Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shoe Basics

I got a reader question the other day, which I edited slightly for clarity:

"How do you go about choosing shoes? I've realized I don't really have much taste in shoes but am well aware as to how important they are in completing an outfit. Any tips in terms of what's good, what's not and how to choose stuff out? My usual move is to just bring a lady friend to come shopping with me and pick stuff out, but I figure I might as well pick your brain and see what you have to say.
And another thing, I live in a city and am constantly walking. As such, my shoes get dirtied and scuffed up fairly quickly. As a result, I don't really like to spend much money on my shoes (a.k.a less than $100). ENLIGHTEN ME, please."

This is a great question, and you're right when you say that shoes are very important in completing an outfit. I'll assume you're talking about dress or dress-casual shoes, meaning ones with a leather sole and heel, or some combination of leather and rubber. I need to start it off by gently nudging you away from the practice of buying cheap shoes because you're a city dweller and they get beaten up. I live in a big, walkable city too and am very familiar with the havoc that walking on pavement can wreak on your footwear. The way you deal with this is not to buy cheap shoes and wear them into the ground, but rather to spend more money on nicer ones and actively take care of them. Doing so will make them last longer and therefore be cheaper in the long run. Another way to make shoes last longer is to own a few pairs and not wear the same ones two days in a row. Less wear means longer wear.

"Actively take care of them" means to polish them regularly (once every two weeks or so if they're your only pair), keep cedar shoe trees in them when they're not on your feet (this will wick away moisture and keep the uppers looking and feeling nice), and get them re-soled/re-heeled as often as necessary. It's much better to spend $60 or $70 every year or two to get new soles on an amazing pair of comfortable shoes as opposed to spend $100 on new shoes that have to be broken in all over again. Additionally, better made shoes (which will inevitably be more expensive) are better for your feet, meaning that they're better for your legs, meaning that they're better for your back.

Just for a point of reference, we're talking about "good" dress shoes when we get up to the $200 range, but that's at full retail price for many Cole Haans, Kenneth Coles, and brands offering similar quality. These brands also have outlet stores and nearly incessant promos in stores and online, so you can generally avoid paying full price and get something that's closer to what you're comfortable spending. No matter how you slice it, save up for the good stuff and your feet will thank you for it.

With that out of the way, what makes for a "good" shoe? If we're talking about dress shoes, then you need something with a leather sole and heel. The heel and sole can have some rubber on them for traction if you like, but make sure that the rubber isn't visible when looking at the shoe from the side:

I prefer shoes with a tapered (not pointy) toe, as I feel they elongate my short frame and just look a bit more elegant. Tall thin men, on the other hand, can wear rounded-toe shoes to great effect because they obviously don't need any help looking taller. Avoid fully square-toed shoes like the plague.

For a short list of shoes I think every guy should own, check out this previous post. Obviously keep your wardrobe in mind when selecting your first few pairs, and pick out shoes that go with most of the items you already own. Maximum utility is key here.

Finally, if we're talking about sneakers, I see no reason to spend a lot of money. I know there's a whole sneaker-collecting culture out there in which folks will spend hundreds of dollars on limited-edition Nikes or Jordans, and I never understood it. In fact, if any readers are sneaker-heads, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the collectible sneaker thing. Regardless, I say that if you wear sneakers with, say, cool jeans and a fitted track jacket, make sure that they're slim, streamlined ones. Athletic sneakers are good for athletics and that's it.

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