The Life And Soles
It’s here. It’s really here. The clocks have changed. You no longer see your own breath as you exhale. It’s out with long johns and thermal vests and in with the tees and shorts. Spring has well and truly, officially, properly, sprung. Historically, spring is a time of new beginnings and rebirth. What better time, then, to reassess your wardrobe?
Let’s start with arguably the most important investment of all: your shoes. It’s often said that the first time you meet someone, you’re judged on a number of factors – with three of the main counts being your hair, handshake and footwear.
Whether it’s a job interview or a first date, if you’re hoping for approval from a prospective employer or potential love interest, you’re probably not going to get it when they glance down to see a rather sad-looking pair of battered old winklepickers.
“But there’s too much choice!” we hear you cry. With an ever developing array of footwear styles available both in stores and online, shopping for shoes can be overwhelming. Fear not, we’ve whittled down the bulk to these five essentials:
1. The Brown Leather Brogue
Originating in Scotland and Ireland as the go-to shoe for those bound for the turf bogs, the brogue has since become a footwear mainstay for the contemporary gent.
What’s so unique about the brogue is its versatility. The traditional punch hole design on this silhouette’s upper – known as brogueing – gives it a distinctive character that other smart shoe styles lack. To capitalise on the brogue’s ease of wear, we’d recommend opting for a traditional brown leather style complete with leather or rubber soles.
Whether tan, chocolate, russet or chestnut, a pair of brown leather brogues will slot seamlessly into your wardrobe and team well with plenty of outfit permutations, from smart to smart-casual, as well as many of the hues you already own, particularly navy and grey.
For those of a more dressed-down persuasion, a brown wingtip brogue is ideal. Wear them with a white button-down shirt and rolled-up dark denim jeans for a look that’s casual and comfortable, yet still refined.
When it comes to brands that produce high quality brogues, look to traditional English manufacturers such as Tricker’s, Church’s, Cheaney, Barker and John Lobb who are particularly astute at their craft, offering a wide-ranging selection of interpretations of the classic.
However, be mindful that leather in lighter shades of brown may be a little more high maintenance. Give your brogues some TLC though, and they’ll not only last, but also improve with age. “Choosing the right polish for your shoe is simple – always read the label,” says Tim Cooper, cobbler-in-chief at Oliver Sweeney.
“A good polish should be composed of natural ingredients like beeswax or carnauba wax. These components nourish the leather in the same way a moisturiser does your skin, preventing it from getting dry, cracking, and losing its lustre.”
2. The Black Leather Oxford
One of the originals and undoubtedly one of the best, the Oxford – not to be confused with its close relation the Derby – is the perfect occasion shoe.
What sets the Oxford apart from the Derby is its ‘closed lacing system’, which is an elaborate way of referring to the fact that the bottom of an Oxford’s lacing section is sewn closed, with the eyelet facings stitched underneath the front section of the shoe.
The Oxford’s closed lacing system
It’s the sleek simplicity of this detail which makes the Oxford such a winner. And while there are plenty of variations on the classic design now available, it’s the black leather cap toe Oxford that we feel every man should have in his collection. This minimal, subtle shoe complements formal wear perfectly – whether you’re wearing a tux to a black tie function or a charcoal slim-fit suit to an important job interview.
As for care, it’s important to remember that black footwear tends to lose its shine and lustre quicker than lighter colours, so be sure to shine your Oxfords thoroughly to prevent them becoming dull. Oliver Sweeney’s Tim Cooper shares a little insight into his routine: “I’ve experimented with many different materials [for polishing], but an old pair of tights gives a fantastically shiny finish.”
Frequent conditioning is key too, in order to keep your Oxfords looking outstanding.“Once every four to six months, take some time to apply a rich conditioner to your shoe before the polishing process to prolong their life and get the best out of the leather,” adds Cooper.
3. The Suede Loafer
Originally designed as a bespoke house shoe for King George VI, the slip-on loafer was also famously the silhouette of choice for the mod movement back in the early 1960s and is now just as likely to be found on the feet of musician Miles Kane as it is on Prince Charles.
Laceless and featuring an elegant, pared-down design, the loafer is an easy, highly versatile style that has been favoured by royals and rebels alike since the mid-19th century. Similar to the brogue, the loafer is best matched with smart and smart-casual ensembles.
In terms of colour and material, we’d suggest a breathable suede style in tan, beige or light brown for maximal wearability throughout the warmer spring/summer months, when it will quickly become your default option.
Able to be dressed up or down with ease, a suede loafer – whether tasselled or penny – works just as well with a button-down shirt and chinos as it does relaxed, warm-weather suiting (think linen and lightweight cotton styles). It’s also the ideal silhouette forgoing sockless, helping bring a touch of continental flair to your warm-weather looks.
However, you’ll need to bear in mind that suede really does not fare well in wet weather, so don’t risk them if it looks like rain. That said, you can take other preventative measures to reduce the damage of getting caught in a downpour, says Cooper:
“To protect your shoes against the elements, a [suede spray] product that keeps the molecules away from the top layer of the material is best. Your second line of defence is making sure that you look after your shoes if you’ve worn them in the rain: dry them out naturally, fill the toes with newspaper and whatever you do, don’t put them near a radiator or an open fire.”
4. The White Leather Low Top Trainer
Given the prominent rise in the popularity of tailoring in recent years, the sneaker had found itself all but banished to the darkest corner of the wardrobe, or even worse – the gym bag. However, the past few seasons (coinciding with the arrival of sports luxe) have seen a glorious return to form for the trainer.
More and more, we’re seeing the style dominate the runway, the streets and even the red carpet – all thanks in no small part to game-changers like Kanye giving sneakers their official seal of approval.
While the highly stylised aesthetic of the self-titled ‘Louis Vuitton Don’ may not appeal to everyone, there’s no denying that minimal vintage styles are having a real moment right now. Where neon-panelled, multi-detailed Nike and New Balance reigned supreme about a year ago, subtle styles crafted from premium materials now dominate – good news, then, for those of us who are keen to tap into trainers’ current popularity but want to retain a timeless appeal.
With an enormous amount of choice on the market today, it’s tough to select just one style, but suffice to say you should be looking for something white and made from leather. Adidas Originals – think Gazelle, Superstar or Stan Smith models – are a good place to start if you want something with a streetwear slant that works with both jeans and T-shirt combinations as well as smarter trousers and blazers.
For purists, Vans Authentic white leather or Common Projects’ Achilles silhouette offer comfort, versatility and classic, luxurious style.
5. The Leather Lace-Up Boot
Think boots are reserved for cowboys and hikers? Think again. Since the noughties’ workwear revival, the number of boot types on offer has multiplied at an astounding rate. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker about to scale Ben Nevis or a fresh-faced upstart with backcombed hair and a penchant for spray-on skinny jeans, there is a style out there for you.
For something classic that offers particularly good cost per wear, we’d go for a pair of rugged leather lace-up boots, ideally with rubber soles for resilience and to keep you sure-footed during inclement weather. A style like this will transcend trends as well as lend itself to dressing up or down – teaming equally well with tailoring during the working week as with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt at the weekend.
However, you need to pick the right silhouette: too high and they run the risk of overpowering your outfit, too short and they’ll look like an odd heritage-inspired take on an ankle boot. With this in mind, a sturdy, thick – and ideally Goodyear welted – 16-hole boot (eight lace eyelets either side of the boot) is your best option.
If you’ve already secured yourself a quality of pair of lace-up leather boots – or if you have a little more capital to play with – you could consider adding a pair of suede desert boots (for smart-casual warm-weather looks), leather brogue boots (for a dressier take on rugged), or hiking boots (on-trend and practical) to your line-up.
Returning to your lace-ups, remember that just because boots are durable and designed to take a beating, they still need looking after, as Wytse Hylkema of Red Wing Heritage explains: “To extend the life of your boots, use a leather protector before wearing them for the first time. It adds an invisible shield to water, oil and mud.”
Evidently, there is something to be said for taking preventative measures to ensure your footwear ages well, boots or otherwise. Keeping them clean will prevent unnecessary damage too.
“Always clean excess dirt from your footwear to prevent wear and drying,” says Hylkema.
“For general cleaning, use warm water, a clean cloth and a soft bristle brush. For more difficult areas, use leather cleaner product with a clean cloth and brush. Then, remove the cleaning product with a damp cloth and allow to dry.”
Hopefully you’ve found these hints and tips useful, but it’s always worth remembering that these are pointers – not diktats.
Ultimately, there is no golden rule or set formula with regards to building the ‘perfect shoe collection’, as tastes are bound to differ. If you’re into wearing suits, you’re not necessarily going to be chomping at the bit for a pair of fashion trainers. Equally, if you’re into distressed jeans and longline tees, a patent Oxford probably isn’t your number one priority.
This guide provides a basis to work from and will ensure you’re ready for every eventuality. Carefully consider which styles you really need, and then shop around for a good deal to build a footwear collection that’s the definition of timeless and versatile.