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These 2 Features Help Men's Dress Shoes Last Forever

We look at which types of material and construction are the highest quality, and how to get the most for your money.

Many men don't want to pay hundreds of dollars for fashion, but high-quality shoes can last years, even decades longer than a cheaper pair. What's more, proper footwear can take a daily pavement pounding and help prevent all kinds of back pain — saving you medical costs down the line.

We'll show you how you can get the most quality for your dollar at any price point by focusing on just two shoe features. And be sure to check out all the latest, best men's shoe deals.

Some Leathers Age Better Than Others

Men's dress shoes are generally made of leather. Several different types of leather exist, but most dress shoes fall into one of two groups.

Full-Grain Leather: This has been minimally treated, and the surface ("grain") is pretty much the same as when it was on the cow, including any imperfections. Full-grain leather ages well (with proper care), developing a natural patina. The best shoes are made of full-grain leather, but that premium comes at a price.

SEE ALSO: How to Get Comfortable Women's Shoes That Last

Corrected Leather: This kind of leather has been sanded down to remove imperfections, and an artificial grain has been applied and coated with sealant. This surface can look nice in the store and is stain resistant, but it feels plasticky, will quickly crease, and can even peel off with normal wear. Most shoes, even some relatively expensive ones, are made with corrected leather.

leather shoes

How to Tell the Difference Between Leathers

Corrected leather looks monochromatic (exactly the same color across the whole shoe) and overly shiny, and feels very smooth and plastic-like. Full-grain leather has a deeper color, some texture, and feels leathery.

However, the easiest way to tell might be to look up the shoes online. High-end manufacturers won't hesitate to tell you that they use full-grain leather (the same goes for construction, below). Shoes of corrected leather will just say "leather," or might try to use catchwords like "genuine" or "top-grain."

Construction Is Everything

Shoe construction generally refers to how the sole is attached to the rest of the shoe. Again, there are a few different kinds, but here we focus on the two most common.

Goodyear Welted: The construction gold standard, this method was invented by the son of the tire namesake. This particular way of stitching the soles to the uppers is supposedly the most durable and breathable, as well as the easiest to resole, extending the life of the shoe for a fraction of the cost of a new pair. (There are other kinds of stitching, but you don't need to worry about them unless you're really into expensive shoes.)

Cemented: The cheaper alternative are cemented shoes, which are held together with adhesive. The vast majority of shoes are cemented. They cannot be resoled, and will probably last anywhere from a few months to a couple years with regular wear.

What Type of Shoe Is Right for You?

As you might have guessed, Goodyear-welted, full-grain leather shoes are the most expensive, least common, and highest quality shoes. On the other hand, cemented, corrected-leather shoes are (or should be) the least expensive, most common, and lower quality. Cemented, full-grain leather shoes can be found sometimes, but we've never seen Goodyear-welted shoes with corrected leather.

Goodyear-welted, full-grain leather shoes are the most expensive, least common, and highest quality shoes.

Your choice of shoes depends entirely on your budget, needs, and the deals you can find. You can only spend as much as you have. And if you only wear dress shoes for special occasions, then even a low-quality pair could look good and last for awhile.

What You'll Get at Different Price Points

Up to $100: In-House Brands and Discounts

Matthew Simko, a fashion expert and contributing editor at style site Chubstr, was thrilled to discuss his finds in this range, citing JCPenney's in-house brand, Stafford. It has leather oxfords that retail from around $50. "You can't beat that" for list prices, Simko says.

This is also the price range to get deals on corrected leather, cemented shoes that can often sell for much more. We've seen Cole Haan oxfords for as little as $75 in the past year, as well as sitewide sales for the brand. Meanwhile, DSW (which stocks Cole Haan and similar brands) has knocked up to 70% off clearance items in that same time. At those prices, these shoes might be well worth it.

$100 to $300: Midrange and Second-Hand

In this price range, Grant Harris, former style consultant at Image Granted, recommends Florsheim, Johnston & Murphy, and Bostonian: "For what they're offering, they provide a quality product." But he cautions that on the high end, these brands can cost almost as much as better brands.

SEE ALSO: 5 Items You Can Buy Once (And They'll Last)

This is also where you can begin to find full-grain leather, Goodyear-welted shoes. "Disruptors" like John Doe and Jack Erwin are shipping such shoes for as little as $149 (up to about $200).

In this budget, you can also look for factory seconds or used pairs on eBay from some of the heavy hitters, like Allen Edmonds, Alden, and Loake. We often see deals on Allen Edmonds especially, with sales of up to 50% off clearance items in the past year.

$300+: An Investment for Heavy Use

If you wear dress shoes every single day for work, consider this price range as an investment. Buy a new pair from Allen Edmonds, Alden, Meermin, Loake, or others, and with proper care they could last you for decades.

Shoe Maintenance Is Crucial

"The biggest factor [in shoe durability] would be more dependent on the wear and care as opposed to the price tag," says style consultant Alice Kim, founder of Veritas Image Management. Though she admits shoes are limited by their quality and construction, Kim says "a lower-end shoe will last quite some time if the wearer is mindful to take care of it like he would any high-quality shoe."

What does that mean?

  • Clean and shine your shoes regularly. This will help keep the leather supple and free from cracks.
  • Use absorbent shoe trees after you wear the shoes. These will take up moisture (sweat) and help the shoe keep its shape.
  • Have more than one pair of shoes, and try not to wear the same pair more than a day or two in a row.

Readers, what are your favorite dress shoes? Have you found any brands that offer great longevity for their price? Let us know in the comments below.

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Former Editor

Ben offered expert financial insight at DealNews from 2014 to 2017. He's been featured on Good Morning America and Fox and Friends, and has been quoted by Reuters, Time, Money Magazine, and more. Follow him on Twitter @BenDealNews.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I have a pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes that are goodyear welted with corrected leather and I hate them. Stiff as the day they were made. Look a little harder and you will find them
Thanks for all this information. I have always had as a limiting factor in my shoe choices the fact that I need 7EEE or EEEE, and even in the realm of wide shoes, many styles don't offer those widths smaller than 8. Usually I wear New Balance sneakers because they have always addressed the extra-wide market, but I may need to buy some new good shoes, and I appreciate knowing what to look for. I just wish shoe makers would make it easier to find out what last a shoe is built on, and describe the last accurately. I have had 7EEEE from NB which are too tight, and I've had 7EEEE from NB which are too big. It makes me crazy.