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The Vass Wing-Tips Conspiracy

The pleasure of bespoke shoes from a venerable family-owned shoemaker in downtown Budapest

(Yes, I know those aren’t wing tips, but loafers in the photo. I couldn’t resist a reference to Hillary Clinton’s famous line about a “vast right-wing conspiracy”. I realized after posting this that Millennial and Gen Z readers wouldn’t get it.)

A blessed Good Friday to Christians of the West celebrating today. Orthodox Good Friday is next week. This morning, let me off you a commentary that is relatively frivolous, in a time of war, but it’s important to me, and I want to share it with you. It’s a story about beautiful things — things you might call useful works of art.

When I was packing to come to Budapest in the late winter, I found a not-small stash of euros that I had saved from a trip a few years back. I brought them with me, and six weeks ago, decided that I would spend them on a special souvenir from Budapest: a pair of handmade bespoke loafers from Vass Shoes.

Some background: my feet are exceptionally short, and exceptionally wide. I think my biological father must have been a hobbit. I don’t buy shoes often because it is so difficult to find shoes that fit properly, and the experience of going from store to store looking for them (I can’t reliably buy them online) is drudgery. Bespoke footwear, though — that is, shoes made to measure — is outrageously expensive in the United States. I would never consider it there.

But it is not so in Budapest. Vass Shoes is a family business, started in 1978 by Laszlo Vass, and is still owned and operated by the Vass family. Their shoes aren’t cheap — the start at 700 euros — but given the quality, they are affordable, especially if, like me, you rarely buy dress shoes, and spend most of your time in ankle boots (fall, winter) or Birkenstocks (spring, summer). The shoes I just picked up this week from Vass are timelessly beautiful, and will be with me for the rest of my life. I bought a pair of dress shoes from Vass last summer, and love them so much that after discovering the secret stash of euros, I returned to Vass for a pair of loafers.

Now, I will never need to buy another pair of dress casual shoes, but if I need one, my last — the model of my foot from which the shoemakers craft these shoes — is in storage at Vass, and I can simply e-mail them and tell them what style shoe I would like, and they can make it and mail it to me. They have a customer for life. The quality of the shoes speaks for themselves. I have received compliments on the dress shoes I bought last summer, but the best thing about them is that they fit perfectly — something that is very rare for me, and why I have all my life hated shopping for shoes. But at Vass, it’s a great pleasure.

The selection Vass offers is quite diverse, but for me, not a shoes guy, a basic pair of loafers was what I needed. I have a pair of black dress boots, and two pairs of dress lace-ups (one brown, one black). All I needed was a dress casual shoe. It took six weeks from the day Gabor (see photo) measured my feet, until I picked them up at the store. I wore them for the first time last night. If you are like most people, wearing a perfectly fitting shoe is an ordinary experience. It’s not that way for me. How great it feels to wear a pair of shoes that fits perfectly. My closet is littered with much less expensive dress shoes, made by machine, that I’ve bought in the past, but never wear anymore because they don’t really fit. If you collected them, they would easily cost more than that pair of bespoke loafers I bought from Vass, which are very well made, which fit perfectly, and which will last forever.

On the day I went in to be measured for the shoes, I was with an English friend who was visiting Budapest. He was absolutely astonished by how inexpensive these well-made bespoke shoes are, compared with what getting the same would cost in London. He said they are about 80 to 90 percent cheaper at Vass than at a similar shoemaker’s in London. He is planning to be back in Budapest next month, and is headed straight to Vass. Good man. Buying quality handmade shoes, beautiful artifacts from a small family business, is a worthy thing.

Here is Gabor presenting me my loafers. If in Budapest, go see him at Vass Shoes, Haris köz 6, in the center of downtown Pest. You will not regret it.



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