The Best Looking Dress Shoes Under $200
Paying for quality is smart, but not everyone can (or wants to) spend over two hundred bucks on a pair of dress shoes. Sometimes you need something to get you from point A to point B, and only then when you reach point B does it actually become possible to drop a couple C-notes on lace-ups. Plus, an inexpensive pair of shoes means you’re not married to them for the next decade. Most of us will rent a few places before we ever consider buying a house, right?
No matter how loud the shoe snobs squawk about sole-blow-outs, plenty of us have never had major quality issues with cheaper shoes. It can be done, they can be worn, they can look good. That said, with costs of leather and labor continuously rising, this is getting harder and harder every year we do this. But there’s still plenty of good looking, well wearing dress shoes on the market for under two hundred bucks. In no particular order, here are this year’s best…
J. Crew Ludlow Cap Toe Oxfords – $298 (when on sale)
Honestly one of the better looking, feeling, and most comfortable of the bunch. Can go for as little as $168 depending on the sale/promo that J. Crew is running. And that’s why they’re making the cut for this post. The closest thing to Allen Edmonds Strands on this list. Timeless but not overly stumpy shape. Goodyear welted. “Bench made” in China from soft, flexible Italian leather. Fit seems true. A 10.5 D fit my normally 10.5 D feet perfectly out of the box. Oddly comfortable right from the get-go. Currently $208.60 with the code BIGSALE which expires today, 7/9/18.
Thursday Boots are a bit of a divisive brand in the menswear world. Some guys like em’ a lot. Some really don’t. A few months back they introduced their dress shoes and they aren’t half bad. Made in Mexico, Goodyear welted, and the leather’s good for the price. Smooth with a nice shine but not gloss-plasticky looking. They WILL crease, of course, but leather does that. They feel nice and substantial too. Not flimsy. Sizing down half a size is suggested, and I think that’s about right. A 10 fit my normally 10.5 D feet pretty well, but I could tell a little break in time was gonna be necessary. They weren’t painful or rigid, but I’ve slipped on more comfy shoes straight from the box. Workmanship is solid, not impeccable (there was a loose rubber tag hanging off the heel that missed getting cut, but, that was easy to snip off). Subtle studs to the sole provide traction. More traditional cap toes and wingtip oxfords are also available. Just under $200 seems like the right price here. Ships and returns for free.
Massimo Matteo is to Zappos as Mercanti Fiorentini is to DSW. Both brands are made in Italy, both use pretty good leather, both are almost certainly cemented instead of stitched, and both appear to be brands that are exclusive to their particular vendor. These true oxford cap toes are conservative, but still interesting. Basically, you’re looking at a more affordable, Italian made version of the Allen Edmonds Fifth Avenue (minus the much thicker, full grain calfskin uppers and Goodyear welt of course). Fit is awfully similar to the Fifth Ave (and Park Ave) as well. Super comfortable. A 10.5D fit my 10.5D perfectly out of the box. A fine value for what you get in terms of looks, materials, and versatility. Available in tan (which really jumps against navy suit pants), a conservative brown, or black. Since they’re sold by Zappos, shipping is fast and free. Like, next business day fast, and still very much free.
Jack Erwin knows what they’re doing, and they’re about as good as it gets when it comes to reliable, great looking dress shoes around $200. The “Joe” is their most basic/minimalist model. A closed lacing, true oxford, with a sleek Blake-stitched welt and cut from full-grain calfskin. Conservative, but not clunky. Designed in New York and made in Spain. Available in full grain Espresso (seen above) or black. Ships and returns for free. Review here.
Allen Edmonds at Nordstrom Rack – $150 – $210 (wait for a sale)
These can be a bit hit or miss, but when they hit, they hit. Some have speculated that these are actually factory 2nds quality, or, models specifically created to be sold at Nordstrom Rack. So there’s a bit of a risk there, and the styles available can be a bit funky, but they’re still made in the USA, and worth a good strong look during big Nordstrom Rack sale events. Big thanks to Joseph R. for the reminder about how The Rack usually has a good bunch of AEs kicking about.
Made in Italy and looks the part. Long and lean. A chisel toe, so, super traditionalists might want to steer clear. Lightweight but not flimsy feeling. Fit seems true, albeit on the narrow side. And only offered in medium width. No wide widths. Ships and returns for free. From a higher end Nordstrom brand. Would be a steal if it drops a bit in price during the upcoming anniversary sale.
The toes put some people off. Still a chisel after all of these years and some people can’t stand chisel toes. Made in Italy, lightweight, and nicely flexible out of the box. Not gonna last a lifetime, but they can provide years worth of use as long as you take care of them and aren’t wearing them to work every day. Often on sale. Pretty sure these aren’t stitched, but glued? Currently 20% off with the code.
Yes, CT carries some Made in England shoes that are well north of $200, but many of their Goodyear welted shoes check in at $199. Even less when they’re on sale. Leather is thick (maybe a little stiff), construction is solid, and the designs are nice. Will take a while to get to you since all CT stuff is shipped from the UK. Full review of the above single monks can be found here.
TBNY shoes are awfully high priced when at full retail. Nordstrom Rack is NOT full retail. That’s where Nordstrom sends stock to be heavily marked down and moved out the door. And there’s usually a good amount of TBNY shoes kicking about on their virtual shelves. (Or, in store if you have one nearby.) Made in Italy. Pretty sure they’re Blake stitched. Leathers aren’t the thickest (think more lightweight/flexible) but still solid.
Spanish designed, made in China shoes that have a tempting price but cost you more than you think at checkout. That’s due to the $35 DHL shipping charge. And once that outbound shipping cash is gone, it’s GONE. You don’t get it back if they don’t work out. Returns can now go to their New York store (instead of clear back to Spain). But you’re on the hook for returns too. $210 is the minimum you’ll spend. As far as the quality goes… they’re good. I’d say they’re just a step below Thursday Boot Co. quality (I know, there are some Meermin sychophants having a fit right now). The leathers are fine, construction is solid, but they’re nowhere near as comfortable as the J. Crew made in China options. They will require some break in time. They’re a bit stiff. Goodyear welted. Plenty of very forward/modern designs, and that’s why I think lots of guys tend to squawk positively about them. They look great. They just don’t (to me) seem as comfortable or as well made as a few alternatives. And that shipping can still be a real dealbreaker.
The not quite as fortunate man’s Park Avenues. The JM Melton has long been consider to be one of the better entry-level Goodyear Welted dress shoes, yet there have been some concerns when it comes to overall quality in the last couple of years. Also, you have to be careful which color of leather you go with. The black and burgundy options are so smooth and shined up that they look like plastic. Don’t get those. This lighter tan Italian Calfskin? Looks pretty darn good, since it actually has some depth and marbling to the leather. A conservative toe + overall silhouette won’t ruffle any feathers, but some more adventurous types might find em’ a tad boring. Solid feeling and comfortable out of the box.
Many a man has purchased and worn to death a pair of Florsheims in his lifetime. To the average fella walking down the street, they’re decent quality. To those who spend more time than average on their style, they’re dependable. Not amazing. But Florsheim has been around for a while for a reason. Leather isn’t amazing, but the shape certainly works and they should hold up well enough. Toe looks less pointy/chiseled in person than it does online, but they are still pretty modern. From a distance, they look more expensive than they are. Up close? Maybe not. But they don’t look like junk either. Fit seems true. A 10.5 fit my feet like most 10.5 D shoes do.
Nico Nerini Captoe Oxfords – $124.99 FINAL (when available)
Sold via Massdrop, and thus, not constantly available. Goodyear welted, Made in India, and allegedly uses Italian full grain leather. Got a tip about this brand a while back from a reader, and while he was reviewing their tassel loafers (also appeared on Massdrop) he was impressed for the price. Here’s what he had to say: Quality – They are goodyear welted, but appear to have a 270 rather than 360 goodyear welt. The stitching looks pretty even throughout and I haven’t noticed any flaws with the leather or lasting. The leather is decent, supposedly Italian full grain. I assume that’s where costs were cut (and labor, given they were made in India), but its not overly stiff, shiny, or plasticky. Sizing/Fit – I got these in my usual dress shoe size, and they fit true to size, if perhaps a bit narrow (but I don’t have wide feet). They were initially snug across the vamp and around my pinky toe, but have loosened up as I’ve worn them today.
About as good as it gets for a price to quality ratio, but you have to jump through a few hoops, and you’ll almost certainly have to wait for a big holiday weekend sale. Not sure how the Factory 2nds game works? Head here for the low down. Yes, there’s some risk involved, and they do charge a steep $25 restocking fee on any returns sent back through the mail, but the savings can be tangible, as long as you can put up with a minor cosmetic blemish or two. Know that sometimes prices on their e-commerce site don’t always match up with the gotta-make-a-call shoebank.com. So, if you’re on the hunt for a pair of factory 2nds, be prepared to check both.
The Gone but Not Forgotten: B.R.’s Goodyear Welted Line
Man. These shoes were something else for the price. Made in Spain, Goodyear welted, and Banana Republic was usually kind enough to let these be up for codes. Bring em’ back Banana. Please?
The Reminder: eBay can be a gold mine
Some guys swear by eBay for picking up high end, gently used shoes. Some haven’t had the best luck. Be smart, be careful, and know that sometimes the previous wearer has left their imprint on not just the exterior of the shoe with scuffs and wrinkles, but on the inside of the shoe as well. Footbeds can conform to the original wearers foot over time, and if the seller and you don’t match up real well, they might feel funny or uncomfortable.
TL;DR: Here’s one person’s (the Joe guy) top three best bets for under $200 dress shoes:
- Allen Edmonds Factory 2nds when on sale. Can still be a crazy deal, despite the $25 restocking fee risk.
- J. Crew when on mega sale. Surprisingly comfortable, you just gotta play your promo cards right.
- Thursday Boot Co. An all around very nice debut from the boot-forward company.
Remember, with reasonable care (get some shoe trees!) and rotation (if dress shoes are worn often), most less-expensive shoes can work just fine. For more on general shoe jargon, head here. Got a pair of dress shoes under $200 that should have made the list? Send those tips in to firstname.lastname@example.org.