I had to wait a year for these shoes.
First, I measured my feet with the charts from the site. Then I made my purchase. Ace Marks has a unique business model, which I’ll explain below, but the bottom line is that they don’t warehouse their shoes, so it took a few months before my order was fulfilled.
When the shoes arrived, they fit on my feet, but they felt too snug. Fortunately, Ace Marks has a no-hassle return policy, and they even covered the return shipping. (Just make sure you only walk on carpet during your trial run.) Unfortunately, that meant I had to wait a few more months.
When the second pair arrived, half a size larger, they also felt too snug! I was shooting for the Goldilocks zone—I wanted these to be the perfect fit! So I bit the bullet and returned that pair too.
Fortunately, when there third pair arrived, now a full year from when I began, they fit perfectly. What’s more, my Ace Marks Wingtip Oxfords turned out to be well worth the wait.
Breaking in the Leather Soles
This is the first pair of leather-soled shoes I’ve owned.
When I finally walked out the front door, the tiny rocks on the sidewalk pressed into the leather. I could hear the crunch as they ground into the soles. I actually cringed when I felt the micro-tearing. It felt like walking on stained glass, crushing a work of art with each step. (That’s how beautiful the leather is.)
I’d also crossed the point of no return(s), which gave me a little panic attack. At first I thought maybe I’d gone too big, because they had a little play in them, but then sitting in a leather lounge chair and working on my laptop for an hour made me think they might be a little small! It was stressful. I also got a blister on my left heel from wearing them. (Word to the wise: Don’t wear them for an evening out for the first time; give them a couple one-hour jaunts first.)
Now I’ve had them for a couple months, and I feel confident that I got exactly the right size. I just had to break them in a little to realize it. The leather started out stiff, but now it has taken shape, and I can wear them all day, no problem. They’re actually quite comfortable. The wear made a slight crease in the vamp too (a couple inches from the tip), which made them look barely not as good but made them feel WAY more comfortable.
As for the soles, they now look a bit rougher, as you’ll see in the pictures, but they have more texture and sound softer while walking on concrete. They’re also great for dancing—you just glide across the floor wearing them.
Taking Care of Them
I wore them to a concert, and when we came out it was raining! This happened a day after my shoe aficionado friend told me never to get them wet. Water makes them more susceptible to wear. It also dries the oils out of the leather. Fortunately, one time didn’t seem to hurt.
I also bought a pair of lasted cedar wood shoe trees from Ace Marks. These help the leather retain its smart shape whenever you’re not wearing them. Shoe trees also wick up the moisture that the leather absorbs from your feet, which increases the longevity.
A Well Sourced and Well Crafted Aesthetic
The two people I trust most about shoe fashion gave me opposite advice: One told me my shoes were a classic design that would never go out of style. The other told me to wear them often because they wouldn’t be in style for long. I’m certainly hoping the first is right so that my investment has a long lifespan. I guess time will tell. So far I’ve been getting a lot of compliments.
Every part of the shoe is imported from Italy, 100%. The factory is run by 4th-generation Italian artisans who are basically professional painters. They hand-dye and hand-burnish every pair. Some do more burnishing around the broguing (the pattern of punctured dots) and others less, which means your pair will be unique.
Matching your belt and shoes is crucial, so I also bought a belt from them, and the belt matches my shoes perfectly. They also ship one-size belts, which means I got to be part of the crafting process. I measured and cut off the excess length, punched new holes for the buckle, and then reattached it.
There are two basic shoe-stitching styles. Most shoes use a goodyear, which has a corked bottom, and the stitches are visible on the side. Ace Marks uses the blake flex, which hides the stitching in a seam on the sole (which you can see in the pictures). This makes it look sleeker, more refined. This also adds to the flexibility and comfort, letting it bend more at the ball of the foot. It’s a small thing that adds a lot more comfort.
The Business Pitch
I first contacted Ace Marks in 2017, and back then they were a five-person team (bigger, though, now I suppose). I spoke with Julian, who said to me, “We believe luxury is for everybody.”
The company started with a Kickstarter. That means a group of customers bought the product before they were manufactured. This process gathered specific data on the necessary quantities of each style, color, and size, which let Ace Marks manufacture the exact number required without excess, and they still follow that model to an extent. This saves them warehousing expenses (which is why I had to wait so long to get mine—well worth it). And the direct-to-consumer model cuts out middle men. All these savings are then passed along to the customer. You’ll find shoes of the same quality from competing brands for twice or even three times as much.
They also have a buyback program. So for $50, they’ll buy back your used shoes. These go to a charity called Career Gear, designed to help people to rejoin the workforce. These are people who need dress shoes and will use them to fit into new roles.
Julian told me, “Don’t be fooled by our price.”
When he encounters doubters online, he dares them to give Ace Marks a shot, which, considering their easy return policy, is not even a gamble. He says once people try them, they end up coming back for multiple pairs.
The Ace Marks Wingtip Oxfords are some of the coolest shoes I’ve ever owned, and I’m already considering which style to try next.