Whenever I thrift or look at brands of shoes I am not familiar with, I check all of these markers and then decide at the end:
GENERAL MATERIAL OF THE SHOE
Obviously if it isn’t leather and is faux leather or plastic, it is lower quality than real leather.
Real leather is easy to discern, it feels soft, smooth and can stretch to mould to your feet easily, plus letting it breathe over faux leather.
Even fake leather can feel great and be fine, but I do find that it makes my legs sweat like crazy.
SOLES OF THE SHOES
Are they all leather?
Most super high quality shoes are all leather, and even though I always bring in my high quality stuff to get some Vibram soles put on them, I can understand and appreciate leather soles.
Another good alternative would be all rubber soles (pre-Vibram soled!). Some good shoes do this, but not all.
Take for instance this brand Schutz. I don’t know it at all but it is well made as a shoe, the soles are rubberized and pre-Vibramed basically, and they fit beautifully.
Really cheap ones, usually have it all in plastic.
HEEL OF THE SHOES
Is it wood? Plastic? Covered in matching leather or fabric?
Plastic is a dead giveaway of how cheap they are, and if it is in wood that’s the best.
My heels are usually a metal piece covered in metal or fabric (it is hard to tell unless you buy a really good brand)…
If the heel is also NOT covered in leather when it’s a full leather pump, that’s a sign of a cheaper pair of heels, where they’ll do the shoe body in leather but the heel is uncovered or in black plastic.
You can easily see the stitching of the shoes, particularly in ballet flats, of how they have sewn the lining in, or the edging around the edge.
In my old pair of shoes you can see how the ribbon and elastic came out.
In contrast, if you look at the M. Gemi Bolla flats I have now, if they’re properly stitched, they are unlikely to come out as the leather is also doubled over with the elastic INSIDE rather than just glued on like above.
If there is straight stitching like in the M. Gemi Bollas, you also have to really be careful with keeping an even border from the edge of the shoe so that it looks nice and not messy or uneven, so it is of a higher quality and attention to detail.
Even after light wear (same time as the Vince flats), you can see that they still look very good, almost like new:
In contrast, the Vince flats I bought when desperate, clearly show how badly and sloppily stitched they are, not to mention how this is what they look like after only 7 months of wear.
I have had the M. Gemi Bollas longer than that, and they still look like new.
Also, the stitch on the Vince Ria flats are a zigzag which in and of itself is not a terrible stitch per se, but it is easier to hide flaws in the stitching when it is a zigzag because it is easy to just follow the edge but not to keep it neat and even.
That said, the Vince Ria flats are great for the playground and soft and cushy.
Made in China, Vietnam or any other Third World country?
That is absolutely NOT TO SAY that you only must buy shoes made in Italy, France or Canada to guarantee quality, but the cost of those shoes are much lower, and although it may be still a good deal and well done with a high level of quality, the likelihood of that is lower.
I also like Brazil, they tend to make pretty great leather shoes for a reasonable price.
The country is a decent giveaway at times.
If you wear it, do you feel immediately comfortable or uncomfortable?
VERY well made shoes, depending on your foot shape and arch, fit beautifully out of the box.
I do find only certain designer brands fit my feet well.
I love Manolo Blahniks hands down, but not Stuart Weitzman (you need narrow feet for those), and Salvatore Ferragamos are a size larger than your normal size, so if you take a US 7, you need a US 8, but I find them very comfortable as well.
I also find Jimmy Choo shoes uncomfortable and Louboutins a hit and miss.
This is true of all shoes brands, and once you find a brand that fits you well, be loyal!
If there are details on there, like sequins, or perforated leather, is it properly done?
See how even the perforations are and how neat the stitching is, and how even the rounded edges are?
These were handmade and not machine-made because the time and perforations to be properly and evenly placed on a shoe, means that they cut a piece of leather out to fit, and then they perforated it with a machine or by hand.
Is it evenly spaced? Properly painted or done?
No spillover filling on the leather or anything that would make it look messy?
The edging on the leather for the heel is perfectly filled in, no spillover, no leather staining the sole of the shoe, and it is properly filled in without looking sloppy.
If it’s fabric, does it match up properly and match with the seams if the heel is also covered?
These details matter in how well made a shoe is.