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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?

Jump in!


  1. Women have many more styles of clothing, hence more shoe styles, as it seems, one must match one shoes to ones clothes at all times, if you are a woman. That is my theory as to why my husband's modest shoe wardrobe works so efficiently, but I am always finding myself trying to make do.

    It takes a bit of money to be into shoes IMHO. I like to buy shoes but I rarely have the money. I don't know how folks who buy several pairs at once are affording it.

    Thanks for the ebay tip. I never thought of that.

  2. i like shoes, but shoes don't like my feet....wide, flat feet that blister easily:'(

    I like your new shoes; they look gently worn in...something i long for in shoes; new ones hurt hurt hurt my feet and i don't like the wearing in period.

    I would however, suffer through the wearing-in period for a pair of saddle shoes! Of course trying to buy a pair online from Australia would be a pain in itself given my non-standard feet shape. *sighs*

  3. I am probably a 7-8 on the shoe-lover scale. I love a cute shoe, but am just not willing to suffer for it.

    My husband would say that men's shoes are worth the price - he has a number of shoes (of the caliber you described) that are going strong after years of wear. If you have them regularly polished and periodically resoled, your new shoes should have a very long life.

  4. I fall somewhere in between. I Love shoes of many shapes and sizes. For example, last night I sported some silver sparkle disco platforms. However, at heart, I am a bare-foot kinda girl at the end of the day.

  5. Why women buy more shoes than men? I'll tell you why I do. It's so difficult to find clothes that fit me well. You know, women have much more curves than men, so the standard sizes on stores are not made for me. Shoes, on the other hand, always fit perfectly! You just have to try to see if they are comfortable and that's it. You have thousands of designs, colors, shapes. You can change your look just changing your shoes. But I only get shoes that do not hurt my feet!

    But my husband is a man who likes and cares about his shoes. He always get quality shoes and it's worth as they will last for a long time.

  6. There's another category of male shoe obsessives, these mostly the younger set: sneaker freaks! I live with one and he definitely has more shoes than I, if you count the Air Forces worn once in three colors, the two-tone high-tops, the special-edition graffiti-print Chuck Taylors, the tennies and basketball shoes and canvas boat shoes from Vans...

    It's a different kind of obsession, more like a collection than a wardrobe element; there are ones he barely takes out of the boxes. But it's a shoe collection all the same.

  7. I often love the looks of different shoes but really only have a few different pairs for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. And in the summer, unless I'm leaving the house, I almost never wear shoes, even when I'm gardening.

    For summer I have three pairs of sandals. One brown, one black, and one reddish-orange. For winter I have Black boots, red clogs, and grey flats. I have running shoes and rubber boots also but those are purely functional choices. Oh, and I have a pair of black pumps but I can count on one hand how many times I've worn those in the last three years.

    I'm actually in the market for some canvas tennis shoes for summer and a pair of brown oxfords for winter. But they have to be supremely comfortable in order for me to be willing to spend the money. And speaking of money, I would rather have high quality, long lasting shoes that I had to save up to buy (think $100-200 a pair) than to have many cheaper shoes.

  8. My hubby absolutely can't comprehend my "shoe problem" (I think he needs to spend more time around women with genuine shoe problems, but that's another story ;) ). He has one pair of every-day shoes, which he wears from blistering summer to dead of Canadian winter.

    On the other hand, he has about five pair of different sports shoes, none of which are worn more than about three days out of the year. Plus his steel-toes for work (incidentally, finding steel-toes for a picky guy in a men's size 7 is HARD)

    That being said, there's definitely an argument for spending a good chunk of change on the shoes he does buy, as he'll trash a cheap pair within a couple of months.

    I think the nice (or dangerous) thing about shoe-shopping is that you don't have to try them on first to see how cute they are. Mostly I shoe-shop at thrift stores or bottom-end places, but I must admit blogland tends to expose me to the dangerous and expensive world of really nice shoes. It's a very, very slippery slope...

  9. I hate shoes, and would cheerfully go barefooted year-round were that possible. Splinters, shards of glass, animal poo, and the expectations of my workplace forbid that. I wear lightweight, leather uppers, well-padded sandals with a back strap in the spring, summer and fall; leather slip-on shoes in winter. Black, brown, cream, white. I have a pair of brown pumps (from Goodwill) in case I need to look professional. DH has square feet (8 EEEE), and adores shoes. He is out of luck most of the time in finding anything close to a good fit.

  10. I buy shoes on e-bay, too. For work shoes, I have to have SAS Freetime 10's. My feet have become touchy as I've aged and I must be gentle with them. Then they do me a great job all day, no pain, and I appreciate them!

    Where I get my shoe "fix" is with sandals. Even with my touchy feet, I have about 8 pair I can wear comfortably. SAS shoes are always kind to my feet.

    Since they cost over 100.00, and I can get them on e-bay for anywhere from 9.99 to 29.99 plus shipping, that's the way I go. I've set up an automated e-bay search that e-mails me when new ones come available.

    I agree that men have very standard outfits and when they figure out which pair of shoes goes with which outfit, they're set. However, women's clothing is much more nuanced. One outfit can be casual with one pair of shoes and accessories, and perfect for a business appointment with different shoes and accessories. It takes some studying, as Cathy and you well know!

    Thanks for the interesting topic, Peter. Please tell your mom that we're all wishing her well!


  11. I'm with Lisette. I love cute shoes, and I buy about 3-5 pairs a year, but most are around the 15-30$ price range. I don't think I have even one pair of shoes (not even my lovely leather lace-up boots) that cost more than 100$. And at the end of the day (and whenever I can get away with it during summer) I'm totally happy to go barefoot. :)

  12. Hmmm, for me this is an interesting question. On the one hand, I really don't care much for shoes. They need to fit and be comfy and be functional. I don't really care about brands, and I don't have many pairs. On the other hand, I am obsessed with my custom Harlick skating boots. Harlick is sort of like the Alden of the skating world, and the prices reflect that. Much of the quality that goes into good men's leather shoes goes into good leather skating boots as well. So, well, I am probably a 3 in terms of real world shoes (I am picky about what I like, but I don't have high standards in terms of quality and I don't look for shoes unless I have a specific reason) but I am a total 10 in terms of skating boots... so perhaps I average out to a 6?

  13. Allen Edmunds are a foot friendly frolic into the fantastic, especially to those with a wide foot.

    No Alden experience here.

    Women's shoes are like earings. They are "foot jewelry", and they can reap huge compliment hauls in a single wearing. Us guys rarely have a "nice shoes" conversation; I believe it was against our unwritten code up through the mid-90s.

    Peter, you once again demonstrate that one can e-bay their way to happiness.

  14. I'm one of those rare women who HATES shoe shopping. I have a long, oddly sized foot (9.5 AA) and it's very bony. Shoes hurt. I buy the most padded shoes I can find then add MORE padding to make them comfortable. That means I wear Doc Martens, Converse, Lifestride for dress up and the like. I also buy everything in black (belts also) to maximize matching potential.

    On the plus side, I'm never the person hobbling at the end of a great party because my feet hurt. I've tromped all over Los Angeles and Las Vegas in heels, and because I pad them out, I'm fine.

    Your new shoes look comfortable and sturdy and the color is classic -- what more could you ask for?

  15. I have to chuckle at your comment that "men don't care about shoes". A male acquaintance of mine blogs as "The Shoe Snob" which is devoted to fine men's footwear. He cares very much.

  16. Dear Peter -

    I think they are darling! To keep them in good shape you must invest in some really good quality shoe trees - the ones made from cedar are great! You can make a really beat up pair of shoes look new if you give them a bit of time 'in the trees' - I have done this several times for shows I am costuming and it does the trick every time!

  17. Maybe 7-9 on the shoe scale, depending on the day? I love shoes in theory, but my feet are hard to fit. Sometimes I will say 'damn the torpedoes!' & wear a fabulous pair of shoes even tho they pinch or rub, some days, I'm all about the flip-flops (esp. since I live in California ;-).

    My price range is modest, from thrift-stores, Target, & eBay to fancy brands on clearance for no more than $50. I'll try sky-high heels but I live in cushy Clarks & Aerosoles. Shoes give an outfit polish, flash, substance, style. It's the finishing, completing touch.

    I wish more men would pay attention to their shoes. They don't need dozens of them, but more than black, brown, & sneakers.

  18. I like your new shoes! And I hope they're nice & comfy for you :)

    Personally, I don't care about shoes. Much. I DO care about how my feet feel and whether or not I can walk comfortably. And how they look with what I'm wearing. I hate hate hate cheap, uncomfortable shoes. I really don't have all that many. Except for my cowboy boots. LOVE my cowboy boots!

    Oh wait. Maybe all that means I care about shoes.

    And I buy them on eBay too. Because I like the good stuff, and they're usually over my budget.

    And....truth be told.... I have problems wearing heels, so, sadly, I only have one pair, which never get worn (which means they are sadly out of date & should just go elsewhere).

    A friend of mine (a tango dancer) returned from a trip to Brazil with about a dozen pair of dancing heels - fine, fine shoes! I tried some on & they were COMFY! I couldn't believe it.

    Maybe I need to go to Brazil......

  19. Interesting discussion topic. I am in a transitional phase in my shoes right now. I used to be a 10 on the shoe scale but now I am sliding down that scale & don't know where I'll end up.

    I think my shoe obsession stems from the fact that growing up I had the biggest feet of all the women in my family & amongst my friends. This meant that very early on, hand me down shoes were no longer an option. I reveled in this since all of my clothes we hand me downs & therefore had almost no say in my personal style. But shoes, shoes I could pick new! Another factor is that shoes can add height. and to the person who always has & always will be the shortest one in the group: every 1/4 of an inch counts.

    Nowadays I have become very concerned with foot health and have become less willing to sacrifice comfort for cuteness. I almost never wear any of my heels anymore & am continuously searching for comfortable but cute flats for dressing-up. Because of this I am learning to become less self conscious about my lack of height. I am also beginning to realize paying more than $30 max for a pair of shoes to ensure quality & comfort will ensure I wear the shoes often & they will last for a long time to come.

    Thanks for letting me babble on, & I hope your mother's rehab is quick & comfortable!

  20. I think those shoes do look fine! remember with any leather shoes that it is a good idea to wear them in gradually. Don't wear them all day for the first time then give up because they are uncomfortable. They will form to your feet, but only if you give them time (and your feet time to recover.)

    My husband has way more shoes than I do. He has some issues with his feet so his shoes are also more expensive, but he still manages to find a wide variety: Slip-on sneakers, walking shoes, low-top hiking boots, ankle length hiking boots, motorcycle boots, Black work boots, tan military boots, sandals, crocs, rain boots, semi-dress shoes, tuxedo dress shoes. He has dance shoes and tons of historical shoes too, but he does not wear those just out and about. I'm sure he'd have flip flops and those ten-finger shoe things if his feet would allow him to wear them.

  21. Even I have those: they're called "five fingers" -- don't ask me why!

  22. I was always a cheap, gaudy heel or zori girl until, really, this summer. The ligaments in my feet finally stretched all the way out, leaving me with very flat, narrow feet. Coupled with a pregnancy and hypermobility disorder, there was no more walking in zoris without constant foot/knee/hip pain. I bought a pair of Privos, making it the lone pair of summer shoes I have.

    I'm fairly certain my grandfather had a couple pairs of AEs my grandma had picked out for him; she always ensured he was a smart dresser.

  23. I am just starting to appreciate better shoes. You put your feet through a lot every day so it is nice to have some good support. Better shoes are always good but I've never spent more than $150 on a pair. Maybe you have just pushed me over the edge and I might try it.

  24. The shoes you bought and NOT ugly at all. My hubby has a pair that looks just like them, though not Edmonds.
    I love shoes at about a 7 I'd say. I'd like to love them at a 9, but the finances don't allow that at the moment. Plus, how could any shoes be worth $1000.00 - I just can't imagine what they could do to shoes to justify charging such outrageous prices!

  25. I would put myself at a 5 or 6, but I am the daughter of a man who was shoe-obsessed. Of course, he was obsessed with ladies shoes - driving mocs in a rainbow of colors, Reebok "Princess" sneakers in a rainbow of colors, clogs. He stopped short of high heels, but it was all pretty freaky.

  26. My love of shoes is a 10. However, my buying of shoes is a 3. My metatarsal arch is falling and I have to wear orthotics in my shoes (my orthotics only fit in ugly shoes) , or wear Birkenstocks, MBT's, or shoes with a negative heel (remember Roots shoes in the 70's, yeah those). The days of pretty shoes are behind me I am afraid. I mourn for pretty stilettos.

    I have transferred my buying of shoes to buying of purses, and the plus is a purse always fits.

  27. I did in fact wear flip flops to my wedding. They were LL Bean flip flops with little lobsters on them. I still wear them all the time, best flip flops ever! I'm pretty much a 1 on the shoe scale. I have a couple pairs of heels for a night out but thats its. Its either flip flops or Emu fluffy boots. I'm so low maintenance its painful.

  28. I really like shoes, but have always had issues. I have wide wide feet and never could buy cute sandals to wear, and heels no longer work for me. Bah.

  29. I LOVE shoes!!!! I have to have the right shoes with every outfit...even if that's the right pair of sneakers. I have feet issues now, but still find comfortable shoes if I look hard enough and don't try to go for the pointy toes and high heels. When I was younger and about to move, I took all my shoes out of my closet and put them in a was 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall!!! 40-some pairs!! I love your brown shoes, very square and cute. I hope they're comfy and you can walk 25 minutes in them on a sidewalk.

  30. You are going to live your Allen Edmonds! I have several pair (also purchased used) and I love them all!

  31. I'd class your new shoes as smart casual. Above desert boots definitely but ok for a garden wedding, lunch with friends etc. I'm a dag as at home I live in riding boots or slip-ons as there's only the cows and farm dogs to see me! I just have a more respectable pair of slip-ons to wear to town if I'm not wearing my comfortable runners. Food shopping is a chore to be finished as quickly as possible.

  32. I believe most American shoe makers started in New England, about the time Calvinist reigned. They believe one should suffer here on earth, and made their shoes accordingly. I am also a shoe shopping hater. I have four pairs. Two are cute and comfortable for the most part, but are rarely worn except for dress up. The third is a pair of tennies that I wear doing yard work and my favorite is a pair of Crocks. They are two years old and I wear them everywhere I don't care if they are ugly. They are comfortable!

  33. The problem with most shoes is that they are not foot shaped. The inside edges of the foot are pretty much a straight line to the end of the big toe. Manufacturers, however, seem to think that the big toe is bent inwards for men's shoes, and that women's big toes are in the middle of the foot. It's crazy!

    Jacoform make comfy shoes that follow the foot shape although they aren't the most beautiful shoes :-)

  34. I think your new shoes are very fetching - I love the warm brown color and they look very solid.

    Women's shoes perplex me, because so many of them (especially the "high end" fashion styles) are so uncomfortable-looking and they seem to cause physical damage. I will never understand why we torture ourselves with heels...

  35. I've had my feet measured. They are 7F, unlike most cute shoes. Oh well. So I've always been more concerned with fit than color. My daughter has dainty feet. When she was 2, I tried to put a pair of navy shoes on her while she was wearing a blue dress with red trim. She had such a tantrum. She needed her red shoes! OK, OK, whatever! Now she's a barefoot hippie in Kuranda so it's not an issue.

  36. guys are just not that big on shoes it's true. I find it hard to find second hand shoes because guys must wear them to death.

    Glad your mums okay!

  37. There's more than black, brown, and sneakers---there's black-and-white, brown-and-tan, blue-and-navy, etc. The wonderful world of Spectators! Hush Puppies had a rainbow full of two-tone suede dress shoes that are way cool and were made for men, women, and even children. I'm addicted to eBay shopping for these shoes, and new color combos keep coming up all the time. Dark green-and-light green, Purple-and-red (my faves!), and even pink-and-white---altho I can't find a pair of men's in this color, size 10.5 or 11.


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