The Best Entry Level Quality Men’s Shoes

TimelessMan has and will always focus on the higher end of menswear and tailoring, globally. But a lot of TM readers are not yet at the point of being able to afford most of the clothing and products featured here, or their priorities lie elsewhere (perfectly reasonably) and spending circa 1,500 (like my Saint Crispin’s) – 4,000 (like my bespoke Cleverley’s) Euros on a pair of shoes just isn’t a realistic option at this point in time, or into the future. Given the popularity of the recent article on quality, affordable, online options for menswear, I thought the same theme would be equally useful for quality men’s shoes.

The purpose of this article is to highlight a few of the shoemakers who I’ve had personal experience with, and who I see as the best makers for the entry point for quality men’s shoes.

There are other shoemakers out there who make a decent shoe for less than those listed here, but the lasts typically lack refinement, the leathers are of lesser quality, or the brand pretends to be one thing, but is another (such as claiming a “Made in England” title, when the shoes are mostly made in China, with final details being completed in the UK to allow the claim to be legal).

Anything from the high-street brands can be thrown straight in the bin, given they’ll fall apart in 6 months anyway. Most high street brands rely on the cheapest possible construction and materials and then place huge mark-ups on the shoe and spend everything on branding, expecting you to return in 6 months for your next pair. Don’t fall for it. Buy quality shoes.

The brands listed below are well made, well designed, authentic to their claims and will, if properly cared for, last for many years, able to be re-lasted when the time comes. Anything less than this and you’re working on a false economy.

Carmina:

The minute the Albaladejo family realise they could charge twice as much for their shoes, we’re all screwed.  Made in Mallorca and now in the 5th generation of family ownership, Carmina produce excellent shoes (the images above are all Carmina shoes), for a fraction of what they should. Prices have stepped up in the last 2 years, but they’re still very good for what you get.

Betty Albaladejo

Their range of lasts is extensive, from the sleek, soft square Simpson last, to the more sturdy Oscar last, better suited to boots. They also make in different widths on most lasts, so you’ll won’t have any trouble finding something that works for your feet. The designs cover the entire range of classic men’s shoes, from oxfords to jumper boots, and everything in between.

My Carmina split-toe tassel loafers

Last year they launched their custom program, allowing customers to design their shoes online, working from a range of in-house templates, selecting everything from leathers to brass nailed sole monograms, rivaling that of many of the high end makers MTO programs. There’s an up-charge for this (around 20%, from memory) but for anyone who wants more say in the design of their shoes, it’s a good option and still a lot cheaper than similar quality shoes from other makers.

The only thing I’d love to see Carmina start doing is a fiddleback waist.

J. Fitzpatrick:

Full disclosure; Justin’s (Fitzpatrick) a friend of mine, so I can’t guarantee impartiality here, but a part of the reason we’re friends is that I respect his passion for shoe-making and his encyclopedic knowledge of the craft. He lives and breathes shoes and has done so for a long time. He’s a thoroughly decent guy and one of the rare individuals in menswear who isn’t full of sh*t.

J. Fitzpatrick double monks

Many will know Justin from his successful blog The Shoe Snob, which he started years ago, when apprenticing for Stefano Bemer in Florence. having left Seattle to pursue bespoke shoe-making, with no idea how he would make it work. He’s since moved to London and, a few years ago, launched J. Fitzpatrick. Made in Spain and Goodyear welted, his shoes vary between classic styles and classic with a modern interpretation (like his button boots). I own a pair of Windermere’s in Mocha Calf and they’re as versatile a shoe as you could hope for, working with most suit colours, and equally comfortable with jeans.

Windermere in mocha

Carlos Santos:

I’ve been meaning to find out why you’d start a shoe company in the middle of the second world war, but it seems to have worked out for Carlos Santos.

Manufacturing in Portugal, family owned Carlos Santos shoes are the most affordable of the makers listed here.

My Carlos Santos oxfords

I bought a pair a few months ago, specifically for this article, to see how they perform first hand and I can happily recommend them. Sturdily constructed and Goodyear welted, they’re a well made shoe, perfectly suitable for everyday wear. The last could do with being a little better refined, it feels a bit clunky to me and some subtle changes would make it much more visually appealing, but all in all (and for the price) it’s hard to find faults here. The only other thing I’d have liked would be to have the welt clipped more closely to the upper. It’d only take a fraction of time to achieve for each pair, but the result would be a much more streamlined look from above.

You can buy Justin’s shoes directly from his e-shop. Carmina and Carlos Santos also have their own e-shops, but I’ve found Skoaktiebolaget to be the easiest to purchase from online. Leatherfoot is also a good option for Carmina’s.

There are other makers out there who, I’m sure, make a similarly good product, but I haven’t had any first hand experience with them and I’m not likely to anymore, but the 3 makers listed above provide all anyone needs for a lifetime of quality shoes, priced very fairly.

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri. They have 2 little boys born 11 months apart, which was funny for about 2 seconds before reality set in.

16 Comments

  • Reply April 5, 2017

    Chris Browning

    Great article and info!

  • Reply April 5, 2017

    Joseph

    Do you have any opinion of Allen Edmonds? I’m surprised they’re not in this list.

    • Reply April 5, 2017

      Andrew Doyle

      I’ve never worn or tried on Allen Edmonds. For me, they’re aesthetically too chunky.
      A lot of people swear by them, but they don’t do it for me, so I’ve always steered clear and couldn’t comment on their quality or production process.

      • Reply April 5, 2017

        Gjorg

        Nice answer!

  • Reply May 4, 2017

    Mike

    Great article. Any experience with Bonafe ? How would you rank them as their prices are very close to Carmina and Justin’s brand.

    • Reply May 5, 2017

      Andrew Doyle

      Not yet. But on the list to try. I’d be pretty confident that they’d be good though. If they are, they’d be the best affordable hand-welted shoes anywhere.

  • Reply January 11, 2019

    Phil

    I wear carminas daily, alternating between 3 pairs and have found them to be the best shoes that I can afford. I have had magnanni in the past and like their design but clearly an inferior shoe. What is your opinion on Lotusse?

    • Reply January 14, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      I’ve not worn Lotusse, so I can’t comment knowledgeably, unfortunately. I’ve found Carmina’s to be the best value in that price range and their online MTO process is smooth and well built. You could also check out Skoaktiebolaget’s new in-house brand Lof and Tung (seach Lof and Tung on here and you’ll find a recent article I wrote, covering my first pair) as I’ve been happy with my loafers from there.

  • Reply April 20, 2019

    Vinay

    Hi Andrew,

    An informative and interesting article.

    In your opinion, how would brands like Carmina, Lof & Tung, J Fitzpatrick and Carlos Santos compare to the entry level english brands such as Loake 1880 and Crockett & Jones benchgrade.

    Also, between the models in your recent articles, how would you rank Carmina, Lof & Tung, J Fitz. and Carlos Santos in terms of quality, finish, design, construction etc. I just want to get an idea of where each brand sits and then compare them to say a C&J benchgrade.

    Thank you.

    • Reply April 24, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      Thanks Vinay. I’d place them all closely together, with the exception of Loake. Loake’s were actually my first ever pair of good shoes and were a major spark in developing my interest in menswear, but having now gone all the way through the food chain up to full bespoke (Cleverley’s) I’d place them below the others mentioned. They’re still a perfectly good shoe and better than anything you’ll find on the high street and in some designer boutiques, but the lasts are fairly clunky and not as refined as the others mentioned. I’ve also heard some nasty rumours about them being mostly made in China, then having the finishing touches made in England, to allow them to put the Made in England stamp on them. Awful if true and very common practice with a LOT of luxury brands, but I’ve not been able to confirm it r.e. Loake.

      Comparing the others you’ve mentioned, they’re all similar in terms of quality. Interestingly, with the exception of Crockett and Jones they’re all also made in Spain. The only issue I’ve had with any pair of any of shoes from those makers, is that my Carmina soles in 2 pairs of loafers wore out fairly quickly. More quickly than I’d have liked. That could be an anomaly though, as I’ve not heard that from anyone else. They can be re-soled, though.

      Given the similar quality of those makers, I’d suggest you focus on finding a last which is comfortable and which you like the look of. The last matters a lot more than most people think. For example, Lof and Tung, Carmina and C&J all make a similar tassel loafer, but my personal preference, having owned and worn them all, is for C&J’s Cavendish loafer. It fits a little wider in the forefoot (which suits me well) and it’s an iconic last with near perfect visual balance.

      All are good options, though, so you can’t go wrong in buying from any of them.

  • Reply April 22, 2019

    Vinay

    Hi. Great article.
    How do you think Lof & Tung, Carmina and Carlos Santos compare in terms of quality, design and construction to some of the English brands such as Loake 1880 and Crockett & Jones bench grade?
    Thanks.

    • Reply May 1, 2019

      Vinay

      Thanks Andrew.

      The difficulty is that most of the shoe brands are not available to try in Australia. That makes it difficult to determine which brand and last has the best fit. We tend to have Loake as well as C&J and Edward Green (from Double Monk) but that is about it. I would like to try the J. Fitzpatrick shoes (e.g. something with the TMG round last such as the Magnolia) and see how that compares to a C&J bench grade show with the 341 last (e.g. Radstock or Westfield). Would you say the J Fitzpatrick RTW models (e.g. Magnolia) are equal in quality to a C&J benchgrade (e.g. Radstock/Westfield) even though they are made in Spain rather than England?

      Regarding Loake, do you think those rumours are true even for the higher tier model ranges such as Loake 1880? My understanding was the 1880 range is 100% completely made in England with French or Italian sourced leathers. If there is any component of the shoe worked on in India or China that would be very disappointing.

      Thanks for the advice.

      • Reply May 6, 2019

        Andrew Doyle

        I’d say that J. Fitz and C&J are pretty much on par. I’ve only owned 1 pair of Justin’s shoes from a few years ago and I was happy with the quality.
        You’re right about the last issues, being in Australia. It’s next to impossible to know what suits you, without travelling to global cities which stock the above brands.
        I don’t know enough about Loake 1880 to comment accurately. Personally, I’d just spend the extra and go with a brand I trust.

        • Reply May 7, 2019

          Vinay

          Thanks. Given I can try on the C&J shoes to work out the best last and size for my foot, I think I will go for one of their benchgrade or handgrade models over the F. Fitzpatrick models.

  • Reply May 7, 2019

    Vinay

    Thanks Andrew.
    Probably go for the C&J as I can try them on and work out the best last and size for my feet.

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