What makes a great pair of shoes?

Finding a great pair of shoes is like making a new friend that you just click with. The chemistry seems inexplicable, but when you really think about it, you realize there’s a strong list of reasons for why you love them.

Understanding what makes a really great pair of shoes, be they running shoes or Chelsea boots, will ultimately help you to curate a collection of shoes that meets your taste level and provides long-lasting comfort.

For more on what makes a great pair of shoes, read on.

High-quality materials

A great pair of shoes will always be made with the best materials. The upper part of the shoe (a.k.a. the upper) could be suede, leather, brocade or even canvas in a variety of colors and patterns. Meanwhile, the lining and the sole of the shoe will ideally be made of leather. This offers the most comfort, because leather, which is naturally soft and pliable, molds to your foot with time. It also provides longevity, because it’s easy to re-sole. 

Exceptions would be the use of rubber for an outsole, commonly used for a creeper, or thick-soled, shoe (which, if made well, could still be resoled), or patent leather for the upper of a dress shoe. Paul Stuart is one such designer who affords the option of a rubber sole, a leather sole or a combination of the two.


If you’re not sure how to distinguish the quality of leather or suede, color and feel are great indications of exceptional quality. Is the leather richly pigmented? Does it feel buttery soft? It should go without saying that the answers best be “yes” on both counts.

In terms of specific types, calfskin leather, a fine leather, is among the best and used by Salvatore Ferragamo and Berluti. If you’d like to avoid animal-based materials, inquire about synthetic alternatives, though it should be noted that those options are not always biodegradable. (Oftentimes, their biodegradability compares to that of plastic.)
Generally, the most cost-effective material is suede, followed by calfskin leather—a very smooth yet strong leather often used for high-end goods. More expensive is hand-burnished leather, with the level of hand burnishing also affecting the cost, and exotic leather is by far the most luxurious.

Intelligent design

The best shoes have been designed with intention. Are they so beautiful that you can’t wait to wear them, and on top of that, are you comfortable walking or standing in them for more than half an hour? They should be versatile and super comfortable so that you can get the most of them. Some key design elements to consider are the size of the toe box (roominess at the front of the shoe will prevent toe crowding), the preciousness of the materials (you want to be able to wear them often without fear of destroying them) and the placement of the heel (it should be pitched to strategically so that you’re comfortably able to stand up tall and straight.)
A great pair of shoes will also be timeless, rather than trendy—ones that you can enjoy this season and well into the future from both a style and a quality perspective, which I’ll touch on next.

Superior craftsmanship rooted in tradition

There’s a lot to be said about the wonders of technology, but alas, the best shoes are made by hand, not robots. Of course, “handmade” is an overused word in the fashion industry, so it’s important to remember that true handmade footwear—whether it’s bespoke, made-to-order or already stocked—is made by skilled shoemakers from start to finish.

When experienced artisans are enlisted to craft a pair of shoes, there’s an assurance that no detail will be overlooked and, therefore, the shoes will be of exceptional quality. These artisans personally cut the patterns, hand stitch the necessary pieces together and hand punch the perforations, among other things. Such steps are rooted in traditional shoe-making techniques that ensure longevity, which is essential to a great pair of shoes. Famed English 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.

All of that is to say that unlike a pair of shoes made on an assembly line of automated machinery, handmade shoes are looked after every step of the way, as artisans are naturally mindful of the quality and workmanship of the item they’re creating.


You’re ready to buy a pair of great shoes

Be sure to note, these are just guidelines for purchasing great shoes. With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a quality resource for shoppers. To learn more about our 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.