About the Author: Carlon H. is the creator of The Shoe Enthusiast, an Instagram and Youtube channel devoted to his love of footwear. When he’s not taking daily shots of shoes or doing a Youtube review, he’s a High School administrator and teacher in Texas. While not at work, Carlon parents two amazing daughters.
I want to get one thing out of the way: I have a somewhat large shoe collection. Not as many as some people, but more than most. As of today, I have 25 pairs of shoes and boots. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my shoe collection. I have spent the last 9 years building a collection of shoes and all of that was on a very tight budget. So, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for building a shoe collection on a shoestring budget.
Before we begin, one thing: make a budget and stick to it. Everyone’s budget is different, but none of these things work unless you actually create a budget. Know how much you have to spend and you will be on your way to an amazing shoe collection.
Pro tip: I keep my budget in a separate account so I know how much to spend. A PayPal account is a good idea.
#1. Always keep in mind: This is a hobby. You don’t need the shoes.
Leading with the most important point. Collecting, by its nature, is a hobby. Rarely do you actually need a pair of shoes. You may want them, but you don’t need them. You may need a particular kind of shoe (think a formal shoe for a wedding) but you may not need that $500 pair of shoes you’ve been looking at. By keeping this mindset, you won’t make impulsive buying decisions.
(Shown above are vintage Cole Haan wingtips from back when made in the USA. Here’s an unboxing video for them…)
#2. Only buy shoes on sale.
Pro tip: Beware of overpriced shoes that go “on sale” for $900. The inflated value of things that are always “on sale” are not really on sale.
The truth is that 90% of brands go on sale. Never buy at full price. Because you don’t need the shoes (see rule #1), you can always wait for them to go on sale. I have a list of shoes that I would like to buy but wait for them to go on sale at a price within my budget.
How do you find the sales? You’re reading one right now. Dappered.com is a good source for sales. Also, I am a member of a lot of subreddits dedicated to sales so find whichever works best for you. You can also join many shoemakers’ newsletters. They have no problem letting you know when they’re running a promotion.
(Shown above are Carmina crocodile jodhpur boots, purchased for around $120… they retailed around $700 as a special Made to Order pair for Leatherfoot Emporium which is no longer in business…)
#3. eBay is your friend.
Pro tip: Before the 90’s, brands like Florsheim, Johnston & Murphy, and Cole Haan made very high-quality shoes. So, in many cases, the vintage version is superior to most of the new shoes you can buy today from the same brand.
Pro Pro tip: Vintage Florsheim in particular are very popular, but often times overpriced. So even for pre-owned shoes on eBay, it may be out of budget. Shown above are Florsheim 93602 Gunboats, purchased for around $100… I got LUCKY.
You can get both new and pre-owned shoes on eBay. Usually when I’m on eBay I look for new old stock and new in box shoes. These will typically be brand new shoes or shoes that have been tried on but never purchased.
And then there’s the pre-owned shoes. I know some of you are reading this thinking that it’s just gross to wear another person’s shoes. But before you dismiss the idea, there are good reasons to buy pre-owned shoes. First, there are simply shoes that are no longer made. For example, a popular style among shoe enthusiasts are what’s shown above: vintage Florsheim “gunboats” with a v-cleat heel that were once made in the USA. They are built like tanks. Modern Florsheims don’t come close in terms of quality. So, if you want them, you’re gonna have to buy them pre-owned (or, new old stock if you’re super lucky).
Another reason to buy pre-owned is price. I have personally bought shoes on ebay for under a hundred dollars that retail for $500. But the key here is that all pre-owned shoes are not created equal.
Think of shoes the way you would a car. Once you drive a car off the lot, it loses value. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it and it’s basically brand new. So, you want to find shoes that are as close to new as possible. To get an idea of how many times a shoe has been worn, you should look at the soles. Generally, if a shoe has been worn less than 5 times, you have a good shot that they had yet to mold to the foot of its original owner. That’s what to look for. You can get tremendous value with those shoes and find yourself in possession of some high-quality shoes at ridiculously cheap prices.
For pre-owned shoes, there are other places to get them online, but I use eBay because they have the widest variety. Other places to look are:
#4. Don’t be afraid to trade.
This may not be something you’ve thought about, but make friends with people who wear your size. You can trade shoes you don’t wear for those you may want to wear. I have made some friends along the way who are my “size twins”, and sometimes we do, in fact, trade shoes. Why is this a good option over just selling them? A few reasons:
People who trade shoes probably take good care of their shoes. I certainly do. You likely can’t sell your old shoes for anywhere near what you paid for them, hence the great deals you can get with my above-mentioned eBay advice. Also, your style might change and a trade will yield better value over time than re-selling shoes that you no longer wear and buying a new pair.
(Shown above are vintage Hanover George boots. They were likely made in the 50s or 60s by a shoe company that no longer exists… perhaps from leather from a tannery in Freudenberg that also no longer exists. That’s the thing about shoestring shoe collecting. You end up with one of a kind finds.)
#5. Thrifting! It’s the highest risk but also highest reward.
As some people have noted, thrifting is not as great as some people make it out to be. However! You can’t beat $10-$20 for thrifted shoes in good condition. And if they are shoes that can be recrafted like Allen Edmonds, you may end up with “new shoes” for about $100 by having a cobbler put on new soles and heels. (Entire articles have been written across the web about thrifting used Allen Edmonds shoes and then having them resurrected through recrafting. I’m not going to repeat it all here, but just know it’s possible.)
I’ve had decent luck with thrifting and even picked up a few tricks to restore shoes that have turned my $10 shoes into the expensive and quality shoes they once were. I also think thrifting is a good idea if you are trying out a style you’ve never worn before. I mean if you don’t like it, you can just donate it back.
(Shown above are thrifted Mezlan Loafers. I got them for dirt cheap, being that they were a thrift store find.)
Pro Tip: I have used thrifted shoes to practice my shoe care skills. Doing this serves a couple of good purposes. First, it’s a good way not to ruin your good shoes if you’re trying some shoe care trick you saw someone do on YouTube. Many a good pair of shoes has been ruined trying to copy YouTube videos. (Think stripping shoes with acetone..it’s a thing that must be done very carefully.) Secondly, you can sell those restored shoes on eBay in order to buy new shoes. It’s not a major source of income for me, but has always added more money to my shoe budget and allowed my collection to expand. Also, it’s just a fun and relaxing hobby.
Good luck, happy collecting, and always remember: You don’t NEED the shoes!