Construction Quality Terminology

When buying higher quality shoes, that are made using methods beyond basic automated construction, you will run into some terms that are used to describe the degree of craftsmanship that went into the construction of the shoe.

The first step up from basic automated construction is Benchgrade. The term Benchgrade comes from the idea that the shoe starts at a bench where a person assists with a mostly automated process, but helps guide the shoe through the process at times.

The next step up is Handgrade. Handgrade implies a more hands on approach in combination with some automated processes. It also includes addition steps and attention to detail like closed channeled stitching on the sole (stitching not exposed on the sole bottom), higher quality materials, and some hand finishing.

The next step would be Hand Made, but this term is used rather broadly. Although some manufacturers use the term Hand Made to refer to Handgrade, it should include more hands-on work and less automation. An example of a Hand Made shoe would be one that is hand lasted, but not necessarily Hand Welted.
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A Hand Lasted shoe is one that has had the leather upper stretched over the last by hand and tacked down to the insole.
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A Hand Welted shoe is one that has the welt hand sewn, but the sole may be attached to the welt by machine or by hand.

A Hand Sewn sole can be sewn to a welt or directly to the insole. A shoe with a hand sewn sole is the highest level of hand made

The next step after Hand Made is Bespoke. Bespoke shoes are typically Hand Lasted and Hand Welted and/or have hand sewn soles. Top grade leather or exotic skins are commonly used in Bespoke construction. One of the main things that set Bespoke apart from other processes is that the shoes are built to fit your feet specifically. Bespoke does not come in a size 10 or 11, in comes in size YOU. Typically, in Bespoke, a last is created or modified to match the size and shape of each of your feet. The shoes are then built by hand using the last, and other measurements taken of your feet.

Another aspect that can be found in Bespoke shoes is a fiddle waist, where the sole, in the area of the shoe waist is built up to offer more support in place of a shank.
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Sitting somewhere between Handgrade and Bespoke is Made to Measure. Made to Measure uses stock patterns and stock lasts that are slightly modified using measurements provided by you to create a pair of shoes that fit your feet better than a pair of RTW (Ready To Wear) shoes, but are not built by hand or measured to the detail of a pair of bespoke shoes.
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