Italian Shoes vs. American Shoes Italian shoes have a reputation for being regarded as the best shoes in the world. From Italy’s extensive history in leather tanning to its passion for shoe craftsmanship, Italian shoes are well-known for their handcrafted leather, quality stitching, durability, and elegance. But what makes Italian shoes so great? Italian shoe craftsmanship is an art, perfected by the care that goes into each step of the process. The truth is that Italian shoes are the best because quality is essential at every point in the process, from tanning the hide to wearing your lovely shoes to their fullest extent. How do you identify Italian leather? To truly understand the care and quality that goes into each Italian shoe, one must start at the tanning process. The production of the leather is one of the most crucial and delicate steps in the process. Italian leather is made from the cowhide of the same cows used to produce quality meats, reducing waste and cruelty to the stock and ensuring the leather comes from cows bred and raised to create high quality goods. Italian leather is unique not only because of the crafting process and the generations of tanners that have spent centuries perfecting the craft, but also because it is durable, long-lasting, and smooth. The reason Italian leather is so resistant and elastic is the fact that its made using natural tanning methods with vegetable tannins. This process of vegetable tanning comes from the Italian tanners of Tuscany, and has been used for centuries by craftsmen and even entire towns dedicated to the art of tanning. This technique has been used in various places around the world, but genuine Italian leather is handcrafted in Italy. Each hide comes out unique because the complexes built between the vegetable tannins and the protein of the hide form a unique pattern and give the leather a distinct smell. Italian leather can also be identified by looking at the grain, as Italian tanners use primarily only two different grains. Full grain is thick, and also the most resistant and strongest kind of leather. It is not sanded or buffed so it maintains a distinct skin pattern and nuances, adding a unique texture to the leather. The other type of grain is top grain, which is made of the thinner layer of the hide and is softer and more flexible than full grain. It has a sanded surface and is sometimes finished with a topcoat, but they do not develop the gloss and shine of other treated leathers. It does not look as natural but it is greatly resistant to stains and very practical for every day life. It’s not always easy to identify Italian leather just by looking at it but you can verify that Italian leather is authentic by the trademark variation in coloring, which gives the leather a more natural, aesthetically appealing look. Why is Italian leather so expensive? Italian leather tends to be considerably high in price, but it is worth it in the long-run. It’s used in a wide range of high-end products such as belts, bags, wallets, shoes, watchbands, and even car interiors, because of its durability, strength, and comfort. While there are many reasons these products tend to be so expensive, the primary reason is the high-quality of the leather used to make them. The leather used in these products are handcrafted, and made by tanners that have the advantage of long-time passion and tradition. Leather has been essential in Italian culture for so long, the process has only progressed over time. The price of Italian leather is determined by its quality, the skill of the crafter, and the longevity of its wear. When you’re buying Italian leather, you’re investing in a piece of art that you will get to enjoy for many years to come. Although Italian leather can be considerably expensive, there are some leather crafters and producers that still make high quality leather for a more reasonable price if it is purchased in larger quantities. What makes Italian shoes the highest quality shoe? Now that the quality of Italian leather has been established, it’s easy to see why Italian shoes are held to such a high regard. In addition to its trademark leather, multiple stitching techniques are utilized to ensure that the shoe lasts a long time and is as comfortable as possible. All Italian shoes are put together with one of three different stitching styles: Blake, Blake Rapid, and Goodyear. These are all perfect for shoes that are meant to be durable and ready-to-wear. Italian shoes are also thought to be the most stylish type of dress shoe. With a long, narrow shape, thin soles, and soft leather, Italian shoes look elegant with everything from black tie to office attire. Italians have a history of staying fashion-forward, and have found that traditional styles are just as stylish in the modern world of fashion. Because so much work goes into crafting Italian shoes, they tend to be expensive, not unlike Italian leather. Just like with the material itself, Italian shoes are a long-term investment. They are not just made to look nice; they’re also made to last. Shoe craftsmanship has not only been an important skill to Italian culture and economy in the past, but it’s still very important today. Traditionally, shoe cobblers have distributed mostly to areas within a small radius, but after the war, Italian shoe crafters focused on their craft, using it as a method for reviving their crumbling economy by marketing toward American demographics searching for a practical but fashionable shoe. Before the war, shoes in America were mostly made to be used for work, and although Italian leather boots are great for work because of their durability and stain resistance, Italian dress shoes became widely popular in places such as the U.S. and Britain as fashion began to evolve in the new world climate. They pair well with more formal dress, but the leather is so practical that dress shoes could be worn as a casual shoe as well, making them the most convenient and reliable shoe on the market. What is the Italian shoe-making process? While times have changed and there have been many new advancements in the world of fashion production, this particular process has remained pretty much the same. Italian shoes are crafted in a delicate process, starting with the design of the shoe. A sketch is made and based on the determined dimensions, then the craftsman carves a foot-shaped form called a last from wood. Using the dimensions from the sketch, a pattern is drawn and cut from the leather, then that leather is formed around the last to make the shape of the shoe. The leather is stitched together using one of the three stitching styles mentioned before, and the sole is inspected and corrected by hand for a precise, clean edge. Since there are so many different traditional methods used in the shoemaking process, some use a method involving pegs, holding the leather in place. After the shoe is formed, the eyelets for laces are drilled if the shoe requires it and then the laces are applied. From here, the shoes are brushed and checked for imperfections. Then, the shoes are carefully packaged and either sent to stores or sold directly to the customer themselves, to wear for years to come. This process has been maintained for generations upon generations of Italian shoe cobblers and is still used today, whether the shoes are handcrafted or factory-made, in which case the sewing is done by machine instead of by hand. Even in a factory setting, there is still a personal touch to every pair of shoes to ensure quality and craftsmanship. Are Italian shoes better than American shoes? It’s true that Italian shoes are famous for being a reliable and quality shoe, but are they really better than American shoes? From a purely objective standpoint, it really depends on the look you’re wishing to achieve and the purpose for which you intend to use your shoes. Shoe style is directly related to popular fashion in a particular area, so it’s important to know the difference between Italian and American fashion. Paris is known as the fashion capital of the world, but Milan is a close second. Runway shows, designer brand headquarters, and some of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world can be found in Milan. Fashion is a detrimental part of Italian culture, spilling to every corner of the country, and appreciated by citizens of all ages and sizes. Italy is a country that is very proud of their art, and fashion is not an exception. Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Guccio Gucci, Franco Moschino, Mario Prada, and dozens of other incredible and influential fashion designers hail from Italy. The national love for fashion is reflected in every day life, typical Italian fashion being practical and comfortable, yet stylish. Shoes are a key component to Italian fashion, and can work as the string that ties a whole outfit together. Comfort is a very important feature in Italian shoes, since so many Italians travel by foot, as Italian towns and villages are normally quite condensed and small. American fashion is a much different story. From the beginning, America has been a country of new beginnings and hard work. Style has always played a part in American fashion, but more than anything the goal has always been to create a functional and practical outfit. While many European countries indulged in the arts and pleasures in life, America worked to build an entirely new country. Art was not absent, but it wasn’t the priority of Americans at the time. Living in America meant rebuilding a completely new life, and fashion reflected that. Not only were clothes made to enable work as much as possible, they were also made to last and withstand a considerable amount of wear, which meant style often had to be sacrificed. This philosophy translated to shoes as well, and shoes were made to be practical, comfortable, and withstanding. For this reason, American shoes were typically blunt, short, and relatively simple in design. American shoes generally still hold onto this same principle. Further toward the beginning of American history, settlers almost exclusively came from Europe, bringing with them the customs and styles of their homelands. Although there has been influence from many different cultures, American shoes have generally been most similar to English shoes, which tend to also be more blunt and wide, as well as simple in design. Shoes were first made of leather in traditional ways, but as time progressed, many more materials were introduced, and as American culture drifted deeper into the Industrial Revolution, shoe production became more and more capitalized. Shoes were still made to be practical, but they were also made to be affordable to both make and purchase in large quantities. This meant some more sacrifice of style and durability in exchange for practicality and utility. Shoe crafting and leatherworking was still very much alive, but these were limited to small, locally owned specialty stores. America became more and more consumed by the demand for hard, long labor, which meant standing for long periods of time and high activity. Shoes needed to be affordable because the working class was so big. This remained the same until after World War I, when American culture took a huge turn. People famously remember the 20s as a time of revival for the country, and a rise in appreciation of the arts came about. Americans had more time on their hands, and more freedom to enjoy the finer things in life and fashion began to evolve. Brighter colors, stylish outfits, and fashionable shoes became more popular. Shoes were still simple in design, but had taken on a kind of elegance that wasn’t as prominent in earlier times. Heels rose, shoes sharpened, and Americans began to take on more of a taste for fashion. By the end of World War II, fashion had become essential to the average American. Shoes began to take on more of a flair for fashion, but Americans also became more interested in foreign styles and manufacturers. American designers have found a lot of inspiration in European culture, and used this to influence the designs of their shoes. As of today, American culture is a rich melting pot of diversity, and many Americans actually buy products that are important from all over the world. The American brands that do remain have gone in different directions, but the bluntness and sturdiness of shoes remain. American dress shoes, when compared to Italian dress shoes, are shorter, more rounded and blunt at the toe, and typically run wider. They tend to have thicker soles, and are made with a stiffer, thicker leather. Italian shoes, on the other hand are more slim, and tapered at the toe, with an elongated shape. The soles are thinner, and the leather is softer so they tend to break in much faster than American shoes. When choosing shoes, one must think about their own personal style and the lifestyle they lead. American shoes and Italian shoes are both great, but they can be very different. American shoes give off a more severe and commanding energy, whereas Italian shoes are usually more fashion sensible and classy. American shoes are sturdy and useful, and Italian shoes are practical and comfortable. Regardless, most people would prefer an Italian shoe, not only because of their outstanding reputation, but also because of their durability, quality, and beauty.
by Andy Kurlander •