Italians are sharp, slender, fashion-forward and flashy…
Americans are blunt, conservative, solid and chunky.
I’m talking, of course, about dress shoes.
What makes Italian shoes some of the most sought-after in the world?
And are they better than American shoes?
There are minor differences in construction between Italian and American shoes – and BIG differences in philosophy.
The American philosophy is that shoes are functional. Americans build great quality, practical, durable dress shoes from heavier leathers.
The Italian philosophy is that shoes are a work of art. Rather than durability, they focus on making shoes as beautiful and exquisite as possible.
Here’s what those differences mean for you in practice.
4 Reasons To Wear Italian Shoes
#1. Elite Craftsmanship
In Italy, shoemaking is an art handed down through generations. Shoemakers create handmade shoes using traditional, labor-intensive crafting methods that are considered old-fashioned in America. Leather is often hand-dyed and hand-burnished. Each shoe is a unique creation.
Making a shoe by hand means the artisan can create a better fit, and make sure each detail is perfect. Of course, it also demands a lot more time and skill, which pushes the price up.
#2. The Best Leather
Italians take leather very seriously. They use the best hand-picked full-grain leather (full grain leather has a natural surface – the cheaper ‘corrected’ grain has the surface shaved off and replaced with a plasticky coating) Calfskin, the softest and most supple leather, is used in the best Italian shoes.
Top-quality leather produces quality dress shoes that look and feel noticeably better. Instead of becoming scuffed like ordinary ‘corrected grain' shoes, full-grain leather develops a beautiful patina with time and wear. It's also much less prone to getting stained.
#3. Italian Shoes Get You Noticed
When shoes are made by hand, there's no need to make thousands of identical mass-marketable copies, so Italian shoemakers have more room to be creative with styles and materials.
Italian shoes have a rich creative flair and often include decorations like heavy broguing, color blocking, or patent leather. They’re bold shoes for men who are more afraid of blending into the wallpaper than they are of standing out.
You're also likely to find unexpected colors like blues and reds alongside the usual neutral shades.
#4. Italian Shoes Are More Comfortable
This is down to the difference between Blake and Goodyear construction. Most Italian shoes are Blake stitched. This means the stitching is done on the inside of the shoe. The upper is first wrapped around the insole and attached to it and the outsole using a single stitch.
This provides a clean silhouette because there is no exterior stitching showing, and makes the shoe easy to resole.
It also makes the shoe more flexible. This, combined with the high-quality soft leather, makes a really noticeable difference to comfort. Your feet can move more easily and you often won’t need any breaking-in period at all.
Cheap American shoes are cemented – glued together in a way that won’t stand up to wear and tear. Quality ones are Goodyear welted. This means the upper and sole are both attached to a leather, linen or synthetic strip known as the “welt”. The welt forms a cavity which is filled with cork.
All these extra bits make for a shoe that's solid and sturdy rather than flexible and comfortable.
4 Reasons To Wear American Shoes
#1. They’re Cheaper
Most good Italian shoes will set you back $600 or more, whereas a classic American brand might cost you less than half that, and you'll still get an excellent quality pair of shoes.
Of course, there is a status boost to wearing shoes that say ‘I have a $600 shoe budget and I know how to spend it'. But you might be better off spending that extra $300 or $400 on some clothing upgrades instead.
#2. American Shoes Are More Hardwearing And Waterproof
Despite rumors to the contrary, Goodyear welting is not inherently more hardwearing than Blake stitching, but it is more waterproof.
And it’s fair to say that on average, American shoe manufacturers tend to be a bit more concerned about durability over looks. Rather than choosing the most beautiful leather, they choose the toughest.
#3. They Go With Your Suit
The difference between Italian and American shoes reflects the nature of Italian and American suits. Italian suits are lighter and slimmer cut than American ones.
This means you should take care when pairing Italian shoes with an American suit. Many Italian shoes will look too sleek and lightweight and your outfit will look imbalanced.
However, you can find Italian shoes with a thick sole and a heel, which will work just fine with American suits.
#4. American Shoes Are Wider
Italian shoes tend to be longer and narrower with pointed toes. Many American men find the fit TOO narrow to actually fit their feet comfortably.
There's also the question of whether you like the look. If shorter and wider shoes with rounded toes are what you're used to, you may feel awkward, strange or overly conspicuous in something that makes your feet look a completely different shape.
With all the pros and cons on each side, it’s really up to you which you prefer. If you're the kind of guy who likes to stand out and be noticed (in a good way), or you want to have a little fun with your look while also making a powerful statement, Italian shoes are probably for you.
But if you're thinking, ‘I don't know, this all sounds a little too flamboyant,' you're probably a better match for restrained, dependable classic American style.