A True Essential
Shoes, arguably the only true essential item of clothing. Sure, not wearing pants in public is frowned upon by the general public and the powers that be (rightly so), but unless the weather is particularly cold, you should survive. Shoes however are absolutely essential if you want to traverse the urban jungle of broken glass, concrete and gravel. So, seeing as we need to have few pairs in our wardrobe, it is our duty to take care and consideration when purchasing them in order for us to look our very best.
In this two part guide to timeless shoe style, I will be discussing all things shoe related: The difference between high street and the more expensive brands, finding the right shoes for you, shoe care guides, what to look out for when buying and other miscellaneous (yet important) tips. I will also be discussing and dissecting the shoe styles that are considered timeless and you should all own in your wardrobe. By the end of it, your shoe collection should be complete and ready for any occasion and situation; giving you multiple options year-round for all your outfits and looks.
The Debate – Style Vs Substance
So first off, let’s start with a debate in order to really get you thinking about your recent shoe purchases and making sure you take the time to consider exactly what you are looking for next time you add to your collection. This topic is something that has bugged me for quite a while about the fashion industry, specifically with shoes. Designers, whether they be top fashion houses or the high street, continue to impress me by making high quality, good looking products – I’m not disputing this. However in my opinion, fashion is lacking in practicality.
For example, I recently bought a pair of fantastic looking leather desert boots from a well known high street brand and while the styling was perfect, the sole was so thin I might as well have been walking around in bare feet. Now this kind of thing is all well and good when you’re just popping to the bar down the road, or if you drive everywhere, but I walk six miles a day to and from college; I need some kind of support. Another area where I feel the fashion industry is letting us down is in protection from the elements. The advice across the board seems to be the same when addressing the problem of bad weather – “wear rubber soled shoes when it’s raining”. Now I don’t know if you remember last winter? My street was like the ski slope in the winter Olympics, and a pair of rubber soled shoes just wasn’t going to cut it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to change what they are doing in terms of pushing design forward, and creating beautiful looking garments, footwear and accessories, but maybe they could offer some more robust choices. So my questions to you all are:
- Is style more important than practically?
- Have you had similar problems?
- What can the industry do to improve its products practically?
Now this is just based on my experiences, so feel free to tell me if I’m being a giant girly man in the comments below, or if you actually agree with me.
High Street Vs Designer Vs Specialist Brands
Leading on from the above, I imagine most of us get our shoes from the regular high street haunts; on the surface it’s much cheaper than buying a designer brand or purchasing from a shoe specialist like Trickers, but on closer inspection it could be more expensive. The logic here is simple; a well made, expensive, specialist made pair of shoes – if cared for properly – will last you a lifetime. The high street brands on the other hand while looking great and being on trend, tend not to last long. I myself recently found my brown brogues in tatters less than six months after I bought them, and at 55 pounds a pop, they’re not cheap.
There is also a marked difference between top designer brands and shoe specialist. With the designer brands they will generally be better made than the high street products but in terms of quality and construction they pale in comparison to specialist shoe makes. With designer brands, you are essentially paying a premium mark up for the name and the looks, whereas with a specialist you are paying for quality craftsmanship and solid construction. So to simplify it from lowest to highest quality it goes:
- High Street - such as Topman, All Saints and Burton.
- Designer - such as Paul Smith, Hugo Boss and D&G.
- Shoe Specialist - such as Trickers, Loakes, Red Wing and Grenson.
Here are 3 examples from each of the categories above so you can get a feel for the difference in price, style and quality for a pair of on trend brogues:
Footwear is hard to get right stylistically and it’s an area that is often neglected by most men. Some people even assume that no one is looking at their feet so they think it’s acceptable to wear things like crocs in public; actually people tend to look at the feet first and then make their way up to the top. This might have something to do with not wanting to make eye contact straight away, but whatever the reason good shoes are essential in making a good impression.
Tip Number 1: Get Shoes That Fit Your Style
Everyone has their own distinct look, and your shoes should reflect this. So for example, I myself have kind of an indie rock vibe going on, so for me the perfect pair of shoes is a nice pair of black leather ankle boots. You have to identify your style and use all your clothing to project your personality – this includes footwear and accessories. If you don’t think you have one, or haven’t quite developed a signature style yet, then you need to take a look in your wardrobe and see what colours and types of clothes you wear the most and work from there.
Tip Number 2: Decide If You’re Going Smart or Casual
This is mainly for choosing the colour and style of your shoes. If you’re looking for a pair of Derbies or Oxfords to pair with your suits on a daily basis then you need to pick a formal style, whilst making sure the material and colour is also versatile enough to be paired with every colour suit you own. In this case a black or brown leather shoe would be best, because suede is not brilliant at withstanding harsh winter weather conditions, and brown and black will be suitable for pairing with all your usual black, grey, navy and brown tone suits.
Again this is all about picking styles which suit your look and personal wardrobe. There is no point buying a great pair of Chelsea boots or deck shoes if you never have the opportunity to wear them regularly OR don’t have the correct surrounding garments to work with. If you dress smart (or smart-casual) on a regular basis; using shirts, tailoring and polos to keep you looking sharp, then you need footwear which will finish off your outfits correctly – a battered pair of Converse or beat-up wing-tips just won’t do it. Likewise if you only own comfort fit jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets, then how will you incorporate a great pair of brogues into your look?
If you generally wear casual clothing or like to have variety in your dressing (something everyone should strive for) then the options open to you are immense, and just takes a little consideration of your existing wardrobe. However, be warned that if you choose a truly bright colour without consideration of your wardrobe or what you will pair it with, then you risk losing the entire look to a rash flash of colour which really has no place being there.
Tip Number 3: Boots or Shoes?
This is a question that people often ask me, and it’s a very difficult question to answer; in reality it’s up to you. However, if you begin to look at it in depth then the answer becomes slightly more complex.
For me it really depends on your build. This may sound strange but I think that people with a slim/skinny build (or dress sense) suit boots better than people of a larger build. My reasoning behind this is that the main difference between boots and shoes is that boots continue further up the leg; this is what makes them unique and it’s something you want to show off. Skinny or slim cut clothes show this off much better, allowing you to tuck in the bottom half of your outfit or letting the hem stop just at the top of the boot – making the boots become a real feature. This is the same whether you use higher cut military boots, or shorter styles such as desert or Chelsea boots.
Loose fitting clothes tend to make it harder to see the boots and you will generally end up covering them all with your jeans/trousers – this does take away the appeal unless you are utilising them for practical reasons (good on you!).
But all this is just nitpicking. The bottom line is if they suit you and your wardrobe then wear them – they will provide some much needed variation to your footwear choices.
Tip Number 4: What To Look Out For?
Here are some things to look out for when buying a quality pair of shoes you want to last:
- That the construction on each individual pair takes at least three weeks.
- They use high quality material like calf leather on the uppers and oak bark tanned soles.
- Make sure they either handmade or bench made, either way a human being has actually cobbled the shoes together rather than a machine doing it.
- Look for a company with a lot of history, the longer they’ve been doing it successfully, the better they’ll be – Loakes, Greson or Trickers are good examples.
- The best shoes are Goodyear Welted – “a process invented in the 1800s in England that is a time consuming way of making shoes, but means that the product lasts longer than any other type of shoes. It also means that the shoe can re-soled many times over making them a wonderful investment” - Grenson
Caring For Your Shoes
- Never wear your new shoes in the rain until they have been worn about 3 or 4 times.
- If your shoes do get wet, put shoe trees in them or newspaper if you don’t have trees. Let them dry at room temperature for at least 48 hours before you wear them again. Wet sole leather will wear out twice as quickly as dry sole leather.
- Before polishing your shoes always wipe them over with a dry cloth to get rid of surface dirt.
- Polish them with plenty of polish and allow them to sit with the polish on as long as possible. Ideally let the polish stay on overnight. Make sure you get plenty of polish into the welt and the crack between the upper and the sole.
- Take off the excess polish with a brush or cloth and shine them up.
- If you have tan shoes you can darken them using a darker polish. Some people will go as far using black polish on tan shoes, instantly making them look very old.
- The key to keeping suede shoes in top shape is preventative maintenance. Before you wear the shoes, protect them with water and stain repellent designed specifically for suede. As soon as you notice that water is no longer beading up, spray them again.
- Use a plastic or rubber-tipped brush regularly to restore the nap and remove surface dirt before it sets in.
- If you get a stain on suede, try to remove it immediately with a solvent-based cleaner made specifically for the material. Oil absorbing blocks are also available. These blocks abrade the leather to bring back the nap and remove stains. If you have a serious stain, you might be better off taking the shoe to your shoe repair professional.
New Season Styles
So here are some examples of new season shoe styles in the high street, designer and specialist brackets. Take time to consider your future purchases and what exactly you are looking for before you buy. Quality? On Trend? Style over substance? Or a quick fix?
High Street Collaboration: Loakes for Burton
Fusing the high street with a specialist brand is a great way of introducing Loakes to a larger audience. Hopefully now when you are looking for shoes within your local Burton you will at least consider paying slightly more for a much better constructed shoe. These are 6 of the exclusive styles available this season:
I hope you all enjoyed part one guys, in part two we’ll talk about the different styles of shoes that are considered timeless.
Thanks for reading,
“Always wear expensive shoes. People notice” – Brian Koslow