They reveal whether he takes pride in the little things. If he throws on a nice suit and pairs it with cheap, clunky lace-ups, he’s not what you’d call a detail man. And if he leaves his pricey wingtips scuffed and unpolished, he may not be the closer you’re looking for.
There are numerous styles of shoes out there, but what’s great about being a man is that you can do perfectly well by sticking with just a few. You don’t need to maintain some Carrie Bradshaw–esque obsession about the latest and coolest. If you invest in a handful of sensible (and stylish) pairs and take care of them, you’ll be set for years. You just need to take that first step.
Don’t Be So Damn Square
Before we start talking about styles of shoes, let’s talk shape. If you’re still walking around in square-toe, rubber-soled lace-ups—the kind you buy on the cheap and that make you look like you’ve got platypus feet—grab them from your closet and toss them.
Seriously. your shoes should be as streamlined as the rest of your wardrobe. That means a slim contour (but not painfully skinny) and a rounded (but not sharp) toe. They’ll look stylish, tasteful, and masculine. And that’s all you can ask for.
Some Basic Advice About the...Basics
The one shoe every man should own is a black lace-up. You can dress it up or dress it down; it’ll work with everything from jeans to suits. And that’s the thing—don’t think of it as special-occasion footwear. Avoid frilly or ornate details and you’ll be able to wear the shoes as easily to the office as to the club.
Sure, No One Sees the Bottom of Your Feet...
Shoes take a pounding. And nowhere more than in their soles. You need to think about that and make some decisions. Do you want everlasting soles or more bounce in your step?
Leather Soles? We Like ‘Em Extra Chunky
Some guys think leather soles mean hard and uncomfortable. Not true. If the shoes are well-made, they’ll mold to your feet and serve you just fine. True, they won’t be as cushiony as a pair of New Balances, but if you want real dress shoes, you want leather soles. Period.
Now you’ve got two choices: There are those slim, contoured kinds that exude elegance and go great with a luxurious custom suit. And then there are the heftier lace-ups with chunkier soles. They’re what we show a ton of in the magazine these days. They go great with skinny jeans or trim-cut suits. And if you take care of them (see number 7), they’ll last you a lifetime.
Join the Rubber Revolution
Let’s say you’re insistent on extra padding for your lace-ups. The good news is that there are now plenty of stylish, wonderfully made dress shoes with full rubber soles, or at least rubber inlays. They’re great for crappy weather and for comfort. But keep in mind that once full rubber soles wear down, that’s it for them. Replacing the heels (or protecting them with taps) isn’t a viable option as it is with leather-soled shoes.
Save Your Sole
How to guarantee eternal life for your dress shoes
The most worn item in your wardrobe—that pair of quality leather-soled dress shoes you regularly wear to the office—requires the most attention. We asked Joe Rocco, third-generation cobbler and owner of Jim’s Shoe Repair on East 59th Street in Manhattan, to talk parts and service.
Taps: Plastic is quieter, metal more durable. Either will prevent the soles (and heels—be sure you remember the heels) from grinding away. Taps typically wear out or fall off after about six months.$3 per pair.
Soles: Walking on warped soles can ruin a good pair of shoes and even cause back trouble. Start checking your soles after a year or so, and be sure new ones are sewn on, never glued. $75 per pair
Heels: New heels every couple of years are a good bet, and the right cobbler can adjust them to fit how you walk. $25 per pair
Heel Pads: Most shoes have shock-absorbing rubber rears to save your soles (and ankles). Have a cobbler replace them before they wear down to the leather soles themselves. $10 per pair
Polish One Off
GQ design director Fred Woodward on how to do it yourself (better)
There was a shoeshine man who used to make the rounds at 745 Fifth Avenue, the building where I worked my first year in New York. He was fond of saying that a true gentleman didn’t feel properly dressed unless his shoes were freshly shined every morning. I always liked the sound of that—even if it did feel more than a little self-serving—but after he borrowed $50 from me (and countless other soft touches throughout the building), never to be seen again, I decided that shining my own shoes once a week was gentleman enough.
Now Get Your Shine Box!
A. One tin of black wax polish and one tin of neutral. The black for your black leather dress shoes (obviously). And the neutral for your brown—because you essentially want to moisturize the leather, not color it.
B. An old T-shirt or towel will do the trick for applying wax. But if you buff your shoes post-brushing, invest in a nice soft chamois.
C. Don’t skimp on the brush—you want a wood handle and horsehair bristles. And for when you’re running out the door and just don’t have time for a full polish, keep an instant-wax sponge in your kit for a quick touch-up.
Kill a Tree, Save Your Shoes
Yes, if you want your shoes to last, you need shoe trees. Ones made from cedar. They’ll preserve the shape of your shoes, prevent them from developing deep creases, absorb moisture, and even make them smell better. They’re a no-brainer.