If you are in the fortunate situation to be on the verge of ordering a first pair of bespoke shoes, there’s a lot of things that can help you in your way to achieve a good result. In this post I guide you through what to think about, both for traditional full bespoke and Made to Measure orders, but also if you do it over distance, which is increasingly common.
Choose the right bespoke shoemaker for you
There’s a huge amount of bespoke shoemakers, big and small, around the world. Often you are limited to having the possibility to order from only a few of these, depending on budget and where you live / have the possibility to travel easily to. With those offering remote MTM / “bespoke” (MTM, Made to Measure, is when you do modifications to a base last to a certain extent, it has more limitations in how much you modify fit compared to full bespoke), it’s a bit more open, since the latter is removed. Either way, always spend a good amount of time doing your research. Try to find out what other customers have had for experience, see what type of shoe the maker does etc, there’s often much info to be found on sites like Shoegazing, in forums, social media etc.
Choose a maker whose style really appeals to you. It is not recommended to go to maker A and say “can you make me shoes that looks like these from maker B?”. All makers have their own style, and in many cases it’s very difficult to make something that looks like someone else’s shoes. Also, not everyone are keen on doing it, which one can understand. After all, the maker do the shoes they do for a reason, that’s what they like and can do best. If you have a maker where you can show previous models and lasts shapes he or she has done, and can have this at least as starting point, you can be sure to receive something that will come out the way you pictured it (taking your feet shape and any way this may inflict with things into account). Of course personal wishes and specs etc. are to be met, but if you have something coming from the actual maker as base you’re more safe to end up with something that is what you wish it to be.
In the event that you are showing someone else’s work and wish for similar things to that, the maker have a responsibility to be open with what they can achieve and what you are to be expected. If the style is rather similar, they do similar type of waists etc, it has a better chance to end up well. It’s always good that you make sure that you are on the same page though. A common mistake is to go to one of the more budget-friendly bespoke shoemakers and show pictures of shoes from one of the top bespoke makers in the world, which cost three times as much or more, and then be a bit disappointed when the final shoes don’t look as the original model. They will inevitably be a very different thing, in many regards. Just the same way as with RTW shoes, you in general get more or less what you pay for also with bespoke shoes. There’s basically the same huge span between bespoke makers as with Goodyear welted RTW shoes when it comes to both price and quality of the product.
Getting the measurements right
When you meet a bespoke shoemaker to get measured, a lot obviously comes down to the maker and how he or she is doing the measuring process and judge your feet. However, the input received from the customer is also very important. It can vary a lot between what people consider comfortable and a good fit, some want their shoes tighter some want them looser, some want them to be very supportive some want them to softer and more flexible, and so on. Make sure you explain what you consider is a well fitting shoe, and what fit problems you usually experience, if you have any places that you usually feel pain in, and so on.
Now, if you are doing a remote order and take the measurements yourself, a whole lot of new challenges obviously occur. The maker will give you guidelines on how you are to take the measurements, where on your feet, how tight you should pull the measuring tape, how to draw the outlines, what photos of your feet that are needed, and so on. If anything is unclear, it’s better to ask to be sure than to guess. But here, always follow the guidelines of the maker, don’t try to be the judge of things yourself, since all makers do measurements differently but knows how to interpret just those things, you want to get as close as possible to how it would be if the maker themselves had taken the measurements.
Get the most out of the fitting shoes
Almost all full bespoke orders include at least one fitting, either with specially-made fitting shoes made of scrap leather and various ways of simple constructions, or with so called “welt fittings” commonly used by the old English firms where you have the actual shoes made up to when the welt is attached, which is tried on standing on a loose heel. For MTM shoes, it varies more if a fitting is included or not. There’s no doubt that it’s always better to have a fitting than not, also for MTM, cause there will always be things to sort, and since the margins are so small when you try to make shoes that give just the right amount of support yet have minimal excess space, it’s very easy that things come out wrong. A fitting minimise risks of a real bad end result, and if a fitting ends up showing that there’s a long way to go to achieve a good fit, my view is that the maker should always offer another fitting, you want only smaller things to be left to sort when the final pairs are to be made.
When you try on the fitting shoes, depending on the situation and what type of fitting shoes used, still always try to have them on your feet for at least half an hour. Even if it’s just more or less standing still with them in a hotel room, one should always have them on the feet for a while since it’s first then you can start to notice some less obvious things, things that might end up cause real discomfort when you’ve been wearing the shoes for a full day. If it’s a tight schedule with fittings during a trunk show or similar, go ahead with the regular process, but then make sure you stand in them for a while afterwards and get a chance to provide any additional feedback that might come up. In the event that the maker is to cut the shoes open, you usually know this in advance (since as mentioned in the first part, you’ve done your research), then you make sure to be at the fitting a bit early so you can wear the the fitting shoes a while before it’s your turn with the maker.
During the fitting, again, a lot of course is up to the maker and they will do their thing. But in the same way as I mentioned in the previous section, they also do depend on your input on things to make sure nothing is missed. Tell them all your thoughts, don’t feel stupid, and ask everything you want to ask. If you have said something, and after some more thoughts change your mind, don’t hesitate to speak out on that. Don’t forget to note on how you experience the heel cup, bottom of the heel (this is something that can be done much closer fitting to your foot on bespoke shoes compared to factory-made RTW which always are more or less flat here, due to constructional reasons) and the whole bottom of the foot, cause here the maker can’t really see anything, it’s much more up to you to explain your experience. It can also be more difficult, especially if you’re only used to RTW which have rather flat insoles and not much arch support in general, compared to how a pair of good bespoke shoes should follow also the bottom of your foot in a good way.
If we are talking about a remote fitting, all the above also applies, but then of course much more is up to you. If the fitting is done via video chat, which is quite common nowadays, you can show and tell in real time. If you are to send an e-mail with your input, always make sure to do a film showing and telling things as much as you can, accompanied with the same info in text and also images. Even if there’s been a video chat, I recommend doing the latter, always good for the maker to have things to go back to, to double check the notes taken etc, especially when done remote since things are more insecure then.
When receiving the final pair
Ideally, also the delivery should be done in person, always best since you can communicate around the end result and the makers can see things for themselves. Hopefully, things are really good, and both you and the maker is pleased with the outcome. Now, make sure you communicate any problems you experience, even if you really want it to be excellent, swallow your pride and let the maker know. Otherwise, they of course think you are pleased, if it’s not more obvious things, then it’s common that the maker themselves address it and suggests a fix for it.
At the same time, don’t have unreasonable expectations and demands. As I often say, a first bespoke order is rarely perfect, there’s basically always small things to improve for consecutive pairs. Here the key word is “small”, and most important to point out here is that there should never be any discomfort, those things should be addressed and fixed (if minor one can talk about it straight away and it should be noted for consecutive pair, but then one can see if it’s something that will disappear with a bit of wear). But if there’s for example some minor excess space on some place, if the lacing doesn’t close exactly the ideal way, if the arch support could be built up slightly more to be even better, and things like that, those are things that one can leave and look to sort for coming pairs. To get all that fully correct is hard, and it’s common some things show first after a bit of wear.
If there’s bigger issues, the common thing is to have the maker take the shoes back and adjust things, quite a lot can be done if needed. As mentioned, often the maker suggests this themselves, but if not and if you think it’s something important, especially if there’s any discomfort, do stand your ground on this. If there’s really big problems, things that can’t really be adjusted, either you realise this straight away or you’ve tried to fix it without reaching all the way, then the shoes should be re-lasted, meaning you pick the shoes apart and take the uppers and remake them on modified lasts. Again, often the maker suggests this themselves, otherwise, you should ask for it. Part of the normally rather high price you pay for a pair of bespoke shoes is for the maker to be able to cover some occasional remakes when things go wrong, either if mistakes occur during the making or if the fit end up wrong. I’ve had pairs taken back both for modifications and for them to be re-lasted and remade.
If it’s an MTM pair, especially if done remote, demands that can be set on fit inevitably are placed a bit lower, since here it’s not really in the proposition to have the lasts fully re-made to accommodate your feet in every possible way, and if remote things will be more difficult to get perfect. In a way, it can make it even more complicated, since there’s no “set bar” in the same way as with proper full bespoke. However, if you’ve had a fitting shoe, then you should know rather well what to expect from the finished pair. And should this be completely off, one would have to discuss with the maker how to solve it, if he/she thinks it can be solved good or if one would perhaps need to really do a full bespoke last, at an increased cost, or even do a refund.
For consecutive orders
Hopefully, you end up pleased with your first order, and want to order more from the maker. If you weren’t able to pick up the final pair in person, do at least try to meet the maker before ordering another pair. Even if you can explain the small issues to be looked at, it’s much easier for the makers to see and feel for themselves, especially now when it’s smaller things to sort. Even if you place your order directly upon receiving the first pair and you have the final fit checked, make sure to use the shoes for at least a month or two before the maker is going ahead with the small changes to the lasts and begin making the second pair. Once the shoes are broken in and used for a bit, you’ll know more of how they actually are. But always have notes, either by the maker or yourself, of how they felt when new, cause smaller things that might conform well with wear doesn’t necessarily should be there and can be sorted even better for the next pair.
During this whole process, as often has been mentioned but is worth bringing up again, the communication with the maker is important. For MTM over distance, sure, it’s a bit different, but for a proper full bespoke pair made the traditional way with ideally at least three meetings in person – placing the order, fitting(s) and delivery – it’s certainly a relationship where good communication from both parties have a big part in the end result. If you are ordering from someone where the language is a barrier, make sure to spend even more time during the meetings, so you can be sure that all things have been covered and understood by each other.
To finish this off, I would just like to note to everyone that are thinking about going the bespoke route, do give it a go! Even if you have RTW shoes that fit well and are comfortable, having a pair of excellent fitting full bespoke shoes is on another level. When you feel that comfortable support which makes sure your feet aren’t tired even after a full day of walking, and which have much less of these places with excess space where small creasing develops. Add to that a craftsmanship and finishing that should surpass all factory-made shoes. I’m not going to lie, there can be problems occurring and as in all business there’s less good bespoke shoemakers out there, but if you follow all of the above chances are high you’ll end up with the best pair of shoes you’ve ever had.