For some men, shoes (I don’t mean trainers) are an obsession. Understanding the craftsmanship of well-made shoes, and the time that can go into building bespoke styles for example can easily see a man investing in a growing collection. Bespoke clothing and accessories become an investment to the discerning man, an extravagance that sets his outfit apart from others. It is much like how petrol-heads see their cars setting them apart from other road users.
No matter whether it is shoes to wear to the office, get married in or just wear on a day-to-day basis. There is a intimate process that a man goes through when picking the right footwear. Shoes, aside from a suit are typically the most expensive item in a man’s wardrobe, so special attention should be paid to making the right choice.
Before diving headlong into buying, take the time to create a measured approach. Prior to shopping have a style, budget and colour in mind, then build out your choices from there. Weigh up the pluses and negatives of each choice, finally settling on the perfect piece of footwear. Yes, this might sound long-winded but it will mean you don’t waste your money on a pair of shoes you might only wear once. Subsequently destined to spend the rest of their days at the back of your closet.
But what should you look for when buying shoes? Here are some key points to digest before purchasing to ensure you get the shoes that fit both the budget and the purpose.
Evaluate The Leather
Most men will be able to notice a visible difference between top quality leather and sub-standard alternatives when put side by side. But that doesn’t account for shopping in menswear stores that only have a selection of mid-priced footwear for example. How do you see the quality, or lack of?
Wrinkles – These are a sign of poor quality leather being used.
Thickness – A denser leather is more prone to holding its shape for longer and therefore allowing the wearer to get more use out of them.
Surface – Some makers will use chemical treatments on the the leather to hide flaws. Look for tell-tale signs like stiffness or an unnatural shine.
Colour Consistency – By this I don’t mean putting two pairs of the same style side by side. There are many factors as to why two pairs might look slightly different. Look for discoloration of the surface areas on one shoe. This is another mark of a poorer quality leather being used.
How Does The Shoe Fit
The need for ‘breaking in’ shoes as the leather shapes to the curves of your feet is a natural process for high-quality leather footwear. There is though, a limit to the pain threshold for breaking shoes in. When trying on, start evaluating pressure-points and how much pain you might need to go through before you end up with comfort. Too much, then I suggest moving on.
Not every man has the same shape foot, and if you aren’t going bespoke then the shoes you are trying on will have been made from a universal pattern. It is the same process as buying a high street ready-to-wear suit. But like buying a suit, different brands will have slight difference on these patterns that will give you a better fit. Take the time to try similar style shoes on from a variety of brands until you find the best fit for your foot shape.
Match The Style To The Purpose
There is no point going shopping for a pair of black oxfords and leaving with a pair of burgundy monk straps. Remember the styles you have picked out beforehand and stick to them. Don’t let the bright lights of the shop or the smooth talking assistant sway you from your predefined target.
Examine the soles of the shoes. If your shoes are going to be walked in a lot then you might want to think about getting toe taps added if you are looking at a single leather sole. Alternatively a rubber sole from Dainite that you might find on the likes of Church’s or Cheaney’s can be added at a later stage.
Wearing it to work? Then a lace-up is going to look better on the majority of men when worn with a suit compared to a loafer or other slip-on.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of what to look for when buying new men’s shoes. If we honestly went into the long list of the inner workings of men’s formal shoes then this could be a very long article. So we have kept it brief. But a key last point I would always suggest to men to remember is stick to the budget.
Sam Brady is a menswear expert, having worked in or around the field for the past 14 years. He has built up a keen eye for detail when it comes to the production of clothing, and is happy showcasing the craftsmanship of Savile Row and Jermyn St. But he understands the need for an interchangeable modern man’s wardrobe that mixes high street and luxury clothing.