Jun 13, 2011
Readers, for men, there are three kinds of shoes: black, brown, and sneakers. That's it. Please don't argue or ask What about desert boots? Just trust me. Men don't care about shoes.
For women, shoes play a completely different role. Varieties are endless and you can't seem to have too many pairs. Women's shoes express much more than I don't want to cut my feet on broken glass and Just get me the job. You could write doctoral dissertations about women's shoes; men's shoes, maybe a sentence or two.
But, as with most things, there are exceptions, and there exist freaky sub-groups of male shoe obsessives, who, thanks to the Internet, have created forums where they argue over the relative virtues of brogues, wing tips, cap toes, and cordovan leather. Sites like Ask Andy About Clothes allow men who care about such things to resurrect the lost art of dressing like a gentleman, shoes included.
Confession time: I have not bought a new pair of leather shoes in more than a decade. Sure, I have brought new-to-me shoes into my life, but these were picked up in thrift stores, flea markets, and even found on the street, like my recently acquired, incredibly comfortable pair of gray suede Opening Ceremony lace-ups. Most of the time, however, I wear canvas sneakers. I don't buy those new either.
The last few days, I've been trekking across town to the Hospital for Special Surgery where my mother had her hip successfully replaced with I'm-not-sure-what, and crossing through midtown Manhattan, specifically Madison Avenue near Grand Central Station -- the epicenter of traditional men's clothing and shoe stores -- I've been thinking a lot about shoes. I've decided I want to wear them more often. No more canvas high-tops.
Remember that book I acquired during Guy Week, Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion? There's a great section in there about men's shoes: where to find them, what they should cost, and how a high quality shoe is constructed.
There are still two American shoe companies that rank among the best in the world, Alden and Allen Edmonds. Men's shoe obsessives debate endlessly about which company is superior to the other, with the majority ranking Alden above AE. To be clear, we're talking about shoes that cost roughly $325 - 600, about ten times more than I'm used to spending on shoes. Still, compared to some high-profile labels like Prada, Gucci, and Ferragamo, these American classics are relative bargains.
Last week I paid a visit to both the Alden store and the Allen Edmonds store in midtown to see what the fuss was all about and to get my feet measured for the first time in decades.
Friends, there is a difference. For one thing, these top-quality shoes are beautiful to look at; the finish is superb, the leather lustrous, the laces, waxy. They are relatively heavy. And like a boy's first suit, they can feel a little confining at first. I'm not sure I'd actually wear shoes like this on a regular basis and I certainly don't have cash like that for footwear.
So I visited eBay. Maybe due to the state of the economy, there are a lot of gently-worn, traditional men's shoes up for auction there. And there aren't a whole lot of bidders; we're not talking Singer Featherweights or vintage Ken dolls. Most men are not looking for a used pair of cordovan bluchers today.
Long story short, I bought a pair of second-hand Allen Edmonds and they should arrive today or tomorrow. They're brown leather oxfords, in good shape, and with shipping, cost about $50. I wear an 8 D in this shoe (recently confirmed on my shoe not-shopping excursion) so these should fit.
Please don't tell me you think they're ugly. OK, they're kind of ugly but cute-ugly in that Japanese way, right? Can't you see them with linen shorts and tennis socks, or maybe a cabana set?
Will I wear them, you ask? If they're comfortable, yes. I have a lot of walking in the days ahead as my mother is now in rehab, about 25 minutes on foot from here. I'm excited!
Readers, I ask you: How much do you care about shoes?
On the shoe-obsession scale, are you a flip-flops-to-my-wedding 1, or a Bury-me-in-my-Louboutins 10? Or somewhere in between?
Why do you think so many women obsess over shoes and so few men can even remember where the the shoe polish is?
What's up with that?