There have been quite a few queries about unlined shoes, particularly loafers, in recent months. Ones about longevity and fit specifically have come up multiple times.
I thought it would be good therefore to do a post summarising answers to them, in order to create a single place to point readers to in futu
It’s also a subject I was interested in because I worked with Edward Green last year to help introduce an unlined version of my favourite EG shoe, the Belgravia.
Perhaps the thing I found most instructive during that process was how little has to be changed in an unlined shoe – given the reinforcement that can remain around the toe, heel and topline. But let’s start with those frequently asked questions.
The first question people normally ask is about sizing – should I get the shoes in the same size as a regular, lined shoe?
I can see the thought process: lining is being removed from the inside of the shoe so the inside must be bigger, therefore I must need a smaller size. (Two layers are actually removed through the sides of the shoe – a sidelining that sits between the lining and the upper, and the lining itself.)
But actually, this is not how an unlined shoe is made. The shoe is stretched over the same last as a lined shoe, so the space inside the shoe is the same. The lack of layers means the outside comes in, rather than the inside going out.
The general advice, therefore, is to get the same size in an unlined shoe as a lined one, and that’s what I’ve usually done.
But will the shoe not stretch, because it doesn’t have that internal structure? And does that not mean I should get a smaller size, to anticipate the stretching?
Again this makes sense, except that most of the fundamentals of the structure are often kept in place. The toe puff, for example (that gives structure to the front of the shoe) and the heel stiffener (which holds the back) often remain, as does the lining that covers them.
The top line (around the opening of the shoe) is retained, although it won’t be quite as strong without those three layers running into it. The vamp, on the top of the foot, will also often be lined to cover up stitching.
So the bones of the shoe remain, which is why this structure is sometimes called a ‘skeleton’ lining. Unlined shoes can have more taken out, and this is easy to spot because the heels and toe are much softer than a regular shoe, but that’s usually a completely different style, with a cemented sole.
The other factor is that leathers vary in how much they stretch. It’s about how open the fibres in the skin are, which is about what it’s made of and how it’s tanned. Some colours can even be more open than others, as the pH levels change with different tannins.
However, a lot of unlined shoes are suede, and suede is mostly soft and open. It will stretch therefore, and you can see that in an unlined loafer when you’ve had it for a while – the topline, the opening of the shoe, becomes rounder, distorted by use and wear.
But, my experience has been that the skeleton structure means the fit doesn’t change much. If you rely on that top line a lot to hold you in a shoe, it might affect you; but even with my narrow heels and issues I have with loafers, I haven’t found them to stretch to the degree that the fit changes.
So there’s a little bit of a trade-off with stretching. The same applies to longevity.
The fact that there aren’t three layers through the sides of the shoe does mean they won’t last as long, though often in hidden ways. When you resole a shoe, for example, you re-use holes in the upper and the welt. When the upper is made of one layer rather than three, those holes are more likely to stretch, reducing the number of times the resoling can be done.
Talking to the Edward Green factory, they’ve had unlined shoes come back after 20 years for repair. They’ve also repaired a pair of Harrow loafers (the unlined style they’ve had the longest) four times. Given I haven’t owned any unlined shoe that long, it’s interesting to hear.
However, a huge amount of course depends on how intensively your shoes are worn, and how they’re looked after. What kills the upper, for example, is drying out too fast – putting them near a radiator after they’ve got wet perhaps. That evaporates the fats, making the leather more brittle.
My general advice to readers would be to worry about longevity only if you’re just starting out with good shoes (so they’ll be worn a lot), or you’re really stretching the budget (in which case longevity might be the number one priority). If either of these apply, perhaps start with a lined loafer; otherwise don’t stress about it.
This was a point a reader brought up recently, and I actually hadn’t considered before.
Some of the support in a shoe for your arch comes through the sides, and with an unlined shoe that is lost. There is some debate about how much support you want – more of a barefoot or more of a pure podiatry approach – but the salient thing here is that this all varies between individuals.
Unlike a bespoke shoe, a ready-made shoe is guessing with how much arch support it includes – it’s shooting for an average. But some people have higher arches than the average, some less. An unlined shoe placing the support a lot lower, which will be bad for some people but might also be better for a small number with lower arches.
I have average to high arches (a thin foot generally) and I don’t have a problem with unlined loafers. At the very least, arch support is way down the list of my foot priorities and problems, with hammer toes, sensitive bones and incipient arthritis higher up.
So in a similar way to longevity, I’d say only worry about support in an unlined shoe if you know it’s a problem you have.
Developing the unlined Belgravia involved quite a few design decisions. For example, keeping the braided leather on the outside of the shoe (even though it’s a little bulky, and covering it harder) or resorting to the flat leather of the Greenwich?
On the heel of the shoe, there was a question of how to recreate the raised stitch of the lined version. It would be risky to do the same with the unlined loafer, as the stitch could pull or twist. In the end a waxed thread was used, and that solved the problem.
Then there were the normal questions of which colours to make, in what volumes. My favourite is the brown (mink) shown above, but I also liked black (below) while knowing that wouldn’t be as popular.
Still, it was the questions of internal structure, and questions that were raised by readers about fit, stretch, longevity and so on, that I’ve found the most interesting. Hopefully answering them here has helped a few people that raised them – and it will do in the future as well.
- With black Belgravia:
- Brown PS Linen Overshirt (coming next Spring)
- Black T-shirt from The Flat Head
- Black Irish-linen trousers, bespoke by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury
- ‘Californian’ sunglasses by EB Meyrowitz
- Yellow-gold JLC Reverso
- With brown Belgravia