What exactly should you know about shoes? What are the basic rules?
Shoes are the most important part of a man’s look. The good news is: as a man, you don’t need to own as many shoes as Carrie Bradshaw. If you find what’s good for your style, you can then more or less stick to it without need to replace shoes constantly or update your collection too often.
But yes, people will judge you from your shoes. They are essential both to give a good first impression and to signal a good fashion sense.
So let’s review men’s shoes basics with 10 simple tips.
1. Assess your style/your real needs
Have a look at your wardrobe and think about your life. What do you own most? Jeans, casual items? Suits? Which colours? What’s your job and who are your peers? You want to answer the questions: do I need more casual or more formal, and what’s my style?
There is no point in owning 4 pairs of dress shoes like Oxfords, if you don’t have the right clothing or lifestyle to match them.
Needless to say, a good wardrobe should strive for a good mix of both formal and casual.
Now decide more or less how many shoes you should have for each group. I would say that 2 or 3 dress shoes and 2 or 3 casual shoes are the minimum required to allow you enough combinations for a lifetime of good style. Add boots and sport shoes to that basis.
2. Black is basic, and is boring
Even if your lifestyle requires mostly causal clothes, you need at least one pair of black dress shoes in your wardrobe for formal occasions like funerals and weddings, and for an elegant evening /with a black suit. Do have at least one black lace up.
If you wear suits or rather elegant outfits regularly, though, don’t limit yourself to black. Brown shoes are almost always more sophisticated and go well with different colours of trousers. If you are wearing grey, blue, tan, brown, green, pair them with suitable shades of brown shoes (you should have 2 or 3 pairs),
and a matching belt (it doesn’t need to be identical).
3. NO. SQUARE. SHOES.
This is easy. If you own squared-toed shoes, by all means throw them away. The only purpose of square shoes is showing the world what NOT to wear. A person who wears this kind of shoe is invariably badly dressed.
Shoes should be a bit more rounded at the top. This shape is timeless.
Excessively pointed shoes aren’t good either.
Finally, the shoe shape should be in proportion and harmony with your clothes and body. Baggy suits and slim shoes look terrible; you should aim at slim suits with slim silhouette shoes ( no exaggerations).
When you buy dress shoes like brogues and Oxfords, you might find that they are very expensive. If you invest in quality, though, it will pay off. If you pay, say, 600 Euro on a pair of well made, specialist made pair of shoes and you care for them properly, they will last you for a lifetime. But let’s stay on the (very) safe side, and say that they will last for 10 years. That’s 60 Euro a year. If you don’t have the cash, I understand expensive shoes are a no-no. But if you do, my advice is that gorgeous shoes for at least 10 years are way better than sad, cheap shoes you will anyway need to replace every year, because they won’t last.
Designer shoes can be wonderful too, but they pale in comparison to specialist shoe makes. With a specialist you are paying for quality craftmanship and solid construction, so you are thinking long term.
5. Get a shoe tree
If you want your shoes to last, get a shoe tree to keep them in shape. It prevents from developing deep creases, absorbs moisture and smells good as well. They are a no-brainer.
6. Polish regularly
Nothing ruins a good look more than grubby, unmaintained shoes. Shoes shines are great, but expensive and difficult to find. My advice is: a gentleman should be able to polish his shoes, and should do it regularly. That means the whole ritual of laying down the newspaper, getting different cloths and brushes, wax and/or creams. Personally, I keep rubber gloves in the shoe polish box too, so my hands won’t get dirty.
7. Leather or rubber?
Do you want everlasting soles or more bounce in your steps?
Ideally, at least one of each.
Leather soles might not be as cushiony as your New Balances, but they are more comfortable than one might think. Also, they look great: dress shoes require leather soles, period.
Rubber is very practical and has recently been rehabilitated ; today there are plenty of stylish dress shoes with rubber sole that look good and protect well from bad weather.
The choice you will often have to make is : sleek, contoured dress shoes which exude elegance, or heftier lace-ups with a chunkier rubber sole?
My personal opinion is to have both options available – bad weather will always happen, but so should good style.
A note for trainers : two pairs of good, unfussy, one colour/no logo trainers should be in every man’s shoe closet. One black and one white pair can be worn with suits too. This needs a bit of confidence, but looks great from time to time.
If your lifestyle requires a lot of casual outfits, you can obviously add up endless variations.
8. Shop lacing
I used to work in a sport shop and sell shoes. I hated the store lacing – it was only designed to look good on display. If your shoes are laced straight across, they are impossible to loosen and tighten. Get the laces out and start all over again. Insert over (not under) the bottom eyelets and go on.
9. Lose your lace, loafer it up
Like rubber soles, loafers have experienced a total makeover in recent years. In the past, their design used to make feet look stubby. Today, a designer loafer like Tod’s or Prada looks great and goes well with both formal and casual outfits. It is the perfect in-between for when you don’t feel like dressy lace-ups or trainers either.
Basic socks rule: match your socks with your pants, not with your shoes (this makes the outfit visually more fluid).
White socks rule: they are only for sports.
Dress socks rule: dress shoes require dress socks in fine, thin material (no athletic black socks, for example – they are bulky). They should still follow the colour of your trousers and not of your shoes.
Bright socks rule: coordinate with the whole outfit (if you feel confident about your style and about the fact that people will look at your feet); all pieces should “go well” together. Try to keep the contrast between your trousers and your socks at about the same level as the contrast between the trousers and the shirt. When in doubt, go for classic colours.