The Shoes! Part II

Last time, I addressed the importance of matching the shoes to the function and your expectations within that function.  I tried in that post to make a case for understanding that a dress shoe did not need to be as comfortable as an athletic shoe, because the functions they serve are different.

Today, I will address the next logical piece of that process, the style.

Now, I know that some men consider the issue of style to be completely foreign to a real man’s man.  And if I were standing face to face with someone who held that view, I would politely and firmly tell him that nothing is farther from the truth.  If I had time, I would explain that even the rejection of the changeable winds of fashion is, in itself, a manifestation of personal style.  However, that will be saved for another day.  Today I will limit my discussion of style to the shoes.

I break style, for shoes and clothes and anything else, into three broad categories;  formal, semi-formal and casual.  Let’s talk about the hallmarks of each.

The word formal, for most men, brings up an image of that most quintessential element of the man’s wardrobe, the tuxedo.  And, while it is true, that the tux is formal, when I address the idea of formal style it is a little larger than that.  Formal is any environment where rules are fairly rigid and expectations are fairly high.  As such, an environment that demands a suit and tie could be considered formal.  Another element of the formal style is the expectation that little physical activity will be called for.  While it is true that many FBI agents work in environments with rigid dress codes, there is an expectation that they may engage in extremely demanding physical activity at any moment, thus the style called for can be a little less than formal.

By contrast, semi formal style is characterized by less rigidity in rules and lower expectations of conformity.  This doesn’t mean that the items of a formal wardrobe cannot be worn here, but rather, that the choice not to wear them is not seen as a rebellion but as a simple statement.  Semi formal style may blend the ruggedness of a work boot with the elegance of a hand made shoe into a single piece that may be (almost) at home in both environments.

Finally, casual style is manifested in a choice of comfort over conformity.  Untucked shirts abound in today’s expression of the casual style, while only a few years ago such a concept would be considered sloppy, not stylish.  If it is hip, but it disregards rules, it is likely casual.

Likely as not, as you have read this, you have been forming pictures in your mind of what would fit each level of style.  Boat shoes, for example, would likely not be seen at a black tie gala, anymore than patent leather shoes would be likely to be seen in a business casual environment.  I’m sure you’re getting the picture.  We’ll flesh it out a little further next time when we discuss the critical component of materials.


The Shoes!

In the movie “Sneakers,” when River Phoenix was telling Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier about the men who had come asking about Marty, there was a conversation that went something like this:

Poitier – “Suits?”

Phoenix – “Rack.”

Redford – “Shoes?”

Phoenix – “Expensive.”

Poitier and Redford – “Government!”

Whether we like it or not, shoes speak volumes about the man wearing them.  And while it isn’t always necessary to wear designer brands or the latest couture styles, a basic understanding of the message your shoes can send is critical for every man who desires to be a man of style and substance.

An earlier post addressed some basics for selecting shoes for a suit and a carefully crafted professional look.  This post will deal with shoes from a different perspective; we are going to look at shoes for all looks.  Three things figure into this equation: materials, style and function.

Function is the easiest of the three to address.  Function is about how the shoes feel, how they move with you, and how comfortable they are.  Please understand, I am not saying that this factor of function trumps the others because I address it first.  Function is important, but only as a part of the choice.

Currently, in the shoe world, there has been some effort by shoe manufacturers to cater to Joe Average by combining the distinctive look of a dress shoe with the inner working of an athletic shoe.  And regardless of how finely written the copy on their advertising, I think it is safe to say that a shoe that works to combine the best of  both worlds will rarely be a perfect fit in any world.  Said another way, just because a pair of shoes is built with the shank and innersole of a basketball shoe doesn’t mean it’s going to be serviceable for a quick game of hoops.  Likewise, the things that make shoes work on the court often make them stand out in not-so-flattering ways in the boardroom.

Function accepts this premise, and understands it, and doesn’t shy away from it.  The principle of function recognizes that comfort of the shoe is a factor of both its appearance and its wear-ability.  Function recognizes that if you are going to be on your feet for eight hours straight, the selection will be different than if you will be making short trips from office to board room to your car for the drive home at the evening.  Function also recognizes that any number of issues can affect footwear choice, from anticipated weather through the day to the likelihood of stopping by a football practice or a dance recital at the end of the day to see your kids in one of their special moments.

Function is just one of the factors that impacts on footwear selection.  The other factors will be discussed in upcoming posts.

On another note, we are going to be launching the “Everyday Dads” section of this website, where we will ask an “everyday dad” some questions about being a father, about handling the work life balance and other topics of importance to the modern man of style and substance.  Do you know someone whom I should touch base with about these ideas?  Are you one of those people we should be getting answers from?  Drop me a line in the comments.  After all, we’re all in this together.


The Hat of Today

Recently, a friend and reader of this blog asked me a question, “What about hats?”  He specified that he was not talking about the baseball cap, the often ubiquitous accessory of college students and individuals who can’t be bothered to tame an unruly mop of hair, occasionally even including men of style and substance.  No, my friend was referring to options beyond the cap and wondering about wearing something both for protecting both his image as a grown up and the sensitive skin of his scalp.

Those who know me well will wonder how I could possibly know anything about the second requirement, as I have a healthy head of hair, still nearly free from gray despite my 43 years and 5 children, three of whom are teenagers.  How could someone like me know anything about the delicacies of protecting a smooth pate?  Good question, one I normally answer with a picture of me 10 years ago.  As part of a fundraising promise, I shaved my head.  Bic’d it!  Right down to the scalp!    And I enjoyed it, staying bald or nearly bald for over 4 years.  (I saved a lot on haircuts during that time!)  So, the short answer is, I know a lot about protecting the scalp from the ravages of exposure, and I am only glad to share what I know.

I will emphasize now that this post is about the hat as a fashionable covering for the head, not simply a utilitarian piece of cloth to keep in heat and keep out the elements, whatever they may be.  Beanies have their place, but not in this post.  Instead, let’s talk about a few options.


The fedora is getting a lot of attention these days.  Recently re-imagined (as everything is these days) modern fedoras keep the length wise crown, often creased down the middle, but sometimes not, and the pinched front section of the crown.  What is different with today’s fedoras is the brim.  Most of the modern fedoras being produced for trendy and pop-fashion retailers have very narrow brims, giving them a very different look from the fedoras of the 30’s and 40’s (think the Indiana Jones hat).  Another thing that is very different is the overt decorations in the fabric, instead of the classic wool felt or plain straws of the past.

Flat Cap

Also making a strong resurgence in the world of head couture is the flat cap, sometimes called a sportscar cap or roadster cap.  These names are applied due to the common use during the birth of the automobile among drivers; the cap stayed on and accommodated goggles with ease.  As with the fedora, flat caps are very different today.  While fabrics have stayed in predictable blends and types, patterns are all the rage.  Plaids in one panel matched to plain or colored panels are not uncommon.

While other options abound (like cowboy hats, but only if you also have the boots and the attitude to pull it off) these are likely the two most stylish options for the gentleman of today.

Whatever you choose, choose it with  confidence and conviction and enjoy the moment when people say, “Nice hat!”