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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.