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A Shoe Primer -- Part I


 A pair of Allen Edmonds captoe oxfords in a dark oxblood brown, perhaps the most versatile color of dress shoe going.  It works with with tans, grays, navys, dark blues, and even charcoals. 

The men's style blogosphere presents a great deal of material on purchasing, wearing, and caring for leather dress shoes.  But for average guys looking to kick up there everyday footwear style several notches, keep things simple to begin with.   Start with three good quality pairs of leather dress shoes with laces, for versatility, one in dark reddish  oxblood/cordovan/bergundy, a second in a plain dark brown, and a third pair in black.  Wait on getting loafers, which are a more casual shoe and usually don't look right worn with a suit. . .  although you'll see lots of clueless goofs who do so anyway.  Don't stray into that territory yourself however!

While there are a number of good quality shoe brands out there, but long-time visitors to The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style will know that I am a devotee of shoes by the Allen Edmonds company.  This Wisconsin-based shoe manufacturer is one of the very few left in the United States that actually still makes its product in the United States.  The company also offers terrific customer service and support.


Here is a recrafted pair of Allen Edmonds 'shortwings' in a plain dark brown,  These too are pretty versatile and seem to work well with most combinations of odd pants and sports jackets or with the right kind of suit.


Whatever you do, avoid purchasing any of those hard, inflexible, corrected grain, plastic-coated leather dress shoes like most of what is now offered by labels like Bostonian, Florsheim, Johnston & Murphy, and a host of others. . .  who used to sell quality products years ago before shipping their manufacturing overseas to save a buck.  If you want really good shoes that will be supple, comfortable and long-lasting, you cannot pinch pennies.  Cheap shoes will be uncomfortable from Day #1, look bad even in the store, and will wear out fast. Cobblers will not be able to repair the shiny, cracked, peeling plastic coatings on shoes like these either.  Save your money and frustration!

Instead, find and buy high quality shoes and keep cedar shoe trees in them when you are not wearing them.  Moreover, don't wear the same shoes two days in a row, but allow them time to dry out and retain their shape between wearings.  In addition, treat your shoes with some shoe moisturizer routinely, although you really ought to get in the habit of lightly polishing your shoes every few weeks -- but don't cake the polish on -- and keep them free of dust and buffed to a high shine with a horsehair shoe brush between polish applications.  

Finally, at the first sign of wear on the soles or heels, take your shoes to the cobbler to have them replaced.  I happen to be very easy on shoes, but some guys might need to do this yearly.  However, if you eventually have a shoe rotation of half a dozen pairs or so, you might not need to replace heels and soles that often, but don't let these parts of your shoes wear so much that it becomes difficult for a cobbler to fix the problem!  Good shoes are an investment, so it's worth taking care of them.

Assuming you've purchased a quality product, routine care and maintenance of your leather dress shoes shoe, like the kind described above, will keep them looking sharp and serving you well for years to come.  A plug again here for the Allen Edmonds people, who offer a variety of recrafting services for their shoes at various price points.  I've been very, very happy with the work they've done on a couple of my pairs.  


If and when you want to branch out a bit, another classic style of men's shoe to add to your rotation is a pair of 'longwing' gunboats.  These seem to work best in cooler weather with more substantial corduroy, moleskin, of flannel garments.  Shoes like these vintage 'Phi Bates' by the Bates Shoe Company are heavy enough that they'd look a little off if worn with lighter weight, warm weather gear.


In any case, do not rely solely on a single pair of dress shoes that you wear to death on a daily basis.  They'll start to look beaten up and just plain crummy fast.  Average guys looking to kick up their everyday shoe style several notches should make it their business to have at least three pairs of dress shoes in rotation.  Unless, of course, you live in sneakers or flip flops, see no reason for change, and only dress up once every 18 months or so when a distant family member gets married or passes away.  If that's the case, I'm afraid your condition might be terminal with little hope for recovery.  Do the rest of the world a favor, find a handy cave to live in, and stay there.  Now.

Returning to the subject of quality leather dress shoes for a moment, be prepared.  They are going to run you at least US$300 to start if you purchase them at normal retail outlets, so be forewarned.  $50 ain't gonna do it.  If price is a concern, and for many average guys it is, get in the habit of watching Ebay, where you can sometimes pick up barely worn high quality leather dress shoes for ridiculously low prices.  Or, you can visit your local thrift shops often and keep your eyes open.  When you spot something that fits though, snap it up because quality men's dress shoes rarely remain on thrift store shelves for long.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that great pair of vintage USA-made Florsheim wingtip brogues will somehow be there later when you come back later.  They won't be.

In A Shoe Primer -- Part II, we'll look at black dress shoes and loafers, plus more casual kinds of footwear and shoes that are appropriate for the beach, boat, or winter snow and ice. . .  with nary a sneaker or flipflop in sight  See you then!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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