Banana Republic Hyde Oxford (MSRP $140)
I figured I’d take a break from high-ish end Goodyear welted shoes and look at something a little bit different. Let me start by saying that when I came across this shoe I didn’t really realize that BR made shoes at all. But, to be fair, I’d be willing to bet that it’s not exactly in the top 10 names that come to most peoples’ minds when they think of shoemakers. That’s probably because BR aren’t shoemakers, they’re in the fashion business. What’s more, they’re a fashion business that’s nested within an even larger fashion business (GAP). So they produce a shoe that’s not so much built like a proper shoe as it is a fashion item.
As a fashion item, this shoe isn’t really designed to last for the long haul, it’s designed for appearances. It’s made to last just as long as your own passing interest in the trend that it represents; granted, this particular model is pretty standard / classic, but you know what I mean. As an appearance-centered shoe, everything about its materials and construction is unapologetically superficial. The most obvious example of this is the sole, which is painted to appear dark brown like leather but is actually white rubber. You can see the large white areas where the paint has worn away to reveal the true color of the soling material. This is also evident in the stitching on the sole, which serves no practical purpose as you’ll see in a minute…
Another example of this is the shoe’s “patina,” which is less obviously fake when seen from a distance. But when you look up close you can see the gap between where it was painted on and the seam on the vamp.
Peeling out the insert reveals (drumroll please) 5 nails. I’m sure that somewhere, someone makes the decision of how many nails to put in these things and I’d really like to know how they make up their minds. The other two (considerably nicer) shoes that I’ve looked at have had seven nails in this spot rather than five and I honestly wonder what kind of a difference it makes. But, as it turns out, this wasn’t the only difference…
This one also has several staples going from the outsole to the heel. Now, I really can’t say how much of a difference they make but I will say that this was BY FAR the most difficult heel to remove. There was (and this will become a recurring theme for this shoe) an enormous amount of contact cement where the heel met the sole. You see that brown fibrous material that’s stuck to the sole? That’s where the heel tore away and it was left behind because the cement that held the heel to the sole was stronger than the glue that held the heel material together. I used to wonder how strong the cement used in cement constructed shoes really was…
Most of the staples were so firmly embedded in the heel that they tore through the sole and stayed in place when I finally pulled the heel free. Clearly they make a difference.
After removing the heel, I was able to hammer the remaining nails backwards through the sole and remove the heel insert. In general this is pretty standard, but even before removing it I noticed that it was unusually long and had a rivet in the heel. Taking it out revealed…
The shank is attached directly to the heel insert (I’m honestly not sure what the proper name is for this part). I wondered about this at first but when you think about it, this seems to be necessary in a cemented shoe. In a Goodyear welted shoe, the welt is sewn through the upper and into a canvas rib on the insole of the shoe. This pile of material, and particularly the depth of the rib, defines a sizable amount of empty space between the insole and the outsole. Goodyear shoes take advantage of this space by adding cushioning and putting the shank in there as well, which seems to be a pretty ideal location to provide structural support. In the case of a cement constructed shoe like this one there is no such stitching, therefore no canvas rib and no empty space. The sole is glued directly to the insole and edges of the upper. So the shank has to be moved up a layer and placed above the insole. In this particular model, the shank is technically “in” the insole as you’ll see…
I’ll admit that at this point I wasn’t actually sure that this shoe was cemented. I kinda half thought it was a Blake construction because of the stitching on the sole. First because it was there at all, and second because it was so far in from the edge that I figured it connected to the insole. In hindsight, this should have been obviously wrong and I’ll show you why…
As I began separating the sole it quickly became evident that there was a LOT of contact cement involved. Then, I noticed that, as the two pieces separated, I wasn’t seeing any threads stretching out that needed to be cut. That’s because the stitching on both sides, on the welt and outsole, is purely cosmetic. Here’s why I should have known…
Do you see how the stitching on the welt, on the upper edge in the picture, is only a millimeter or so from the edge while the stitching on the sole is several millimeters from the edge? If the stitching on the welt had been real, then it would have gone through to the sole and come out on the bottom much closer to the edge; that is, as far from the edge of the sole as it is from the edge of the welt, because the seam would go straight through to connect the two. This should have made it clear that the welt stitching was fake. Then, since a regular Blake construction does not have a welt, much less a welt stitch, I could have surmised that the stitch on the sole was fake as well.
So it would seem that a good rule of thumb for checking whether or not a shoe’s stitching is real is: “Does the stitch on the top line up with the stitch on the bottom?” If not, chances are good it’s cemented.
With the sole separated from the upper, you can see the groove in the insole where the shank sat. You can also see the cobweb-looking material that was between them. Maybe this held glue and helped with adhesion? It certainly wasn’t padding.
…close-up of the cobwebs.
This insole was made of the same paper-like material as the Bostonian, from a company called Tonytex. I couldn’t find an official website, but there’s no shortage of wholesalers who want to sell it to you. I had just been calling this material paper or cardboard but it turns out its actual name is “EVA Coated Paperboard.”
Again, the contact cement was so strong that it tore off layers of leather.
Here’s the “welt.” While it served no practical purpose it did appear to be made of actual leather, which is more than I can say for the welt on the Bostonian.
…a close-up of the “welt.”
And here’s a better look at the paperboard insole. This is the side without the EVA coating.
With the insole removed from the upper, I pulled out the lining. It’s some sort of very thin leather with a cloth toe. No surprises here.
Here’s a close-up of the leather material used for the lining, which looks to be pigskin to me.
Heel counters, left to right (In descending order of quality): Johnston & Murphy, Bostonian, Banana Republic. The heel counter was made from some strange plastic that had stitches running all over it (maybe to allow the brittle material to bend to the point of breaking in certain places without actually falling apart?). I thought it might be interesting to see a side-by side comparison with the heel counters from the Bostonian and J&M.
Next I set about taking apart the upper and found an interesting shortcut. The small strip of leather that covered the back of the heel actually disguised a large stitch that held two pieces together.
Again, no surprises here. Skived and folded topbeading with a ribbon underneath.
The fully disassembled upper.
…and the fully disassembled liner.
One thing that I kept thinking during this was “damn, I bet these things are uncomfortable.” While I’ve seen as many as three layers of padding in nicer shoes, this has only one and it’s very thin.
Other than that, this shoe really isn’t bad. It’s a good looking cement constructed shoe. That’s it. It’s not supposed to be fancy, it’s the Acura of the shoe world: it’s nicer than average, priced more for its brand than it is for pure quality, and it shouldn’t be compared to a Mercedes. That said, the most major shortcoming that I can see is its price. Like I said in the beginning, Banana Republic is a fashion company and like all fashion companies they put a premium on anything with their name on it. It’s just part of their image. Unfortunately for them, nobody’s going to be impressed if they see I’m wearing Banana Republic shoes and I’m not going to walk around feeling good about myself because I own shoes from their brand.