deep enough for a trip to Church’s. But there are other shoemakers who, though not cheap, still allow several grains savings from a “bag of sand”.

Cheaney shoes, for 130 years a master maker of Goodyear welted footwear, are available at several stores in our capital as well as in Edinburgh, Leeds and Cambridge. As they too are owned by Prada, they are Church’s first cousins. Cheaney’s employ a thicker welt — the leather strip between the upper and the sole — meaning their shoes can be repaired again and again and again, so you need never have a hole in either your sole or your wallet.

But, if you are more inclined to favour footwear made by an independent firm with a smaller footprint, you should try on a pair of Grenson shoes. My father has always sworn by Grenson as worn by the smart young men of the 1960s.

Fast forward several decades and Grenson’s current owner, Tim Little, has halted a sad decline, turning the company on its heel to reintroduce sharp and iconic British footgear such as the nubuck and canvas-constructed Stanley. Built with thick Commando tread and a welt that is more like a wedge, these comfy cleats will help the shortest customer walk tall around town. Even I can see over other people’s heads.

So, take a tip from old Jim Leavesley and buy the best shoes you can, buy the best in bulk and buy in the sales. You will save in long run. Even if such shoes were not made with your own last, they will undoubtedly be made to last.

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