What are made-to-order shoes, and how do I order them?

We’re all in search of infallibly chic, well-fitted and all-around suitable shoes, aren’t we? Yet, the idea of meeting such a sole mate seems almost bogus to those unfamiliar with the made-to-order shoe-making process.

With made-to-order fashion becoming more mainstream and consumers seeking more customized garb to better represent their unique style, that line of thinking stands to change. In terms of footwear, made-to-order shoes are ones created to your specifications. Be it an everyday shoe, a boot or a dress shoe—the process calls for you to choose the style, material and color before your made-to-order designer gets to work on bringing your vision to life. To understand the basic nuances of custom shoe-making and how you might go about ordering your first pair of made-to-order shoes, read on.

Bespoke and made-to-order shoes are both similar and discernibly different in terms of process

All made-to-order shoe designers will begin with standard sizing when creating a pair of shoes for you. This means they won’t make a shoe for each of your feet separately, as a bespoke (a.k.a. made-to-measure) shoe designer would be based on precise measurements.

Yet, what remains similar in both classes of shoes—what sets them apart from off-the-rack shoes without distinction—is the attention to craftsmanship. From John Lobb to Berluti, for each pair of bespoke and made-to-order shoes, every element is stitched, distressed (having simulated marks of age or wear) and otherwise manipulated by hand.

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

If you love handmade products but have neither the budget nor the inherent need for a bespoke shoe, made-to-order could be for you

The charm of made-to-order shoes is the element of uniqueness, without getting too technical, and as a result, too costly. If you require special attention to foot length, width or arch support, carefully consider going the bespoke route to ensure your needs are met. However, if your specifications are standard yet you desire the opportunity for basic customizations, the made-to-order process could be the way to acquire your perfect pair of shoes.

Made-to-order shoes are fitted to your specific needs. This means you choose the structure, material and finish, without a need for precise measurements—a step that is sure to be reflected in the overall cost.

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How might you choose the right designer for you? Consider your style and the type of shoe you’re looking for, as most made-to-order shoe designers have a niche. For example, Ferragamo, Berluti and Paul Stuart focus on men’s dress shoes, while Jimmy Choo offers a selection of evening shoe styles exclusively for women.

Ordering your pair of made-to-order shoes is a process

  1. Claim a style: Contact the designer with the style that you’re admiring. If you have a specific color or material in mind, provide that information as well to get a better idea of pricing straightaway.
  1. Get up-close and personal: The made-to-order process is more personal than typical shoe shopping because you’re in a position to make particular selections. Schedule an appointment to visit the designer’s showroom or opt for the designer to send your coveted shoe style and selected swatches to your home for final decision-making. It’s important to try the style on to confirm sizing, as each person’s preference for the fit of their shoes may vary.
  1. Add your unique effects: Upon confirming the basics, you’ll have the option to personalize your shoes with monograms, date plaques or graphic tattoos. To satisfy more practical needs, you may ask the designer to add a rubber topper to your shoes for better stability and traction in wet weather.
  1. Confirm your order, then sit tight: Once your order details have been confirmed, the designer will provide an estimate for how long your made-to-order shoes will take to complete. Lead times often vary depending on the designer and size of the company.

On the wait time and delivery: Great things take time

Generally speaking, the handmade shoe-making process takes time. No element of your made-to-order shoe has been mass-produced, and there are countless steps the cobblers must follow to complete your one-of-a-kind shoes.

Once your order has been confirmed, you could be waiting anywhere from five weeks to six months to receive your made-to-order shoes. Many European countries go on holiday in August and December. So, if you’re making or anticipating an order during these seasons with a company that manufactures overseas, you’ll want to ask if the lead time (from time of order to delivery) provided to you factors in the weeks off. Small enterprises, particularly those based in the United States, tend to extend shorter lead times. For example, Paul Stuart offers a lead time of six weeks for its made-to-order footwear.

When your shoes are ready, you can pick them up from the showroom or have them sent directly to you.

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FAQ: Do a pair of made-to-order shoes last longer than off-the-rack shoes?

Not necessarily. However, you can expect a softer insole and outsole on made-to-order than you can for off-the-rack shoes. This means the materials used for the former are more pliable and therefore can more easily take the shape of the owner or, in other words, be broken-in.

It can be argued that a stiffer shoe will last longer since it doesn’t mold to the foot as easily; ergo, an off-the-rack shoe is more likely to hold up because it takes longer to break in. Of course, you’ll need to determine if the shoe in question is worth the wait.

FAQ: Is there a recommended style for one’s first pair of made-to-order shoes?

Once you’ve chosen a designer to best represent your style, peruse the made-to-order styles they offer and see which first catches your eye. There is no clear “starter shoe” for first-time made-to-order shoppers, so go with your gut.

FAQ: How can I ensure the right size?

In the first stages of the made-to-order process, a consultant will be instrumental in helping you to determine your best size for the shoe in question. A great consultant will ask you to try on your standard size as well as a half-size up or down, depending on how the shoe runs and how you like it to fit. From there you will confirm the size for the pair.

You may find that the best size for each of your feet is different. If this is the case, ask about ordering a different size for each foot.

FAQ: What happens if I don’t like my shoes when they arrive?

Since made-to-order shoes are customized for you, they’re most often for final sale, so there likely won’t be an option to return or exchange. This is why it’s so important to be sure of your selections upon placing your order.

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

Be sure to note, these are just guidelines for procuring 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.