Considering the work shoes have to do, men should know more about them than anything else they put on each day. After all, ill-fitting sweaters just make you look awful, but poorly fitted shoes wreck your concentration, ruin your day, and enable your chiropractor to build that gazebo next to the pool. Nevertheless, most men know more about Janet Reno than they do about shoes. And that's too bad because -- like men who study a menu as if it were a quiz, only to ask their wives "Honey, what should I have?" -- you have to decide some things for yourself. No one can tell you how the shoe fits. You have to wear it.
THE SELECTION PROCESS
Men generally buy shoes when they have to. They buy them one pair at a time. And then wear the hell out of them. Whoa. Big mistake. Shoes are not made out of steel. Socks are rarely found in terry cloth. Feet perspire. A lot. Even more when they're in boots. Consequently, shoes need to dry out. And breathe. And be rotated. You have more than one tie? More than one suit? It is equally important to assemble a wardrobe of shoes.
You don't need as many shoes as socks, but you need to have more shoes than Phillips head screwdrivers.
Ideally all shoes should be lined in leather for absorption. Check inside. If they're not, pass.
Basically, we choose from three types of shoes:
Italian style shoes - Designed to feel like slippers, they are generally light and easy to pack. However, they can crease easily, often have glued bottoms, and are harder to repair. They are the preferred footwear for ballroom dancing, fast conquests, and anyone preferring stylish footwear with dress-up/dress-down versatility.
English style shoes - Tend to use heavy leather on the upper part, which is stitched to a reinforced welted sole, making it a little stiff (though it should never be painful) until the welting turns pliant. Great for pacing, crossing one's legs, and appearing responsible and formidable, especially when turning on one's heel for dramatic exits. This style offers a timeless look that will go perfectly suit or traditional sport coat and slack combo.
Lugged-soled shoes -- High-end work and hiking boots were once the sole territory of Redwings and Doc Martens. (Doc Martens oil-resistant soles were developed for auto mechanics.) Thanks to a recent surge in popularity, it seems that you can now get two inch, lugged soles on your daughters Keds. These thick-soled shoes are astonishingly durable and relatively affordable. Men quickly discovered that the sleeker, more contemporary versions of this hearty-looking footwear looks especially testosteronic when paired with soft suits, leather pants, and your new Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, which will probably see about as much rough terrain as these shoes. Nevertheless, they add stylish flair to three, four, or five suits and hip dress casual attire.
Good dress shoes can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 on the average; lugged-soled casual shoes, $80 to $165. Of course, you can go much higher on the former. If you go much higher on the latter, you're probably trying to hard to match them to the color of your new Jeep's leather interior.
No matter what dad told you, the right brown shoes look just fine with a black suit.
Shop in the afternoon when your feet are wider. Wear or bring along the kind of socks you'll wear with the shoes you're hoping to buy. In other words, don't have on athletic socks when lacing up your new cap-toe lace ups.
New shoes don't come with blister pads for a reason. They're supposed to fit now. Feel the need to break something in? Join the rodeo.
Shoes will give a little in the width, never in the length. But fitting a shoe based solely on these criteria is like buying a suit because the jacket closes and you can zip up the pants. What you really should be checking is whether your foot feels good in the last of the shoe.
The "last" is the name given to both the original wooden form used to shape the shoe (top to bottom, front to back), as well as to the final shape the leather takes once your foot replaces the wooden form inside the finished version. All shoes, even those mass-produced, are made on a last. Any discomfort within the finished last -- this includes the instep, heel, bridge, vamp (how high the shoe rises on the instep) -- will make you wish you were surfing, even if you never have before. Comfort in these areas is not negotiable. Nor is it defined by where the toe ends and whether the heel slips out of the loafer. In fact, because shoes have such varied front-end silhouettes, where the toe ends is not nearly as important as where the ball of the foot sits.
You are not Cinderella, but:
If you have a high instep, low-vamped shoes like Chelsea (once called Beatle) boots may be cut too low across the top for you.
Flat feet can quickly tire after wearing lightweight loafers for just a several hours. Generally, flat feet need a gently arched and roomier last.
Thick-soled shoes are ideal for men with wider feet.
Most Americans have combination feet (e.g., D up front, B in back.) American shoes often accommodate this problem. Most European shoes do not. The bottom line is -- like it or not -- one foot is usually bigger than the other. Make sure you try on both shoes and keep them on. Walk in them. Sit in them. Walk again. Wait. Let your feet settle in. Then walk again. Take your time. Shoes do not lend themselves well to impulse buying, like fuzzy dice and K-Tel disco tapes.
It's normal to go up a half size with boots. If they fit, you should be able to pull your heel right out. Wear boot socks, or at least thick cotton ones, because of the increased sweat. In fact, for the sake of all your shoes, never wear acrylic socks.
MAKE 'EM LAST
You wash, iron, clean, and press the rest of your wardrobe. And none of it gets the workout shoes do. So what makes you think you can get away with just polishing them? Wooden shoetrees were not invented to give the servants something to fuss with in Merchant Ivory movies. They happen to be the best way to protect and preserve your shoes. They speed the drying process, deodorize, and prevent shoes form curling at the toe. They are as vital for maintaining the quality of shoes as flossing is for teeth.
Plastic shoetrees are the wire hangers of footwear.
You have about 40 minutes to wipe off salt before it starts to burn leather. If you're approaching or past the zero hour, try cleaning the damaged area with diluted white vinegar.
Saddle soap is not really an all-purpose leather cleaner. It is useful for attacking the results of excursions that justify the owning of all-terrain vehicles, but it is also very drying and not really for dress shoes. If you do use it, follow immediately with an application of Lexol, a leather conditioner, and then a good cream polish.
Applying liquid polish on good footwear is right up there with dousing ketchup on foie gras. It drips, cracks, and does nothing for the leather. If you're old enough to cross the street yourself, you shouldn't be using it.
Paste polish is used primarily to enhance color. It does stain leather well. It also runs.
Cream polish conditions leather, moistens, and hides nicks. It's the right way to brush.
You think other people don't see the bottoms of your shoes? Ever cross your legs, big guy? Resole you shoes before you can see through the bottom.
It's pretty simple. Without shoes, you're not going anywhere. Now you know how to find the right ones.