The Florsheim “Imperial” – America’s Greatest Shoe

The Florsheims shown in these pages, both the Imperials and the others, are the products of the 100-plus year old firm, founded by a cobbler’s son, Milton Florsheim, in 1892 and, arguably, the most important shoemaker in American history. In recent decades the firm changed hands several times and ended in bankruptcy in 2002. By the late 1980, offshore production had already replaced the superlative American-made upon which Florsheim’s reputation was fonded.

Florsheim’s “Imperial” line of the mid-century cannot be improved upon by any modern shoe at any price. Even the ordinary Florshiems (non-Imperials) of the 80’s and earlier, are an excellent single-soled shoe, similar in quality to Allen Edmonds, but it is the Imperials Full Brogues, a massive, **armoured heel, double-sole Budapester with storm welt, (technically, a “split-reverse-welt”), and the Florsheim Imperial Plain Front “Wholecut” Derby (Blucher) built on the same indestructible frame that are the standard-setters of the industry, and the subject of this article.

The price of these shoes is entirely theoretical; it is difficult to find a modern shoe of this quality for ANY price to which we can compare them. These are better made than any ready made shoe today and many bespoke (custom made) shoes as well; I include all the famous names, Green, Lobb, Church, Crockett, Alden and so forth. These, in the best cases, may approach the Imperials, but never do they exceed them in build or material quality. John Lobb ready-mades at $1400 in 2009 are flimsy by comparison? At Euro 450 or less, the Imperials are a great bargain, the best in the world of shoes.

I have clients who have collected a pair of the *original Imperials in every colour and leather, both the Full Brogues and Plain Toe Derbys, in Scotchgrain Calfskin and Shell Cordovan. My clients say that no shoe is more supportive or comfortable, a godsend for a big or heavy man or any gentleman on his feet all day. Florsheims also run very true to size and I use them as a standard by which to measure other brands. Florsheim provided shoes in every width, extra narrow to extra wide; ask me to check my 1000 shoe inventory for your exact size and width.

The light coloured Florsheim Imperials are lovely and take polish wonderfully. More than their darker cousins, they develop a patina of extraordinary beauty, something akin to an old fruitwood piece of furniture.

* One must be careful to avoid substandard examples, either much repaired items or the modern copies marketed under the Florsheim name by the marketing firm who bought the name after the bankruptcy. The appearance of these copies and their names are identical to the originals but the shoes are not, and the Internet and Ebay are full of the modern copies and originals in poor condition, to be expected 20 years after the end of production. Beware also super narrow widths, “A” and “B”, which are suitable for very few gentlemen.

**The last picture shows the channelled Goodyear welt, the rivited sole and the double row of hand-set nails and tri-angular cleat protecting the heel. The other pictures are of used examples of the Full Brogue Budapester (above), the Wholecut Derby (middle) and the Shell Cordovan Full Brogue Budapester (below).