Feet on the Ground, Part I

In an earlier post, I suggested that today’s gentleman should understand that style and substance are no more mutually exclusive when considering dress than they are when considering anything else. In that post, I suggested ways that a gentleman could make strategic purchases in upgrding a wardrobe and thus have a fashionable look without spending more money than absolutely necessary. In today’s post, I will be starting to look at the individual pieces by beginning with shoes.

Whether you are a salesman spending the majority of your time on your feet every day or an office worker getting up for meetings and breaks, a fair portion of your daily attitude can be impacted by the comfort of your feet. As such, it is a good bet that when your feet are sore, you will be distracted, unfocused and perhaps even agitated, even when everything else is going well. I speak from experience when I tell you that you cannot afford this. Every day, thousands of minor evaluations are being made about you based on yourhandling of the everyday situations that are part of our modern professional environments. And as unfair as it may be, a single slip at the wrong time can begin the freefall of a career that was, moments earlier, on the fast track to the corporate suite.

Recongizing the importance of footwear, this post will walk through some things to consider regarding construction,  fit and style. Next week we will turn our attention to preservation and some observations regarding manufacturers that seem to be synonymous with the modern professional world and how to obtain them at a reasonable price.

First, buying shoes that are made of poor quality materials is a tremendous mistake. Most shoes made using man made materials will not stand the test of time, and will squeak, creak or clomp horribly after just a short time of wear. They also tend to fall apart more quickly on the inside, and are more difficult to care for over a long life, owing to the fact that they do not release odors or the moisture that naturally occur when shoes are worn for an entire day. Instead, look for shoes that are manufactured using high quality leathers for the uppers and include sockliners made of soft leathers.

While it may not be practical in today’s world, due to increased security concerns, I would recommend steel shanks to be included in the construction. I know that lighter weight and non-ferous materials are all the rage in the world right now, but I have yet to be disappointed at the performance of a pair of shoes with steel shanks. In case you are not familiar with the construction of a shoe, the shank sits between the footbed and the out sole of the shoe and gives the shoe its strength and support. If you are going to be on your feet all day long, a steel shank may be worth its weight in gold.

Finally, a handsewn welt is a good indication of quality in the shoe’s construction. This can generally be identified by looking at the sole of the shoe and noticing the stitching that runs along the sole in the outline of the footbed. While some shoe manufacturers include a welt for appearance, a sewn welt connecting the upper to the sole serves an important structural support for the shoe. Look for shoes that advertise a “Goodyear Welt construction.”

Fit and Style
Buying dress shoes is best done in person, at least until you have identified a manufacturer that matches your needs. Take some time, enjoy the process, and make sure that you try on both shoes in a pair before you make any decisions. Additionally, when you go to a shoe store or reputable department store to start your shopping, make sure that you wear socks that match what you will wear when you wear the shoes. Trying on dress shoes while wearing athletic socks just won’t do.

Most dress shoes narrow towards the toe. If you have a large forefoot, or if the shoe is uncomfortable in the try on stage, ask for a wide width or focus on styles that have a wider toe box. I have yet to find a shoe that was uncomfortable in the initial stage and then magically became comfortable after the first few wearings. While it is true that a leather shoe will stretch to fit your foot, that won’t make it suddenly comfortable if it is so tight that it hurts when you first try it on, no matter what the salesman says.

Slip on or tie? Both are at home in the today’s work environment. Wingtip (the kind with the little holes and pattern) or cap toe (with a band of leather around the toe box area) all can be useful in the wardrobe. Just remember, you are looking for smooth leathers, and the more highly polished they are when you are buying them, the better they can look if you take care of them. Also, while two tone shoes are very fashionable and trendy, single color leather is easier to polish and easier to keep looking nice. They also stay in style longer, as single colors tend to be made with an eye toward classic lines and adornment.

What do you think?  Have I missed something that you think is critical in this discussion?  Let me know, and watch for the conclusion in next week’s post.