With the sudden arrival of spring, a diversity of mens’ shoes blossoms! The slushy shoes of winter are over!
So, this is a very complicated time to get dressed. Times photographer Bill Cunningham declared the death of “dress down Friday,” as he was seeing people dressing way, way up. And while he’s always right, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true in your office. But what it does mean is that you can often dress in the way you see fit. Often, it’s easiest to start dressing from the shoes up.
And do you even know what kind of shoes you’re wearing right now?
Get ready. This is going to be intense.
KINDS OF SHOES
Oxfords, derby shoes, gibsons, bluchers and balmorals.
Yup, this is all going to be terribly confusing, because different countries call these different things. You may not even know what is on your feet. Look down! Look up! Cry! Okay don’t panic. In America, what we call an “oxford” is really a derby. (Annnddd… that’s when you clicked “close tab.”) The difference between the two is a bit of technicality: basically, if it has a “flap” atop the shoe that has the lace holes into it, it’s a derby shoe.
This is a derby shoe.
See how that top leather part-thingie is sewed atop the shoe? That makes it a derby. This is an oxford.
That’s all! One has a little thing sewed on for the laces, the other just has lace-holes.
Basically you can die now, right? Well bad news, the “oxford” is also called a “balmoral,” and you know what, don’t worry about that. (Unless you go to Barneys, where the official terminology is “balmoral.”)
So the true oxford shoe makes for a very sleek profile and front view, as it’s so close to the foot and because the laces draw it completely together; the derby shoe, with its little bulk-adding flap, often has a little more manly chunk to it. I often feel too much like a lady in an oxford shoe! But that’s totally personal. Dudes like what dudes like.
Brogues and wingtips.
A wingtip can be any of those! “Wingtip” just means they’re decoratively punctured. (You might use an awl to do the leatherworking!) The short version here is that a “wingtip” shoe is a “full brogue” and it is easy to identify: it has a “W.”
Other kinds of perforated shoes are kinds of brogues too.
Here is something important to know about wingtips: people nowadays see them as very formal and fussy “banker and lawyer” shoes. This was not until recently the case!
The saddle shoe and the spectator shoe.
This is like a trick question, because the saddle shoe, no matter what color, has a saddle.
And spectator shoes do not.
So you would basically never wear a spectator shoe unless you were going to a “Gatsby”-themed lawn party.
But you can wear a beat-up saddle shoe on the weekends and look nice and not totally silly! Also these are both brogues. DO YOU WANT TO PASS OUT YET?
It’s a “monk shoe” if it has a buckle, basically. I have never met one that I liked. This is an extremely expensive Berluti shoe. No thanks! Not for me! If you take five people shoe-shopping with you and they all agree you look amazing in a buckle shoe, then knock yourself out.
Loafers (as in, “Venetian-style” shoes, or “slippers”). Oh, a tricky one. You can actually wear a nice version of a Venetian loafer to the office of a Friday.
This is a Brooks Brothers “classic” Venetian loafer.
That is not an office shoe.
But this, this could be (or a nicer version of it), if you were wearing nice jeans or something.
Regular loafers, boat shoes and topsiders.
For your boat or your lawn.
I am not going to torture you about the shape of your shoes’ toes. Toe caps are like skirt styles; they come in and out of vogue. There were two horrible years when every shoe was pointy; there was a revolution when every toe was squared off. I say split the difference for safety — and if you love it, wear it! But you should know these are extremities of style and it’s easy to make enemies at either end of the spectrum. (I personally cannot wear pointy shoes without feeling like I’m in a witch costume.)
According to How to be a Gentleman, a book to which I do not subscribe at all, brown shoes are some scary, risky thing. Hogwash! Brown belt and a not-black suit and you’re golden for brown shoes. Blue summer cotton suits and brown shoes are great. They’re not funereal — although they’re also not, obviously, super-formal. If you are wearing separates, there’s no reason not to wear brown.
THREE BRIEF THOUGHTS ON SHOES
• If your work shoes are uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong. Shoes don’t hurt. (With rare exceptions. I’m looking at you, vintage Dirk Bikkembergs.)
• If you have a ton of cash to spend on shoes, go on up to John Lobb, even if just to look. They’re incredibly well made, if overly traditional for some of us. Like, really well made. And they’ll answer your questions and stuff!
• If you feel really super good and strutty about your shoes, it doesn’t matter what dirty looks you’re getting on the street. You’re the one that matters.
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