Leather and laces

Today, we continue the discussion of the details that make a modern suit either a mark of distinction or an indication of ineptitude by turning our attention to leather.  This will take in, briefly, a little time with shoes, but not a lot.  We have already spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of footwear in earlier posts.  Today, however, the discussion will move up from simply addressing footwear to including those items that may also be made of leather, like the belt or watchband.

When addressing leather for the man of style and substance, there are three things to think about.  They are color, weight and finish.  Let’s look at each in turn.

COLOR

When suiting up with a suit, you wouldn’t make the mistake of putting trousers from one suit with the coat of another (unless you were attempting to make a statement that Lady Gaga might appreciate).  Instead, you take time to ensure that the suit is a matched set.  The same should be true of the leather accessories, and that matching begins with color.

Typically, leathers will come in shades of brown, cordovan (a reddish maroon color) and black.  Browns particularly may come in a variety of shades and hues, ranging from deep mahogany the sandy tan colors.  Regardless of the color, a wise rule of thumb is to match them all.  Not compliment, match.  While modern fashion and style allow all types of adjustments in this matter when dealing with more casual attire, for the gentleman of style and substance, matching the colors is a detail which can set him apart from a sea filled with the unaware.

Shoes and belts are obvious for match, and care should be taken to ensure that one doesn’t change the color of one’s shoes by using too deep a color of polish when caring for them.  This can cause a carefully selected belt to become just another leather strap only good for the weekend.  Take care to keep belt and shoes properly cared for, allowing them to breathe togehter by alternating appropriately.

WIGHT

In today’s world, it is becoming more and more appropriate to mix and match different weights of leather in a single outfit.  This may be entirely acceptable when dealing with casual and semi-formal attire, but in the matter of a suit, it is wise to ensure that the weight of the leathers match.  If the shoes are substantial in appearance and construction, finding a belt that is equally sturdy is not just  sensible approach, it is imperative.  Likewise, if the shoes are somewhat light and cosmopolitan in finish and feel, the belt can likewise be something more flexible and lightweight.

FINISH

What type of texturing do the shoes have?  Are they grained, with a pebbled appearance?  Then finding a belt of a similar finish is a fine touch, demonstrating awareness and taste.  Are the shoes, instead, smooth and sparingly stitched?  Find a belt that mirrors the appearance, and you complete a look without creating the type of fashion chatter that distracts on a subconscious level.  Much like static on a radio or a blurry image in video transmission, leather unmatched can be just distracting enough to cause others to have to work at seeing you at your best.  Remember, if you are wearing a suit, you have already committed yourself to the game of perception, agreeing for the sake of business or some other proposition that style and substance, in this situation and at this time, are perfectly balanced in fashion.

And I for one believe that if you are going to play the game, you ought to play it well.

Belt and shoes are obvious places for men to wear leather, but one more exists; the watch!  If you have more than one watch, and if any of those watches have leather bands, be sure to extend the matching leather concept to this realm as well.  If you don’t have multiple watches, I am not suggesting that you go out and buy more just so that you can have matching watchbands.  I am simply suggesting that if the option is available, you would do well to keep it in mind.

You no doubt have noticed that everything revolved around the shoes.  There are  many reasons for this; I will mention only two.  First, it is likely that the shoes will have cost more than the belt, sometimes by a factor of 10 or more.  With that in mind, obtain the shoes, and then find the belt that best matches the leather in them.  Second, while I am advocating that the match between leathers is important, it is more likely that the shoes will be noticed more quickly and with more critical eye than the belt.  Hence, match everything around the shoes.

I mentioned in the title laces.  some have asked me when it is appropriate to wear loafers versus lace ups.  My answer is nearly always the same, ” what makes you most comfortable?”  I wear both, and both feel fine on my feet.  I allow weather and my plan for the day dictate my shoe choice.  In colder and more blustery conditions, lace ups become the choice.  If I am likely to be making presentations, I will select whichever I believe will leave me feeling the most comfortable.

What do you think of all this information?

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Feet on the Ground, Part 2

The man of style and substance in today’s world knows the importance of a good pair of shoes.  But knowing the importance and acting on that knowledge are often two separate things.  In today’s post, I will explore some things that every gentleman should know concerning preserving quality footwear designed to accessorize nicely with a suit.  I will also discuss a few of the manufacturers that have become synonymous with today’s professional arena.

While it is not imperative that you read the previous post, it may be helpful.  I encourage you to take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the ideas in that post, and then come back and enjoy today’s post.

Preservation!

When the word preservation is brought up, many people become uncomfortable, thinking that we will be discussing the latest environmental impact studies.  However, in the context of footwear, preservation means three simple steps that, when taken, will ensure that the investment made in quality footwear will pay for itself many times over.

The first thing to remember in the process of preservation is to ensure that the shoes are polished regularly and buffed with each wearing.  I prefer to use a cream applied in a light layer with a soft cloth first.  I then follow with a heavy coat of wax based polish, buffed lightly. Finally, I finish with a lighter coat of polish, sometimes in a neutral tone rather than the color of the leather, and buff this coat to as high a gloss as possible.  This process can be done once every one to three months, depending on how frequently you wear the shoes, but quarterly has seemed to be about right for ensuring a long life to the shoes.  One pair of shoes I took care of this way lasted nearly 10 years before the sock liners finally wore out and the shoes couldn’t be repaired.  However, the cobbler I took them to said that the uppers were in the best shape he had ever seen.

The second thing to remember in preserving the shoes is to invest in a decent pair of shoe trees.  I have used shoe trees for a quarter of a decade in my dress shoes, and they have two distinct benefits.  The first is that they prevent the leather from shrinking on itself after the foot is removed.  By placing the trees in the shoe on removal, the leather will contract slightly, but the shape of the trees will ensure that the shoe holds its size and shape. The second benefit that shoe trees brings is in the releasing of odors.  This works best if the trees are made of aromatic cedar wood.

One gentleman I spoke with when buying shoes recommended a pair of shoe trees for each pair of shoes.  I don’t recommend this, as on overnight stretching with the trees is generally sufficient.  In the morning, removing the trees allows the shoes to finish breathing.

This brings me to the final point in preservation of shoes, rest!  If at all possible, you should allow the shoes to rest at least one day between wearings if you want to keep them in premier shape.  The rest allows the odors to finish dissipating and the leather to relax and be ready for another wearing without over creasing.

Resoling the shoes should be done as needed, and the aid and opinion of a good cobbler is always something to seek out.  If a manufacturer offers a refurbishment for your shoes, this may be well worth the investment if you have kept the shoes in good repair.

Manufacturers!

Johnston and Murphy may have spent a significant sum of money in advertising in recent years, but they are a shoe that lives up to the hype.  they offer a refurbishing service for their higher end shoes, including repairing sock liners, which can stretch a shoe investment into several decades of wear.  The company has been strategic about developing relationships with other manufacturers which has allowed them to utilize a variety of build techniques to make their shoes extremely comfortable.

Rockport is a brand whose reputation is built on the years and miles their shoes have covered helping salesman in the finest department stores throughout the United States.  These shoes are sensible, if a little less trendy than the aforementioned J&M’s.  Solidly built, they can be worn all day and, when necessary, all night and still look and feel fine.

Florsheim for years sold their shoes only through their own stores, and struck a nice balance between fashionable and traditional.  Like Rockport, they survive on a reputation built in the boardrooms and salesfloors over decades of wear and generations of up and coming executives and established business leaders.

Clarks of England and a similar company, Ecco, both use TPU outsoles to bring a greater measure of flexibility and comfort to the shoe while maintaining lines of both traditional and trendy dress shoes.  The only downside to these shoes are the inability of the shoes to be resoled (in most cases) and the squeaky sound that accompanies them when walking on certain surfaces, such as wet tile.  Having said that, I am currently wearing a pair of Clark’s in its 7th season in the winters of Utah, and they continue to hold up beautifully.

There are many other brands, some more couture and some more mainstreet, but these seem to be the most reliable while still providing a strong statement of confidence and fashion sense.

I hope this has been helpful.  Watch for next weeks post as we explore more ways to accessorize the suit with style and panache.