Thousand Dollar Shoes on a Hundred Dollar Budget

I get a lot of people who ask me how I manage to have the things I do –particularly my shoes– with the job I have.  Now ignoring for a moment that it’s kind of a rude question,  I do have a bit of wisdom to share as to how I managed to amass a shoe collection worth more than what I earn in a year without hooking, selling my kidneys or getting into credit card debt. While finding thousand dollar shoes for a hundred dollars is a bit on the ambitious side of things, if you follow my lead (and learn from my mistakes) you will be well on your way to your own enviable shoe salon.

Here goes:

Know what’s out there.

There is life outside Louboutin. In fact, I kind of feel that loubies are just a wee bit déclassé at the moment.

For every brand that gets namechecked and overexposed there are dozens of smaller houses making shoes just as interesting and luxurious, who have the talent and the quality, but not the advertising budget.  This is where you can find your best deals off-season.  You can mark down last season’s Dolce 20% and people will snatch them up as a bargain, but in order to move product of a lesser-known but every bit as talented shoe designer like Nicole Brundage, the retailer will cut deeper and faster just to get them out of the store.
Often you can bring home a $600 shoe –and worth every penny– for $150, maybe less.

Know what you like.
As you expose yourself to more designers (uh, as it were) you’ll also get a better feel for who and what you like.

Designers rarely change horses in the middle of a stream, so if you see a current shoe you love but can’t afford, look at the past season or two. Same thing goes for trends.  Odds are you’ll find similar themes or shapes in the sale section. This is particularly true if the house has any sort of signature look, like Valentino’s bows.

Speaking of Valentino, when you have a house that traditionally skews a bit older in clientele, the odds of finding an iconic shoe at a great price increases.  Valentino, even with the current chuckleheads trying to singlehandedly ruin Maestro Garavani’s house with their bid for the Chloe set (ptui ptui), will always always always release some iteration of  bow-embellished d’orsay.

Want some but don’t have one particular design etched on your heart? Give it time and keep your eyes on the sales racks. The right one will come down the pike sooner rather than later.

Patience Grasshopper.

Unless it is The One True Shoe (in which case you must buy it immediately regardless of price, lest you wake up in tears of regret every night for the rest of your sad, anticlimactic life) I don’t mind taking my chances and shopping the luxury clearance sales. Neither should you.

The Green Dior Anniversary is my One True Shoe and it got away. It haunts me in my dreams.

I’ve had particularly good luck at Neiman Marcus Last Call for a bricks and mortar experience and YOOX.com for online. YOOX lets you create a Dream Box. This is particularly handy because even if something is megabucks now, in six, nine, twelve months it might be a fraction of that. Plus every once in a while they’ll send an email with a coupon code for a percentage off everything currently in your Dream Box (no, you can’t go add things). If you still love it, buy it and rejoice. If you don’t still love it? You’ve saved a ton of cash avoiding a passing fancy you would’ve worn once.

Know what you won’t wear.
Every time I buy a pair of slingbacks I SWEAR I will never do it again.
In fact, I know as a gospel truth that somewhere floating around stately Chateau Gateau are at least two pairs of painfully fabulous slingbacks that have either been worn for less than an hour (I’m looking at you, magenta silk satin Brian Atwoods worn for half of midnight mass 2009) or not at all (iridescent mercury pebbled leather Guillaume Hinfrays) and even a pair of black croc house-brand slingbacks I bought at Saks several years ago rarely get worn now, and why? Because the damn sling always slips.

I’ve taken them to my shoe whisperer, I’ve done all the pads, everything.  The rise of my heel is simply too high for 99 out of 100 slingbacks.

A quick visit to Bluefly tells me the average Brian Atwood and Guillaume Hinfray both go for about $750 a pop and I seem to recall buying the black heels at Saks for retail, which I’m guessing was around $300.  So conservatively speaking, I have $1,850 worth of shoes that are just gathering dust, and those are just the ones I can remember right now. Granted I think I probably paid about $300 each for the Atwoods and Hinfrays, but that’s still close to a thousand bucks I could’ve saved if I’d remembered that I don’t wear slingbacks.

Never forget a name
We all have That Perfect Shoe. The one that fits like it was molded to your feet, makes your legs look like eight miles of heaven and miraculously works with everything in your closet? Find out the model name and set an eBay saved search. Don’t have the original box? Do some creative searching with Google Image or on department store sites you know carry that brand. Already found a shoe you want online but aren’t sure you’re getting the best price? Put the model name into any search engine with a shopping features and compare different sites on one screen. These are the Manolo Blahnik Caldos. If I find a Caldo in a size 41 I buy it. That’s it. Don’t care about the fabric, print, whatever. They fit my feet like a dream, I can walk a million miles in them and they can go from day to evening to formal evening like a song.

24 Responses to “Thousand Dollar Shoes on a Hundred Dollar Budget”

  1. Frances January 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you for this lovely post! I just spent far too long on YOOX, cursing my size 41 feet. It can’t possibly be THAT outsize, do the size 41s just get snapped up very fast?

    Also, I cannot believe people have the cheek to ask that kind of question. Yeesh.

  2. Miss Plumcake January 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    @Frances: Well that’s because *I* wear a size 41 of course! I’m not going to make the same mistake I did a few years ago with recommending the ONE pair of Alexander McQueen crocodile court shoes for $100 in a size 41 and then having it snapped up from underneath me.

    The straight answer is yes, 41s do go fast. They’re produced in a lower quantity than the median sizes to begin with so by the time they get to clearance, the numbers are whittled down even more. Of course you can always fudge a little on size if you’re courageous, but beware the Yoox return policy.

  3. Nomi January 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Alas, I have never met That Perfect Shoe. All the dress shoes I have ever worn have, after between one hour and half a day, hurt. I’m no exotic size, a mere 38.5W, but there it is. I rotate through my shoe collection to spread the blisters around. Do the really pricey shoes, the Manolos & Jimmys etc., ever come in Wide? I’ve never spent more than $200 for a shoe, but if the fancy brands are only for skinny feet, I’m not even going to try.

  4. daisyj January 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Also, if there’s a brand you know you love and they have an online store (not applicable to the highest of the high-end, but there are plenty on the next tier that do), get on their mailing list so you know when they have sales. I’ve gotten some fantastic deals that way.

    That said, my best scores ever have been from second-markdowns on department store sale racks.

  5. Miss Plumcake January 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    @Nomi: Yowch! You are wearing The Wrong Shoes. My feet are 4.25″ wide so I’m firmly in fat-foot territory, and although a few shoes in my collection are Not For Walking, for the most part, I can go six hours easily with little to no discomfort in almost all my shoes.

    To answer your immediate question: Yes, there are a few luxury designers who do wide widths, most notably Ferragamo and Stuart Weitzman. If you are new to the blog, look back to last week’s entries. They were all about wide-width shoes.

    I don’t think I own a single pair of shoes aside from my cowboy boots that are marked as wide, but they all fit my fat feet. That’s because I know that even if a shoe isn’t designated as wide, its design might allow for a wide foot. And if I need to fudge up half a size? No problem. It’s generally a good idea to go a half size to a full size up from your street size if you’re wearing heels over 3″ and of course, just because you wear one size in one particular shoe doesn’t mean you’ll wear that size in another designer or even in a different style from the same designer. If you wear a 38.5 in street shoes, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you took a 40 in a luxury heel.

    However, regardless of size, if you buy the right shoe to begin with and do the appropriate prep work –read my entry But They Were So Comfortable in the Store for more insight to this– you really shouldn’t have problems.

    As for luxury shoes being cut on a narrower last (don’t know what a last is? Read the “Comfortable” entry, linked above.) there is some truth to that, but it’s not gospel. Generally speaking the French tend to cut the skinniest shoes because French women have banana feet –although I will say Dior has always been generously cut in my experience– and the younger a house skews, the narrower their shoes tend to be.

    The Italians tend to cut a bit wider –Armani, Zanotti, Sergio Rossi, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Manolo, etc– the British wider still –Jimmy Choo is British house, but I don’t actually own any of his shoes so I can’t tell you for sure how they run– and the Americans cut the widest. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a good place to start.

    Also, with luxury shoes you have better quality leather that will breathe, move and conform to your foot. Your cobbler can also manipulate them much more than he’d be able to do with a low end shoe.

  6. Violet January 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    FWIW, my admittedly limited experience with Manolos is that they can indeed be cruelly narrow. I have regular width (if tall/high-arched) feet and narrowish heels, and even I have trouble with their closed pumps. I mean serious, Cinderella-sister, there’s no good way to wedge my foot in there kind of trouble. I imagine other styles are easier to work with — Plumcake’s look doable — but I can’t testify to it because the pumps put me right off the brand. (Admittedly I didn’t fight very hard to retain my research interest. I don’t really NEED to develop my palate for superexpensive shoes.)

    Sergio Rossi and Stuart Weitzman pop up on sale sometimes and both have been fine in closed styles. I also once found some amazing Dries van Notens on sale and was extremely fabulous for like three weeks before I tragically and irretrievably f*cked them up. Oh well.

  7. Miss Plumcake January 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    @Violet, Plate o’ Shrimp! I was JUST about to come back and say that about Manolos. His closed shoes are bizarrely narrow. I can wear his open designs all day long, but his narrow lasts kill me.

  8. Madame Suggia January 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    Spare a thought for those of use with size 42 long skinny flat-flat-flat feet with scrawny ankles. Bah.

  9. Margot Silk Forrest January 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    Oh, Miss Plumcake, you don’t HAVE to live with whatever color and fabric those hard-to-snag 41s come in! You can paint them with the new leather paints and they will look like they came from the factory that color. You can even glitter-paint them! It is NOT hard and it doesn’t take a long time, truly. I teach classes where people finish a pair of shoes in 2 hours or less. Even people who say they aren’t crafty. So rummage around in your closet and go for it!

  10. Miss Plumcake January 27, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    @Margot: I don’t believe in a literal pit-of-fire type of hell, but if I did I’m pretty sure that’s directly where I would go were I to glitter-paint a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels. They are works of art and I am not about to mess with il maestro’s creations. That being said, I love the idea of what you do! Just not, you know, on a pair of brand new Manolos. When I said I don’t care what fabric or treatments they come in, I meant because I love every one. I’m certainly not suffering!

    Madame Suggia:
    Pshaw! You have the French at your fingertips! I highly suggest looking at Robert Clergerie, who does go up to a 42 and cuts his shoes narrow narrow narrow.

  11. smark January 27, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    So true about the Manolos – I can wear the d’Orsays and open sandals but not the closed. Louboutins cut way too narrow for my long bony feet, but at least knowing that has saved me some money.

    Plumcake, have you ever tried on a pair of Rupert Sanderson shoes? English, very beautiful and they fit my feet like gloves. I am currently wearing 110 mm heels with no problems.

  12. Miss Plumcake January 27, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    @Smark: It seems to me I must have a pair of Rupert Sandersons somewhere. And yet I can’t think of a pair specifically. It’s like how shocked I was to find out I’ve never dated an Irish guy. I just figured I’ve dated someone from every country in Northern Europe and was aghast, AGHAST, that upon further reflection that I was missing an Irish lad.

  13. Miss Janey January 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    GAWD! Great post… makes Miss J want to shoe-shop all the live long day!

  14. Miss Plumcake January 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    YAY IT’S MISS JANEY!

  15. MissMarj January 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    I thought you might like to hear my Shoe That Got Away story, or maybe not because mine has an extremely happy ending.

    Remember Nine West Golans? Beautiful satin wedge espadrilles that came out a few years ago? I got the turquoise ones in a sale but hesitated over the orange ones because it’s not a colour I usually wear. However, I came to regret that decision because they would have looked fabulous with an all black outfit, making the shoes the centre piece.

    When the Nine West shop in town was closing down I went in for a browse and there they were… in my size…for 5 of our British pounds (or Scottish pounds seeing as we have our own.) I couldn’t believe it! I still get a wonderfully warm feeling of happiness when I think about it. I just wish the weather was better in Scotland because they’re not shoes you want to wear when there’s a chance of rain!

  16. Miss Plumcake January 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    @MissMarj: What a happy ending! I don’t know Nine West’s stock but I googled and I love them.

  17. La Petite Acadienne January 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    I think this was the most useful blog post that I have ever read anywhere, ever. And like Miss Janey said, it REALLY makes me want to go shoe shopping!

  18. La Petite Acadienne January 27, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    smark, how wide are the Rupert Sandersons? I’m currently ogling a pair of orange wedges, but I have wide feet AND a high instep, which makes online shoe shopping rather nerve-wracking.

  19. smark January 28, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Acadienne: hard to say how wide exactly, but I can tell you they leave plenty of room in the toes, and they’re good for high insteps.

    I’ve found the sizing very consistent, which is not always the case with other brands. I bought one pair in a shop, then ordered two more online (all different heel heights) and they’ve all fit perfectly, for what it’s worth. Like Plumcake says, once you find a brand that fits your foot, you stay true to them!

  20. Violet January 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    LPA, I have a high instep too, and what a pain it is. Trying to fix a regular-width/high-instep problem by trying a wider shoe is like putting a whole hard-boiled egg between two slices of bread, observing that the resulting sandwich is unsatisfactory, and deciding that the answer is using a bigger loaf of bread: it doesn’t help at all and in fact makes the overall fit worse. (I have made an occasional open style work by getting a C width and letting the leather sort of rearrange itself more vertically. With a closed style, forget it.) It’s not an unusual problem, and it annoys me that a variety of widths is available in at least some shoes but there’s no such thing as a variety of heights. All I can say is to look, obsessively, for low vamps, unless you have personally tested out a high-vamp shoe in that brand. And know what brands are your friends. Research is everything. If you don’t have store access to Rupert Sandersons, it’s OK to order a returnable pair online even at full price to test it out, send back the full-price pair and await sales thereafter.

  21. La Petite Acadienne January 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Great tips, ladies! It IS a pain, isn’t it, Violet? I’ve lost count of how many pairs of shoes I’ve tried on where the instep is just digging mercilessly into the top of my foot. Getting the shoe stretched has worked, up to a point, but what a royal pain in the nuts to have to get that done with practically every shoe I buy.

    And strappy sandals? Oy.

  22. Violet January 29, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    I know. And putative comfort shoes can be just as bad (Arche, Camper, I’m looking at you). I have no luck with stretching, either, I bought good stretchers and everything. I figure there are worse problems in the world though.

  23. Jennifer January 30, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Good info here — especially the saved ebay search (it’s pretty sweet waking up and shopping the ebay notices over coffee). And I love, love, love your “One True Shoe” rule!

  24. Thea February 1, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Hello Miss Plumcake,
    Question for ya on this very topic. When purchasing the ‘good’ shoes online, any tips for determining if I’m purchasing the real designer shoe or an unfortunate knockoff that fell off the back of a truck in some sleazy alley in Hong Kong?