I had been wanting to try getting a pair of tailor-made shoes made for some time and finally received my new pair a couple of weeks ago.
Why did I choose tailor-made shoes?
I would have probably never attempted to have a pair made in the UK as it is so much more expensive than the high street options. High street brands in the UK can be very good quality for relatively low prices, especially in the December and June sales at places like Jones, the Bootmaker’s or Schuh. In China though, off-the-shelf shoes are triple. For example, a pair of shoes that might cost £60 in Clarks in the UK, are 1800 RMB at full price in China, and maybe 1000 RMB if there is a big sale. It is really crazy how much people love Clarks here though and how much they are willing to spend! Given that I could get a nice pair of leather brogues tailor-made for 1600 RMB I thought I should give it a go!
My choice of tailor
There are a lot to choose from in Shanghai and some, to be honest, stock suspiciously similar sample shoes. The place I chose in the end was a Billy’s Handmade Shoes on Changle Road (长乐路1238号) and had a couple of models identical to ones I had seen at a tailors in the Pearl Market (for the same price), but I decided actually matter. The guy in charge has apparently been running the shop for 25 years and appears to be a hit with the expat community. He comes across as a real old-fashioned gentleman and his English is exceptionally good, which is quite handy if your Mandarin is not up to the level of describing how you want your insole to fit.
My choice of shoes
I fell in love with a pair of brown brogues, which were originally two-tone in the demo model, however, I opted for a smarter single shade of brown somewhere between the two tones on offer. Billy measured my feet and asked if I wanted a close, regular or loose fit. I played safe and asked for regular, although I now think I might be more of a close fit kind of guy! I was slightly concerned that Billy thought my feet were 44.5 in the left and 45 in the right, as, I have always worn a 43, or occasionally a 44 until now, but I decided to trust his judgement and paid the 50% deposit.
A couple of weeks later I came back for a ‘fitting’ and I basically tried on the leather part of the shoe without a heel or sole and Billy looked at how it was shaping up. At this mid-point I was surprised how simple the shoes looked. They looked smart, although much pointier and bigger in the toe than I had anticipated.
I came back a week later to collect them and was delighted with how they looked and my choice of shade seemed to have paid off. I was a little concerned with how big they looked though…
Billy had said I could come back if any problems and I decided to take him up on this, as although the shoes fit and looked amazing, they were much bigger than I imagined and I felt like I had clown feet. I have a feeling I am not used to this type of dress shoe (although have had many pairs of brogues before), but was still expecting a snugger fit from a tailor-made. Billy said he could make them tighter, so I left them with him for a few days.
I picked up the final pair a few days later and was much happier with them, although… they still feel a little on the big side.
The problem with tailor-made is you can’t try them on first and can’t really return them, and thus you do have to trust your tailor. I also think you can probably only fully reap the benefit of tailor-made after one pair of shoes when you know how they fit, how they feel and what you prefer. I know now, for example, that I like a closer fit than some people and could request this next time. My shoes look great, but for the same price I could have bought (and tried on) an amazing pair of pre-made brogues in Europe, such as a pair of Loake’s, Around my ankles feel a little tight and I have to squeeze my foot in, whereas on the side of my left foot it rubs a little. The toe in contrast feels a little long and the crease feels a little high. I’m being very picky, but I guess you expect perfection in a tailor-made shoe. Maybe I have just been wearing the wrong size shoes all this time? I still really like the shoes though and will wear them happily.
Would I recommend getting tailor-made shoes in Shanghai?
- You’re not going to Europe or the US any time soon
- You have awkward feet, or feet with different sizes, or unusually big feet
- You see a design you particularly like in the shop
- You have a very specific / unusual idea for a pair of shoes or want to create an imitation of a more expensive brand
- You have a track record of returning a lot of shoes / clothes or have a tendency to be very fussy
- You are happy with premade alternatives and are travelling to Europe or the US soon
- You are expecting a vast difference in fit and feel from premade shoes from decent retaillers
I wonder what other people think of their tailor-made shoes in Shanghai?