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Five tips on shoes

3 June 2011

The tips on looking good in a pair of shoes are simpler, in a way, than those for suits. They come down to two things: spend as much money as you can afford, because you are buying value and longevity; and look after them well, because you will be rewarded in style and longevity.

1. Don’t wear them everyday

Leather soaks up water from your feet. It dries and recovers naturally but needs time to do so. If you wear shoes for two days running the leather doesn’t have time to dry and wears down much faster as a result. Think about how wet cardboard frays.

2. Use shoe trees

The second-most important rule. Using shoe trees means that when the shoes dry they return to their natural shape, and don’t fold and buckle. In the long run, not using them will make the upper crack, which is one thing no one can repair. In the short run the shoes will look better and smarter.

3. Brush, cream, polish

Brushing down your shoes at the end of every day removes minor scuffs. They look better for longer and have to be polished less often. Cream should be used every month or so, depending on wear, and will keep the leather supple – aiding comfort and preventing the cracking mentioned earlier. Polish protects the leather and gives it shine; over time, it will lead to a beautiful, personal patina (less so on black shoes).

You don’t have to follow a dedicated regimen. But doing some part of this is well worth the effort.

4. Buy dark brown

Most men need black shoes for business – at least part of the time they spend doing business. For much of the rest of the time, they can wear dark brown. It is more versatile, going from a mid-grey suit to grey flannels to indigo jeans. It builds up a nice patina (try black polish occasionally). And it looks just as smart, if not as formal.

But always bear in mind that shoes should generally be darker than the trousers they are worn with. Tan shoes look cheap with dark suits – the contrast is too great. Dark brown looks best with navy and mid-grey (particularly flannel).

5. Spend money

I would estimate that men spend about a quarter of the amount they spend on suits, on shoes. It should be more like half.

Men that buy high-end shoes delight in dividing the number of days they wear their shoes by the cost, and compare it to a cheaper pair. This isn’t just a way to justify buying more expensive shoes. When shoes last 20 years or more, the calculation inevitably comes out in favour of better shoes. And that’s without taking into account how they look.

I got some criticism for saying in my last post that Edward Green shoes are better quality than Barker. Strangely, no one actually disputed that point. Barker shoes are made very well and are definitely worth the money spent on them. But even the Handgrade line that costs £400 or so is not as good as EG in my personal experience, and the majority are not Handgrade.

Too many men in this country wear terrible, glued shoes (sole not sewn on) with no toe puff (creating a soft, turned-up toe) in corrected grain leather. I applaud them buying Barker instead of that. But if they are buying a £3000 bespoke suit, they should be spending more on their shoes. With most English-made shoes, you get what you pay for. Spending more means better leather and more benchmade stages.

A friend of mine told me recently that his policy is to “buy a cheap pair of black shoes every six months and just throw the old pair away”. If by writing this blog I can stop just one person doing that, I’ll be happy.

[Pictured: bespoke Gaziano & Girling balmorals in espresso calf and crocodile]