Notes from the Basement--Part 2.5 Shoes, shoes, and shoes
Leffot (NYC) - www.leffot.com
And finally we now come to the all important section on shoes. Nothing will ruin what you're wearing faster than poor shoes; you can spend $10,000 from the ankles up and still look like a chump if you wear awful shoes. Shoes make or break what you're wearing--nothing screams poser more than expensive clothes and cheap shoes. Seriously, you can make $30 Levis (514, Ridge), and a properly fitted $20 American Apparel shirt look surprisingly stylish if you wear good shoes.
But first a note on comfort: Of course, the most comfortable shoe is a bespoke shoe (it's designed for your foot, duh). But since a bespoke shoe is rather expensive, you probably don't want to wear it absolutely everywhere you go. While there are some brands of shoe that fall under the dressy category that are comfortable (Ecco, Rockport, Mephisto, Sketches), they all are terribly constructed--like on the level of random drop legendaries terrible.
The most comfortable RTW dress shoe for my foot is a Cole Haan Collection Nike-Air (concealed air bubble). The problem with Cole-Haan is that aside from the Collection shoes, the quality of construction is uneven across the various models, and the quality of the leather and finishing is decent to mediocre. That said, they all have their uses, especially if you're shifting into a more polished look, but still frequent, ah, less than polished places. That's not to say you won't find comfortable shoes from other makers, but if I'm going to be doing more than the typical office usage (i.e. walk from office to kitchenette, up and down a couple of flights of stairs, and/or walk 1-4 blocks to lunch level of activity), I'll be wearing Cole-Haan Nike Airs.
A note on fit: Shoes should be a little tight at first, because they'll stretch. You should try on shoes during the late afternoon, as your feet swell during the day. If it's a Goodyear welted shoe, the insole will also mold itself to your foot. Generally it should feel like a firm handshake when you first put the shoes on, and you should have about 1/2 inch of room in the toe. Some suggest that you only wear shoes for 2 hours for the first two days, a day of light usage, resting, and then moving into normal usage. (a bit of overkill, but if you're going to be raiding anyway, you don't get more light usage than that.)
A note on laces and tying your shoes: The typical knot that they taught back when I was in kindergarten in the 80s doesn't actually do that much good for keeping your shoes tied. Here's a link to a similar, but better way: http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/secureknot.htm
Also, check out the illustrations of different ways to lace you shoes, as the way your shoes are laced makes a difference in comfort, flexibility and tension: http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/lacingmethods.htm
2.5.1. A few important terms
I'm not going to drag you through a comprehensive list of terms (that's what books and the intertubes are for), but here's a few terms that you should be familiar with (besides basic ones like sole and uppers.)
Last: the form that the shoe is built of off. A company has several lasts, and builds a range of shoes off of them.
Goodyear welting: a method of construction named for the machine used to stitch upper, insole, and a welt together. (Yes, it was the same family as the rubber company, son of the founder, though.) Norwegian construction is a variant of Goodyear welting.
Blake Stitching (a common variant is Blake/Rapid): another method of stitching together a shoe. In this method, the upper is sort of curled into kind of a horseshoe, and the stitching is done on the inside of the shoe.
Brogue: a small hole punched into the leather for decorative purposes. It can also refer to a style of shoe. See 2.5.2
Generally you will find that the mid range of good shoes will be a Blake stitched, while the high end shoes will be Goodyear welted. Both are infinitely better methods of construction than cementing (which is just another term for glued, like fusing in suits).
2.5.2. Shoe styles
Conveniently for men, the basic styles of shoes have been around for about 75 years so you don't have to worry about things shifting from season to season or year to year. One of these days I will photoshop together an image of these shoe styles.
Plain toe - what it sounds like, no decorations
Cap toe - extra piece of leather at the toe. Still no decoration.
Brogue - full brogue = wingtip, semi-brogue = medallion at the toe, quarter brogue = minimal decoration at the toe.
Spectators (Specs) - two colored Fred Astaire shoes: this is a pretty polarizing style. It was pretty popular in the 40s with gangsters though. This is a summer shoe.
Split toe - has a vertical seam at the toe.
Monk straps - shoes with a buckle fastener (single or double), it's the modern descendant of the same shoes that the (Protestant) Pilgrims (to America) wore.
Penny loafer - (Weejun) GH Bass & Co came up with this interpretation fo a loafer in the 30s.
Tassel loafer - Credited to the Alden shoe company, and spread like wildfire.
Driving shoes - Tod's has the corner on the marketing for this type of shoe.
Espadrille - are being worn by trendsters who keep picking ugly shoes to wear in places far far away from their intended purposes.
Formal pump - the patent leather dress shoes that date back to the 1500s. You most likely wore plastic versions to prom if you're an American.
A note on colors: black, brown (tan, chestnut, and mahogany), and cordovan are the standard colors. Black is paired with navy/midnight, gray, and black. Brown goes with the earth tones and pops against navy, while cordovan pretty much goes with everything. Tradition has it that brown shoes are not worn after 6pm, or with double breasted suits.
2.5.3. MTO and Bespoke
Fortunately for everyone, there isn't any confusion between a Made to Order (MTO) and Bespoke shoes, unlike suits. A Bespoke shoe is built on a last made specifically for you, while a MTO shoe is built off a standard last, and gives you the option to choose things like color, leathers, and detailing. See noted shoemakers for a listing (most RTW houses offer some sort of MTO).
I would suggest, if going to the bespoke route, getting the most versatile shoe as you will most likely find that it is your most comfortable shoe and will be wearing it the most often.
2.5.4. The start down the yellow brick road
Generally what you will find is that most (stylish) men will have two pairs of black shoes (a plain cap toe, and a quarter brogue), and then a Carrie Bradshaw/Imelda Marcos sized collection of brown shoes + cordovan (and sometimes exotic colors). Moving up from your basic starter 2 black shoes, you generally want to shoot for 5 (dress shoes) more before you start moving into shoe-aholics anonymous territory. After that generally you add 2 pairs of shoes a year and donate a couple of pairs to charity here and there to keep things manageable (either that you'll end up close to retirement with 200+ pairs of shoes, and then archives/hollywood costumers might be fighting over your collection).
I would suggest acquiring while you are acquiring your first five that you include a pair of shell cordovans* of any style (durable, deep attractive shine), a monk strap (single or double) for more casual wear, and a chelsea boot (because they dress up and down). Since we're in the indulgence section, the John Lobb Vale is considered one of (if not) the RTW greatest shoe due to any number of factors, not in the least of which is the depth of the finish on the leather and the elegance of the last.
The John Lobb Prestige line is the line that shoe guys all refer to when it comes to the best RTW shoes on the planet. The Classic line is generally agreed to be slightly behind the comparably priced Edward Greens. That said, there are quite a number of competitors at about the same range that also put out a great shoe. Generally the French shoes have an edge in styling (Corthay, JM Weston, Lobb), while the craftsmanship crown goes to the English (Edward Green, Lobb). And, well, as you can see John Lobb RTW is rooted in both. The Italians tend to get written off as too fashion forward.
As you start exploring the breadth of shoes available, and begin trying them on, you will find your taste change over time and start understanding why women will have several shoes of the same color, but differing styles--especially when if you start down the path that combines leathers, or cloths and leathers (to varying degrees of success). The advantage that men have is the shoes will last for years, and not go out of style, and they're vastly more durable than those delicate Choos/Manolos/Louboutins and much, much better for your feet.
*Note: contrary to the name, this type of material comes in all three colors. The name comes from Cordova, Spain that created the material from horsehide. It's an expensive material because you only get a small amount of usable hide from each horse, and it has an involved tanning process.
2.5.5 Shoe trees, not an option
You absolutely need to have cedar shoe trees, preferably a split toe type that expand to fit your shoe. Cedar will keep away the nasty bugs, and will help draw away the moisture from the shoe. (The European shoe trees are birch or some other material as cedar is native to the US) Leather shoes actually degrade from the inside out. For the best results, put the shoe tree in immediately after taking your foot out of the shoe.
You also need to use a shoe horn for when you put shoes on, preferably one that's at least 12" or more: it doesn't matter if it's metal or horn. It saves wear and tear on your shoes from all the pressure of your foot going into the shoe.
2.5.6 Shoe care
Very briefly, as this section will be expanded upon in the care segment, on shoe shining.
Here's what's in my shoe polishing kit (the box that it's all housed in has a shoe rest thingie on top):
* 2 Horsehair bushes
* 1 Suede Brush
* Water & Stain Protector (Meltonian, aerosol)
* Leather conditioner (Allen Edmonds, which I think is rebranded something, but whatever it is it's good)
* Boot & Shoe Cream polish (Meltonian, in various colors. I prefer Meltonian because it can be used as edge dressing too)
* Cotton cloths (they're just cut up strips of the one of the travel bags that comes with shoes)
* Plastic adjustable length shoe trees
You can get away with polishing a dress shoe as little as once or twice a month, but generally once a week is preferred. All you really need to do is:
1. Put in the plastic shoe trees so that the creases are completely stretched out.
2. Use conditioner
3. Apply shoe cream wherever needed
4. After the shoe cream hazes over, apply conditioner
5. After a few minutes, brush
6. Apply more cream (or a wax if you want to use it)
7. After about 5 minutes, brush over
8. Last coat of conditioner
9. After a minute or so, brush again
10. Optional spit shine here (water + silk or nylon cloth), which I never do. (Did I mention I'm lazy?)
11. Touch up the edges--best left to a cobbler if you want to use edge dye (this is why I use Meltonian shoe cream because this is tricky).
Noted Shoemakers This list would double the length of the post if it was comprehensive. These are ordered in terms of price, prestige and quality (if the quality has slipped or is in decline, the house is listed last under a bar).
John Lobb (This is a separate business from the RTW that Hermes runs: both do extraordinary products for their respective categories.): http://www.johnlobbltd.co.uk/)
READY TO WEAR
Allen Edmonds (www.allenedmonds.com)
Cole Haan (Collection-Nike Air only www.colehaan.com)
John Lobb (www.johnlobb.com)
Edward Green (www.edwardgreen.com)
Gaziano & Girling (www.gazianogirling.com)
Crockett & Jones (www.crockettandjones.co.uk)
Church's (in decline since Prada bought it: in protest of the Prada acquisition, the men that worked for Church's started wearing Crockett & Jones to work)
J.M. Weston (www.jmweston.com)
Fratelli Rosetti (www.rossetti.it)
Great shoe stores:
Leffot (NYC) - www.leffot.com (pronounced le-fot)
Sky Shoes (DC) - www.skyvalet1.com
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