Is there a difference between custom and made-to-order shoes?

When a product is specially made for you, is it custom or is it made-to-order? Not to stack a question on top of a question here; I promise I’ll get to the point now.

If you Google search synonyms for the words custom shoes, you’ll likely see half a dozen words that mean the same thing. Among them is made-to-order.

So, the basic answer to the leading questions of this post is no, there is no difference between custom and made-to-order (MTO) shoes. To use the phrases interchangeably is to use them correctly, as both describe footwear that is personalized, tailored, customized and any other adjective with the definition “made for you” once your order has been confirmed.

Read on for details about what makes up (and what does not make up) this category of footwear.

The personalization options for custom and made-to-order shoes have limits

Put simply, this type of shoe allows for only aesthetic changes to footwear commissioned by their clients.

This means regardless of whether they’re interested in an everyday shoe or a dress shoe, shoppers have the final say on fabric, color and shoe art (like personalized tattoos or engravings) for their orders. Some designers may offer an option to add rubber to the soles of your shoes for better stability and traction in wet weather; they also may entertain requests for extra laces, for an additional cost.

Custom and made-to-order shoe designers will help advise on the best size for you based on the style you’ve chosen and how you like your shoes to fit. However, they will not measure your feet to make your shoes based on those specifications.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MTO process, check out this guide.

Custom and made-to-order footwear is usually handmade and never mass-produced

“Handmade” is an overused word in the fashion industry, but true handmade footwear is made by skilled shoemakers from start to finish. They cut the materials, dye the leathers to your liking and hand punch every perforation, to mention but a few steps. And because they are minding the shoes through and through, there is an assurance that no detail will be overlooked.

It’s worth noting that such artisans rely on traditional shoe-making techniques, because they’re known to ensure longevity. Master shoemaker John Lobb uses a goodyear welt—a layer of material sewn to the bottom of the shoe separating the insole and the upper from the outsole—which allows for shoe resoling. The welt can be unstitched to detach the sole without causing damage; once that’s done, a new sole can be added to extend the life of your shoes.

Also, unlike off-the-rack footwear, custom shoes are brand new, which means they’re never made for the masses to try on, let alone mass-produced. After all, such a notion would be the antithesis of the “made for you” concept.

Bespoke shoes differ from custom and made-to-order shoes

One term that does not apply to the custom-made/made-to-order class of shoes is “bespoke.” This is, in fact, an entirely different category of shoes.

Made-to-order shoe designers make cosmetic changes to footwear. Again, this means that clients may pick their preferred fabric and color, and request personalized tattoos or engravings.

It’s only in some cases that minor adjustments to the structure of the shoe can be made, and the adjustments can only be made if it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the shoe’s shape.

I digress—but only slightly.

Made-to-order shoe designers won’t use a measuring tape on you, but bespoke, or made-to-measure, shoemakers will. The latter will measure each of your feet, and they’ll make a shoe for each of your feet based on the precise measurements. It’s the best possible accommodation for those with particularly big, small or wide feet as well as for people with podiatric (foot) issues or lumbar (back) issues.

Custom-made/made-to-order shoes are likely for you unless you have a fundamental need for something more specific

The appeal of such shoes is the element of uniqueness, without getting too technical, and as a result, too costly. If you have specificationst have to do with foot length, width or arch support (i.e., if you need orthotics), consider going the bespoke route to ensure your needs are met. 

Expect to pay at least double for bespoke footwear, for which a designer must create a mold based on your measurements and the fit will surely be assessed and reassessed to achieve your desired fit.

However, if your specifications are pretty standard and you only desire the opportunity for superficial customizations, the MTO process is likely the way to acquire your perfect shoes.

You’re ready to order your pair of made-to-order (custom) shoes

Be sure to note, these are just guidelines for acquiring made-to-order shoes. With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a quality resource for shoppers. To learn more about made-to-order shoes or any of the products we offer, send us a note. We’re here to give you peace of mind and help you make the best buying decisions for you.

George Esquivel

George Esquivel

George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.