How Things Change In A Year…
Taste is a peculiar and wonderful thing which constantly evolves. Something that you will notice when you go through this List of the 10 Best Dress Shoe Brands 2021. Last year I published a three part series of the Best Men’s Dress Shoe Brands for 2021.
It was (and is) one of the most popular articles here and deserved an update but covered what I thought at the time were the best brands from under $200 all the way up to $1000+!
After a long year of experience with many of these Brands I decided to trim down the list a lot to only those I deem worthy. Of course I will add my reasoning behind each inclusion.
Shall we? There might be some surprises along the way.
A Disclaimer Before Beginning
The first thing I want to stress out is that this is MY List of what I consider the Best Brands for Welted Footwear. And by Welted, I will not include any brand that is not at least Goodyear Welted. So if your opinion differs, that is fine and I will be happy to hear your arguments about why something should be (or not be) in the list. If you are interested to see what changed from last year here it is:
Lastly, before we begin I want to briefly touch upon the scourge that is Google Search. The way Google works is simple since it favors content by powerful domains which is why you will always see GQ, Esquire, Forbes and Business Insider for example topping the search results. This causes a massive problem since their only aim is sponsored paid content and the desire to make money. And that means that their articles are heavily biased and full of crap. Take a look at this for example:
Months ago I made an article about the Worst Dress Shoe Brands you should avoid. Almost all of them above make the list.
What I mean by all this is be diligent, don’t trust the first thing you read on the internet and for niche footwear avoid the major websites. Now let’s move on to the actual shoes I think are the best in their price range.
1. Meermin Mallorca ($195 + Shipping)
The controversy starts right away with Meermin Mallorca. Why you ask? Because I don’t think they are good enough, however there are not many contenders around the $200 mark. If you read my latest Review Article or watch the Video Review you will see that I find the leather appalling.
Not only that, but a lot of you left comments telling me your bad experiences and how you will never buy from Meermin again. Understandable, but you have to remember that you get what you pay for and for $195 that is pretty acceptable for a welted shoe made in China.
Wow I started a little aggressive here. Let’s take a breather. Meermin Mallorca is a Spanish Brand that shares the same family name with Carmina but is its own separate entity. They make entry level Goodyear and some of the cheapest Hand-Welted shoes in China. They have a notorious break-in period and stiff leather but on the other hand an extensive range of models to choose from as well as Made to Order. Pretty true to size lasts with the most common ones HIRO, ELTON & RON having a blend of British and Spanish design.
I would personally never touch their boots as they are over $260 with shipping and you can do much better but their dress shoes are fine for the price. Just don’t expect them to age well and pray to any God you believe in that you don’t have to return or contact Customer Service.
- Great Price at $195
- Wide Range of Styles & Lasts
- MTO Program
- Cheap Hand Welted Line
- Cheap Shell Cordovan
- Unhelpful and Slow Customer Service
- Lower Quality Stiff Leather
- Questionable Quality Control
- Notoriously long break-in period
Honestly, if you are new to the welted shoe world this is not a bad purchase but make sure you get the sizing right. If you can get them on sale for around the same price I can recommend CNES Shoemaker instead.
Between $250 – $600
If you know me well, you probably are aware that I think real value for shoes lies in the $300 – $500 range. After that you begin getting diminishing returns for your average buyer in terms of construction and details. However there are a few brands that stand out and I can solely recommend.
2. Carlos Santos ($290 – $450)
This is the brand that got me interested in welted footwear, the brand that made me so passionate about shoes I quit my job to retail them. I now run The Noble Shoe where I retail the finest, most unique Carlos Santos styles in the world.
In my opinion it is one of the best value shoemakers in the world at the moment and one that deserves more recognition. Carlos Santos is a Portuguese Brand out of Porto since 1942 and they design and produce their shoes in their state of the art factory.
They have multiple available lines ranging from Bologna or Blake Construction to Goodyear Welted. There are three main ranges that interest me but only 2 that I consider bang for buck:
- Regular Goodyear Welted Line: Starting at $289.99 up to $314.99 for dress shoes and boots.
- Handgrade Line: Starting at $406.99
- Handcrafted Line: Starting at $599.99
The first two is where the value lies because they offer so much for a great price. Goodyear Welted Construction, exciting modern lasts and of course their signature handpainted Patina Service with 20 colors to choose from. Handcrafted is excellent, but again goes into territory you don’t need whereas the Handgrade Line is simply superb and will give any other brand a run for its money. Features like a closed channel sole with a fiddleback and patina, excellent stitching and remarkably consistent finishing are tough to beat.
Lasts are more modern with the oddball rounder last but predominately a little elongated, sharp chiseled shape. Popular lasts include the 401, 316 and 234.
Carlos Santos Pros
- Excellent Pricing for all budgets
- Massive Range of Models (The Noble Shoe)
- Patina Service lets you customize your own shoe
- Consistent Stitching & Finishing
- Limitless Group Made to Order potential
- Handgrade Line one of the best value models
- Good supple leather from Du Puy/D’annonay
Carlos Santos Cons
- Limited Online presence
- Most Retailers carry the same things
- A bit more challenging to size
- Patinas are not everyone’s cup of tea
- Limited awareness of different ranges
- Some people have unrealistic expectations for a $300 shoe
I encourage you to try Carlos Santos, you will not be disappointed.
3. TLB Mallorca ($400 – $500)
Back in 2018 TLB Mallorca began to emerge as a new exciting brand out of Spain. Backed by Swedish Retailer Skolyx and founded by a long standing member of Yanko, TLB Mallorca has made strides towards establishing themselves as a great brand.
They have a passionate and fantastic owner in Toni and their own factory in Mallorca where they create some of the nicest shoes for the money. Very nice designs and features especially on their higher end Artista Line (Read the Review Here).
With a very extensive MTO Program and even Patina options TLB is truly excellent and I would take them most of the times over Carmina. My only gripe is that their leather seemed to be a little lackluster or “dull” for a lack of better word. This Vegano Leather doesn’t do it for me and other people said the same before. In contrast, their Museum Calf and Suede is super nice!
We are now in the territory of the more Spanish/Italian design with sharp chiseled and soft square lasts like the Goya and Picasso and fit rather true to size as well.
TLB Mallorca Pros
- Great Price/Value
- Nice & many designs
- One of the nicest waists in RTW dress shoes (especially their rubber sole)
- Nice, Passionate Owners
- Good leather quality
- Superb Stitching and finishing
TLB Mallorca Cons
- Not well-known if you are new to welted shoes
- Limited Availability Online compared to other brands
- I don’t like the Vegano Leather (Personal Opinion)
- Possibly not for those that like country shoes or British Shoes
I can say TLB is a fantastic brand worth considering and trying at least once in the future. Support good, passionate people like Toni.
4. Carmina Shoemaker ($450)
Ah what am I supposed to say about Carmina. Well-known Spanish Shoemaker from Mallorca (see a trend here?) with great online presence on their own website. I say that since they really shut down most retailers to focus on their own platform which is good, but caused other issues. Such as their terrible response time to Customer Questions. You will see this issue come up more times in this list.
Carmina shoes are Goodyear Welted and retail for about $450 however if you want Shell Cordovan or Alligator it can go all the way up to $3000. This Spanish giant offers extensive MTO options and refreshes the line up quite often but there are classics that will always be there. Popular lasts include Rain, Simpson and Forest with multiple colors and styles for all tastes.
However I have a gripe with the presentation. If you visit the website they appear extremely elongated which might be just the angle and photography. I see a lot of influence from the Gaziano & Girling Deco in those which to me often looks like a boat. There is a lot of Mediterranean influence in their designs and it’s not for those that seek something more classic and subdued.
Carmina Shoemaker Pros
- Good Quality
- Great Stitching & Finishing
- Multiple Models and possibility of MTO
- Nice lasts
- Superb Cordovan Range
- Good leather quality
Carmina Shoemaker Cons
- Available almost exclusively on their website
- 120 FPS Action Replay Slow Motion Customer Service (very slow/never reply)
- Inflated prices over the year
- I heard you pay extra if you are in the USA (can someone verify?)
- Designs not for everyone
Usually you cannot go wrong with Carmina and even though it is not my first recommendation, I advise you to check them out. Be aware however as from time to time I heard horror stories about quality control slipping. But then again this is a $450 shoe not a hand-welted $1000 shoe.
5. Crockett & Jones Benchgrade ($400 – $600)
For me this is another controversial entry. Crockett & Jones is an iconic British Shoemaker out of Northampton that specializes in classic shoes. In fact I retail them at The Noble Shoe but I don’t share the same passion as I do with Carlos Santos about them. They are quintessentially British and overall very careful about the aesthetics and designs they release. Sometimes too much and others they release some absolute stinkers. The problem I have with Crockett & Jones is that while they make excellent shoes overall they charge a premium for the name, heritage and that “100% Made in UK” sticker. Which in my opinion means that you can get an equally good shoe for much less.
Don’t get me wrong, Crockett & Jones make great shoes and I feel their value lies in their Benchgrade range starting from $400 (Excluding VAT) while the Handgrade Line costs too much for not a massive jump in quality. You get a closed channel sole and some unique lasts but I feel that’s it. Leather is quite decent though I expected the suede to be more supple and they have many lasts that span decades and might feel outdated. The leather sole on the Benchgrade models is average at best.
Iconic models include the Cavendish on the 325 Last, the Coniston Boot and of course every model James Bond wears. Oh did I mention that you will pay $150 – $200 more if you ask for a quote from the NYC Store?
Crockett & Jones Pros
- Heritage, Tradition, Experience
- Good shoes
- Wide range of models
- A lot of lasts to choose from
- Decent value when buying overseas
- Great Stitching
- Excellent for those that love British Style
Crockett & Jones Cons
- Leather is just ok at times
- Average box (nitpicking but it is kinda meh)
- Leather sole is average quality
- You pay a premium for the name/location
- Extra $ if you buy from the US Store
Pretty much summed it above, Crockett & Jones will always be relevant and making good shoes especially for those that adore that rounder, British style that defined an era.
6. Enzo Bonafe ($600 – $700)
I like Enzo Bonafe and I think it is because I romanticize Italian shoemaking so much. Enzo Bonafe is a classic shoemaking workshop from Bologna creating traditional works of art for decades. They specialize in lighter Bologna construction (duh!) and Hand-welted shoes of any kind with endless customization and options. Sometimes it is actually way too much especially if you are a retailer!
I must admit I don’t have experience of owning one yet, but I handled them before and they are truly excellent. For $600 you can get a really handmade shoe from a reputable workshop with fine leather, distinguished features and superb stitching.
Bonafe uses some strange keywords for their lasts which I am not familiar with such as 363MOD and also make some stunning boots out of Shell Cordovan. That of course comes with a premium of over $1300.
There is no brand that makes everything perfect and Bonafe is no different. I previously saw some split-toe designs that I would rather walk on hot coal barefoot than wear. Another difficult part is availability as Enzo Bonafe is really strict with who they work with and you must prove you have the knowledge and passion to carry the Bonafe name forward.
Enzo Bonafe Pros
- Fantastic shoe construction for the money
- High end leathers
- Unlimited customization
- Not mass produced
- Attention to detail and stitching
Enzo Bonafe Cons
- Availability is more scarce (you cannot buy directly from them)
- Sizing can be tricky
- Too many options (not exactly a con!)
- Be careful when buying and read the description to make sure what you are getting! (Hand-welted vs Bologna)
That’s it really there are not many bad things to say about Enzo Bonafe. Very nice brand with often exciting designs and great leather. You can check out my good friend Gaurav at Shop Mehra who retails both Enzo Bonafe.
7. Vass Budapest ($650 – $750)
Yet another controversial entry which has nothing to do with how good the shoes are. Because Vass Shoes offer an unreal price for handmade shoes. Hand-welted, Hand-lasted shoes out of Hungary for just $650 might sound like a lot of money but for not for what they offer. In fact at the time of writing Vass has a clearance sale up to 50% off and that means you can get sample pairs for as low as $300. So what’s the problem?
The problem lies in customer service, monopoly and response times. Back in February I asked Vass if I can carry their shoes and the reply came in 3.5 months later. To further investigate I went on a Sherlock Holmes spree on Styleforum and their official Instagram. Countless of people protesting about the non-existent response times and trouble with returns. Then you have the often colossal mark ups of other retailers with Ascot Shoes skyrocketing the price of the same shoes.
Vass has a bunch of lasts but more often than not you will see talk about the P2, U, K and F last. You can even find the classic Budapest (which I consider Ronald McDonald shoes) and a variety of boots. Customization is possible but once more pray to whatever God you believe in when you send that email that they receive it and reply. The quality of the shoe is undeniable though.
Vass Budapest Pros
- Excellent quality
- Great leathers
- Superior value for hand-welted, hand-lasted shoes especially on sale
- Lots of options and styles to choose from
- Variety of lasts for all tastes
- Fantastic copy of the Galway Boot (called Valway)
Vass Budapest Cons
- Retailers can often mark-up too much
- Customer service is slow and understaffed
- You might not like the designs
- Shipping and exchanges can be really slow
If you find yourselves in Hungary I certainly recommend visiting a Vass store and if you are in the hunt for a higher end shoe take your chance now and get them on sale. Remember to buy through the Vass Website.
8. Antonio Meccariello ($470 – $850)
Yet another Italian makes the cut and is truly one of my favorites. Antonio Meccariello from Naples is a small workshop that produces incredible shoes for rather affordable prices. You probably noticed that the price range begins from just $470 and you might wonder why. This is because Antonio Meccariello has a few different ranges which are difficult to decode on the basic website. Speaking about the website it is not really great and rather basic but at the same time has that Italian charm to it with multiple spelling mistakes and inconsistency. It almost screams, I want to make shoes not websites!
So to clear things up let’s condense Antonio’s shoes in three main range:
- Aeris: Entry Line at $470 and Goodyear Welted
- Argentum: High End Line at $600+ that is Goodyear Welted or Hand-welted
- Aurum: Luxury Hand-welted Line with best materials and construction
Then of course you go to the Bespoke offerings that will cost way more. I heard that the Aurum will cost you anywhere near from $1200 up to $2000 but I cannot confirm. Regardless Antonio’s designs are sublime with a variety of lasts and the best baby box calf leather around. He is also a fantastic and super friendly person to boot. I cannot stress out how much I like his sharper soft square lasts and he makes one of the nicest split toe derbies in the world in my opinion.
Antonio Meccariello Pros
- Incredible craftsmanship
- Small workshop with focus on detail
- Excellent finishing, stitching
- Superior leather for higher end shoes
- Variety of models and lasts through MTO
- Prices for all budgets
Antonio Meccariello Cons
- Super scarce availability
- Colossal lead time for MTO (6-8 months)
- Difficult website
- Very challenging sizing initially
- Import taxes over $800 in the USA
In my opinion Meccariello sets the bar really high and even though I retail Crockett & Jones Handgrade I would never hesitate to pick up Antonio’s shoes instead.
9. Paolo Scafora ($1000 – $1500)
And now we get to my favorite shoemaker of 2021 for a multitude of reasons. Another Italian that shares the same city as Meccariello (in fact they are friends), Paolo Scafora is a breath of fresh air in the industry for many reasons.
It’s the first time I see someone that can marry traditional and modern with such elegance. Norwegian stitched shoes that don’t look bulky, exciting aerodynamic shapes and extremely sharp lasts coupled with the finest materials money can buy. Paolo Scafora is a small workshop with a great Bespoke service but their RTW shoes are no slouches either. Hand-welted and Hand-lasted with lasted shoe trees and that beautiful embossed family crest on the sole.
If you don’t want a classic British round shoe you should definitely look at Paolo Scafora. Since June I have been an official retailer carrying currently 3 designs but through MTO anything is possible.
Of course we are now into premium territory and a rather colossal price for a pair of shoes. In my opinion however it is one of the best in the higher end since all British brands are machine welted and when you pay that much, you should seek the handmade details.
Paolo Scafora Pros
- Incredible designs
- Master of the Norwegian Welt
- Sharpest lasts and gorgeous sole
- Customization through MTO
- Handmade shoes
Paolo Scafora Cons
- Substantial cost
- Designs too adventurous or aggressive for many
- Sizing is tricky initially
Definitely a brand to look out for if you are shopping high end shoes! They are also one of the most professional and nice people I met in the shoe industry so far.
10. Saint Crispin’s ($1200 – $2000)
And onto the last and most expensive shoemaker on the list which is Saint Crispin’s from Romania of all places. A very small traditional workshop making genuinely handmade shoes.
I am not a huge fan of Saint Crispin’s partly because of the price and secondly the designs rarely elicit that wow factor from me. Simon Crompton of Permanent Style talked about how stiff they were initially. I also dislike the heavy filters they use for their pictures making them extremely saturated.
However there is no denying that Saint Crispin’s are remarkable high quality shoes. Attention to detail is very high and they will only use the best materials available. If you want some of the best handmade shoes in the market this is one of them with a bottomless list of customization and lasts. Speaking about lasts they have 8 in total with mostly chiseled and soft square toes.
I don’t have a pair of Saint Crispin’s yet but I handled them extensively and they are robust shoes with an impeccable build. It just has to cater to your taste really.
Saint Crispin’s Pros
- Best materials possible
- High end finishing and stitching
- Hand-welted and Hand-lasted
- Small batch workshop instead of mass produced
- Excellent range of models
Saint Crispin’s Cons
- Very expensive
- Can be very stiff initially (more here)
- Limited availability/production (1600 pairs a year)
Why Is X Brand Not Included
If you check out the list you will see that only one British Brand makes the cut. This does not mean they are bad shoes but I just can’t connect with them as much. Some brands worth considering for the middle range are Cheaney and Tricker’s but for the high end I have a harder time recommending. This is purely due to the fact that when I spend $1000+ on a pair of shoes I want them to be Hand-welted and none are. Gaziano & Girling are the only ones that appeal to me aesthetically but are still Goodyear Welted, while Edward Green prices have gone up substantially over the years. Though truth be told, nothing can beat the original Galway. Everybody’s copying it and for a reason.
I cannot justify the purchase of any John Lobb shoes. And more often than not you will see some sales up to 30% on expensive footwear which makes it a more appealing case to try them.
As for the lower end, I will never touch Loake again and Allen Edmonds is going down the drain along with their Quality Control. I love my friend ZEB Shoes but this is an RTW list while he makes MTM shoes. Lastly, Alden appeals to a very specific crowd and I dislike their designs. Cobbler Union seems like an alright brand honestly and so does Septieme Largeur but I need actual experience before I make my judgement.
Remember that his is my list and my personal experience in 2021. In the end, whether you buy Edward Green, Church’s or Meermin and Loake it doesn’t matter as long as you are happy and satisfied. What is important is that the shoe brings great emotions out of you when you wear it, look at it and touch it.
I would honestly love to hear your thoughts about your own top 10 and why some brands should or should not be there. Let me know in the comments! Until next time, I wish you a very pleasant week!
Thank you for reading,