From Cordwainer to Shoemaker - A Snappy History of Footwear

Often overlooked, men's suit shoes are arguably one of the most important elements of any ensemble. They anchor, finish-off and add elegance. And the best of them are a testament to the utmost in craftsmanship.

But how do you pick between options and what are the clues when looking to gauge quality? Here, we give you the Oscar Hunt guide to choosing the perfect shoes for a suit and exactly what you need to be looking out for.

The origins of the shoe making craft

The most masterful shoe makers were originally known as cordwainers; an English adaptation of a French word for those who worked with leather from the Spanish city of Cordova.

Responsible for the end to end construction process, a cordwainer had expertise in creating the wooden lasts around which a shoe is moulded, as well as constructing the soles and uppers.

While most people now use the term ‘shoe maker’, the craft of cordwainers is still very much in use and evident in the highest quality shoes that have hand finished elements.

The difference between mass-produced and hand finished shoes

While many brands - particularly athletic brands - will now mass produce their shoes, when it comes to men’s suit shoes, it pays to invest in a pair that are hand finished. The clue is in the name; shoes that have been hand crafted are generally subject to a far more rigorous quality check and, because of this, they tend to wear better and last longer.

On top of the superior quality, hand-crafted shoes are also often produced in limited batches given the amount of labour required and the expense of the materials. This makes each pair a truly unique addition to the wardrobe.

How to guage quality

There are two key things to look out for when evaluating the quality of a shoe; the material and the construction.

Higher quality shoes tend to use natural materials like calf-skin or full grain leather in both the sole and the upper. This fabrication will usually be marked on the inside of the shoe and is a good indicator of not only the quality but also of how well the shoe will wear over time.

As with all materials, not all are made equal so it’s worth asking what kind of leather the shoes are made from. For suit shoes, it’ll often be calfskin, scotch grain or authentic patent leather - these will all develop a lovely sense of character after repeated wear and mould to the foot without losing their form.

With construction, the easiest place to start is looking at how the upper of the shoe is affixed to the sole. Hand-crafted shoes will always be hand stitched and this will be clearly visible when you look at the shoe side on. Cheaper constructions tend to glue the upper to the sole and while this may not create issues in the short term, it makes it harder to have the shoes resoled in the long run.


Pop into your local showroom to check out our extensive range of suit shoes, crafted exclusively for Oscar Hunt.