What Makes Italian Shoes Different

What Makes Italian Shoes Different From English Or American Footwear

What makes Italian shoes different from English or American shoes? When you educate yourself about shoes, you’ll encounter Italian shoes, English shoes, American shoes, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, but no one really explains what that means.

Let us delve into the different style hallmarks, as well as the construction of Italian, American, and English shoes.

For this guide, Ace Marks collaborated with us and you can find most of the Italian made factory shoes in their shop.

If you want to order from their website instead, use the code Gentleman for extra savings.

 Hallmarks Of Italian Shoes

Italy has a long-standing tradition in craftsmanship and specifically, in leather goods. Because of that, you can find lots of shoemakers still in Italy, as well as many shoe factories. Italian bespoke or custom shoes are very different from Italian factory made shoes, so let’s take a look at bespoke first.

Beautiful patina and custom medallion and buckle on a bespoke monk strap shoe by Ugolini

Beautiful patina and custom medallion and buckle on a bespoke monk strap shoe by Ugolini

Even in Europe, Italy has probably the highest density of bespoke shoemakers you can find. It’s the same with tailors, shirt makers and other crafts especially related to menswear. One thing that always struck me about Italian bespoke shoes is that even a shoemaker in a small town has a very good eye for an elegant last. If you go to a smaller town in Germany and every bespoke shoe made, it will fit very well, the quality and construction will be very good, but the style will always look a little old-fashioned.

Goodyear Welt Construction

Not so in Italy; the construction you find in Italian bespoke shoes is usually a hand-sewn Goodyear welt. Sometimes you can also find the Norwegian welt which is called Norvegese in Italian and it’s more visible, it is more time consuming and not many other shoemakers are so much in love with that welt as Italians are. The problem with bespoke is it’s very expensive, it’s very time consuming, and because of that, it’s not an option for most men out there especially ones outside of Italy.

Now, factory-made Italian shoes have been quite popular in the US and just think of brands such as Santoni or Tods and they’ve been around for a while, they have a good reputation, at the same time, they’re also quite pricey. With the advancement of the Internet, we’ve seen a lot smaller companies in recent years producing goods that they sell directly to consumers cutting out the middleman and saving you as a consumer on the purchase price.

One of those companies who did it very successfully is called Ace Marks. They’re based in the US but they exclusively produce shoes in Italy and sell them directly to their consumers either by their website or by a Kickstarter project. In fact, they have the two most popular Kickstarter campaigns ever raising over a million dollars.

 

 

Ace Marks Penny Loafers

Ace Marks Penny Loafers

Are Ace Marks The Best Italian Shoes Money Can Buy?

Absolutely not, however, that’s not their focus. They try to sell a shoe that is fairly priced with a very high-quality level and an extremely great value level at a lower price. So let’s have a closer look at Italian made factory shoes such as Ace Marks.

Burgundy Wholecut from Ace Marks in Burgundy Diablo Antique with burnished tip

Burgundy Wholecut Oxford from Ace Marks in Burgundy Diablo Antique with burnished tip

It’s All About The Leather

Italians are very good tanners and because of that, most Italian shoes are made of Italian leather. Unlike in other countries, you can find entire towns dedicated to leather tanning and it’s just a joy to see that that craft is still so very much alive in Italy today.

So when you look at quality Italian Shoes, they will likely have a hand burnished patina with either something darker areas and lighter areas which makes the shoe more lively, easier to combine, and it simply looks much better than a plain colored leather shoe.

Blake Rapid Construction

Blake Rapid Construction

Shoe Construction

Most quality Italian shoes are either Blake-stitched or Blake rapid stitched. You can see here in these diagrams how that stitch is different. One has two stitches, one has just one, overall, Blake rapid is superior to just Blake and very similar to Goodyear in the sense that it’s more complex but with Blake sometimes you also have the issue that the thread will transport water from the wet street directly to the inside of your shoe which can be quite uncomfortable.

Blake Construction

Blake Construction

Shoe Quality

In terms of costs, they’re all very similar to each other including the machine-made Goodyear welt. In terms of quality, many would rate Goodyear welt on top of the bunch however, that’s not necessarily true. A Goodyear welted shoe just has different characteristics than let’s say a blake rapid shoe.

In general, a blake rapid stitch shoe will have a much thinner sole that is also more flexible than a Goodyear welted shoe which is generally a little thicker and harder. Now some people if they have issues with their feet just don’t get along with Goodyear welted shoes simply because they are too hard on their feet.

Ace Marks - Blake Stitched Shoe with Hand Burnished Patina

Ace Marks – Blake Stitched Shoe with Hand Burnished Patina

Personally, I own hand welt Goodyear shoes, machine-made Goodyear shoes, as well as Blake and Blake rapid shoes, the difference is really not that big. With the Goodyear welt, you get a little bit of cork on the inside which you usually don’t get with Blake Rapid or Blake construction.

Ultimately what matters more is the design of the last and how it works with your foot. When it comes to heel height Italian shoes have been all over the place. In the 70s, you saw really really tall heels but today, you can mostly find a moderate heel which is perfectly suitable for every kind of man.

Overall I would say that Italian shoes are always a little more fashion-forward, they have lasts that are longer, maybe a little rounded, maybe a little more extreme, they’re usually very stylish, and always put emphasis on elegance.

What About English Factory Made Shoes?

In my experience, they’re generally a little stiffer which means the uppers are a little stiffer, the soles a little stiffer, and that’s because they use the Goodyear welt method, machine welted almost exclusively in every factory I’ve ever seen. Now the leather is not super hard, it’s just a little harder than Italian shoes typically.

I’ve also found that all my English ready-to-wear shoes are much heavier than my Italian ones. Interestingly, bespoke shoes from England are generally much lighter than the English factory-made shoes. The lasts you can generally find in England are a little more traditional in Italian ones, they are very timeless and classic. They’re a little less flashy and less elongated as Italian lasts. The English also produces different kinds of shoes such as boots with triple or double soles and a rougher broguing that’s ideal for country wear, for example.

Allen Edmonds Fifth Aveune Cap Toe Oxford with Broguing on the toe cap

Allen Edmonds Fifth Aveune Cap Toe Oxford with Broguing on the toe cap

What About American Shoes Such As Allen Edmonds or Aldens?

Just like English shoes, they’re machine Goodyear welted and their lasts are generally a little more old-fashioned. Some people may call it clunky but overall, it’s just a different type of last.

Overall, I say American shoes are more similar to English shoes than Italian shoes but obviously, that’s a generalization. You can always find exceptions to the rule.

Wholecut in Antiqued Cognac Brown Leather on an elegant rounded last by Ace Marks

Wholecut in Antiqued Cognac Brown Leather on an elegant rounded last by Ace Marks

Which Type Of Shoe Is Better?

Honestly, there is no right or wrong. Personally, I own Italian shoes, I own German shoes, Austrian shoes, Romanian shoes, and everything in between. Now all of them have placed my wardrobe and for certain outfits, I prefer Italian, for others, American and then again, English for others.

For example, for a stylish double monk, I prefer the Italian silhouette because it’s a different last, it’s elegant, its unique, and it’s not clunky. If you want to go for a traditional classic cap toe Oxford, the English maybe with my first choice, at the same time, the Italians have also figured out to do it quite well.

That being said, when it comes to heavy leather boots, I go with English shoes no doubt about that. Now I’m very happy with my American Spectator shoes from Allen Edmonds, however, if you want a cordovan shoe, Alden is probably the most prestigious brand for that.

Now when it comes to loafers, a big fan of Italian shoes. Usually, they’re very elegant last, they’re stable in the foot, they don’t slip out and very happy with tassel loafers as well as penny loafers. Just look very different than American penny loafers or English penny loafers. Usually the longer last is a little more flattering in my opinion but again, each to his own.

Ace Marks - Basic 4 Shoes

Ace Marks – Basic 4 Shoes

CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, you have to figure out what works for you. If you’re a really heavy guy with 400 pounds, a thin soled Italian leather shoe is maybe not your best bet. At the same time, if you want an elegant shoe that is thinner soled for events with black-tie for example, as a whole cut or maybe just as a business shoe around the office, I would totally recommend going with Italian thin sole shoes rather than thicker Hungarian style or American shoes.

Summary
What Makes Italian Shoes Different From English Or American Footwear
Article Name
What Makes Italian Shoes Different From English Or American Footwear
Description
Learn about the different style hallmarks, as well as the construction of Italian, American, and English shoes.
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Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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15 replies
  1. Sean McDermott says:

    I wonder if the Ace Marks shoes have a steel shank in them? They look very flexible, just like the shank-less Allen Edmonds. Great styles from Carmina, Gaziano & Girling, etc. There is a wonderful place in Naples called Meccariello that makes beautiful shoes as well.

    Reply
  2. Will Simmons says:

    I enjoyed the article and video, but I just wanted to point out a couple of factual errors with regard to teminology.
    Calling a hand-welted shoe a “Goodyear hand-welt” implies that Goodyear invented the welted shoe, which is not true. Welted shoes were made by hand for centuries before Goodyear. The Goodyear process was the development of using machines to create a welted shoe. I know you understand the differences in the construction, so an explanation isn’t necessary. Just that the proper terminology is either a “Goodyear-welted” shoe or a “hand-welted” welted shoe.

    Also Blake-rapid shoes are normally not much different in their flexibility compared to welted shoes. There are the same number of layers of leather. It is just that in a Blake-rapid, the leather midsole is a full sheet that is stitched directly to the upper, before the final outsole is sewn on, compared to a welted shoe where the welt is just a narrow strip around the perimeter. In your video, you showed a Gucci Bit Loafer when describing a Blake-rapid, but that would just be a traditional Blake stitch, not a Blake-rapid.

    I hope that helps, and thoroughly enjoy your site!

    Reply
    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Will, a shoe can be handwelted in many ways. The goodyear handwelt shoe is similar to the machine welted shoe with the exception that the gemband is cut out of the inner sole, whereas it is glued on in a production setting. That’s why we chose the terminology we did.

      Reply
      • Will Simmons says:

        Yes, but if the holdfast is cut out of the leather insole then it is no longer Goodyear-welting. It is simply a hand-welted or just “welted” shoe.
        You could go back in time and buy a welted shoe in the year 1650 and it would be made essentially the same way that a modern hand-welted shoe is. Goodyear-welting was developed in the latter half of the 19th century, hundreds of years after welted footwear had been around.

        Thus, you cannot call a welted shoe that is made by hand a Goodyear-welt. Doing so implies that Goodyear invented welted footwear. That is incorrect.

        You are correct that there are small variations between welted shoes, where some may be hand-welted, and then have and sole sewn on by machine. Or, there are variations where they cut thin leather flaps into the insole to stitch the welt to by machine, which is another form of Goodyear-welting, but those don’t qualify as hand-welted shoes.

        Fundamentally, Goodyear-welting is a machine-made shoe. Hand-welting looks about the same in the finished product, but the “guts” of the shoe are done by hand using a process that dates to the middle ages. Goodyear-welting is a product of the Industrial Revolution.

        Reply
        • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

          Again, the goodyear is added to describe the specific construction. Hand-welted does not tell me anything about the specific construction menthod. In my conversations with several bespoke shoemakers it is a term used in the industry and hence we used it too.

          Reply
          • Will Simmons says:

            I know at this point there is a risk of sounding argumentative, which is not my intent, so please don’t take it that way. I am not a bespoke shoemaker, but I am very knowledgeable about traditional shoes. The bespoke shoemakers that I speak with bristle when their craft is referred to as a Goodyear-welt, so I’d be curious about which bespoke makers really consider it interchangeable. I know about the “industry” jargon you are referring to, and I know that some Italian makers are guilty of referring to hand-welted shoes with Goodyear terminology, but the circles I participate in generally attribute that to a language barrier as well as utilization of a familiar term for the sake of easier sales.

            The construct should be clear. The only differences between Goodyear-welted shoes are relating to whether they have a 270 or 360 degree welt, and other subtle differences that don’t have anything to do with how the shoe is in-seamed. The same differences can exist in a hand-welted shoe. There are different types of welts, such as flat, split-reverse (storm), etc. But these refer to the type of welt, not the construction of the shoe from an in-seaming standpoint (hand vs. machine). So, if the person knows their terminology, then the construct is clear. It is when terminology (or shoe history) isn’t understood that the confusion arises.
            To be sure, Goodyear manufacturers are very fond of calling their products hand-made and they serve only to benefit from the terminology confusion. But, hand makers suffer because of the lack of understanding between shoes that are fundamentally made by machine vs. hand.

            Reply
            • Liviu Vigu says:

              It is as you said from what i know, all of the people i know that make goodyear welt do them using machines. Could you elaborate more on the different types of welt (flat,split reverse…) i am really curious about how they are made?

              Reply
  3. Will Simmons says:

    Put another way, many people refer to all facial tissues as a “Kleenex”, but that clearly isn’t correct. And, it is rediculous to call a well made linen or cotton handkerchief a kleenex. Handkerchiefs have been around for centuries. A well known manufacturer may well become a household name, and perhaps even monopolize the term due to it’s availability and commonality, but that doesn’t make the universal use of the word correct.

    Reply
    • wanger michael says:

      …thank you for your professionality, this is missing more and more, especially from so called professional media. If people mix facts or reality, we are not able to learn anymore! Not to be able to learn means bad future. Thank you very much and please keep doing and explaining!

      Reply
    • Maury Ivey says:

      Will: thank you for your strict terminological analysis. I, too, am a fan of precise use of terminology. I have learned a lot from this article and from following your discussion with Sven.

      Reply

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