My old dress shoes were from Payless, because of course, I wanted to pay less. I actually had two pairs--one that I kept at work, and one that I wore to church. That doesn't say much for multitasking, but it saved me a lot of trouble commuting. I didn't have to wear dress shoes with shorts, or mess them up by traveling in the rain and snow, and I didn't have to carry them back and forth in my already overstuffed bag. It also created a natural rotation so that (if I had shoes where it mattered), they could rest between uses. I managed to keep them going for quite some time, but as luck would have it, they both wore out within a few months of each other.
My first thought was to select a high-quality brand, figure out what size and style I would need, and then watch for a used pair on eBay. I started the process some time ago by visiting a shoe repair shop and asking what to look for in a repairable shoe. That gave me a little bit to go on, but I still felt in over my head. I tracked down some brands that were listed on shoe repair sites and visited a few stores to try them on. I hadn't achieved much clarity, when it occurred to me that I might still have another pair hanging around. These were the shoes that I wore in our wedding 15 years ago. I believe I got them free at church. Sure enough, I had shoved them somewhere in the back of the closet and forgotten about them. They're extremely stiff and not very comfortable, but I figured I could get by with them for a while.
A few months later, while shopping for boots, it occurred to me that work shoes might be a better way to go. I rarely need to dress up all that much, so they would probably meet my needs. They would be designed for comfort and probably have wider, less constricting toes. Good ones should be repairable, like any good work boot. So I started looking for brands of work shoes. I knew Red Wing, of course, and I discovered some John Deere oxfords. I also discovered Doc Martens, which appeared to have an industrial line.
I couldn't find a promising local vendor for the John Deere shoes or for Doc Martens. Sure, plenty of stores sell Doc Martens, but to get the industrial line, you have to go somewhere that specializes in safety shoes. I didn't want steel toe or anything like that, and the selections weren't good enough to find anything else. They ran more expensive than the John Deere, so if it came to ordering a shoe online, I figured there wasn't much point.
I thought Red Wings would be my best bet, since I knew there were local dealers. But there was really only one style that I was interested in, and the local store didn't carry it in stock. They said I'd have to pay in advance to order, so I wasn't much better off than with the other brands--plus, they were the most expensive option.
I finally decided to try ordering the John Deere shoes, but I discovered that they were discontinued. I also discovered that a lot of online stores will list sizes based on what they think they can get from the manufacturer. So although it appeared that I could get them for around $70, I was all the way up to $100 by the time I found someone who could get me a pair in my freakishly small size. (I don't know why they could get them when others couldn't, but who am I to complain?) And even at that, they weren't sure there would actually be any available.
After I ordered, I started wondering what I would do if I couldn't get the John Deere shoes. I had pretty much assumed that I couldn't get anything American made, but by this point I'd started to think a little more about that issue. Sure, locally made was my first choice, and American made was the next best thing. But if I couldn't get that, was everything else all the same? I would say now, not really. You see, there are at least two kinds of imports. There's the stuff, like Persian rugs, that we import because it originated in some part of the world where the quality is simply unparalleled. That's just where you have to go to get the real thing. Then there's the stuff that we import because it's cheaper to make it somewhere else and ship it halfway around the world. I would say the first kind is morally superior, because it's not about eliminating jobs here and exploiting lower standards over there, just to save a few bucks.
So even though Doc Martens are a British brand, that doesn't necessarily put them on a par with Dan Post boots (the manufacturer of the John Deere brand) made in China. As it turns out, most Doc Martens are also made in Asia, but not all. Some of their vintage styles are still made in the UK, and although this does not include their industrial line, they are still supposed to be roomy, comfortable, repairable shoes. Of course, they're also more expensive than other Doc Martens, but that's to be expected. I found an online coupon and ordered a pair to replace my shoes at work, which had just developed a split in the sole.
The John Deeres arrived, and the sizing was pretty accurate. If anything, they were a touch loose--but I can live with that. I was mostly concerned that they might end up being too small, so I couldn't wear them. They're oiled leather and look very much like work boots--more than I was expecting once you're wearing them with pants so you can't see how high they go. But I think they'll do the job, and the nice thing is, the care should be the same as for whatever boots I finally buy. I kind of wish I'd thought more about the whole "made in China" thing sooner, but aside from that, I'm happy with the purchase.
The Doc Martens took quite a bit longer to arrive, but they also turned out to be the right size. They're not pointy like a lot of dress shoes, but they're also not quite as roomy as I was hoping. I think that and the stiff leather account for any discomfort I felt up front. I doubt they'll ever be my most comfortable shoes, but as dress shoes go, they should break in OK. I think I'll keep them at home for a while and try to figure out which pair makes more sense to have at work. The Doc Martens look nicer and would probably work with a wider range of casual-to-dress clothes. But if they're the less comfortable of the two, I might better save them for less sustained use, like church and special occasions.