When I was younger I never gave much thought to shoes. They were something you wore to work, or to special occasions, but I didn’t consider them to be a hugely important part of my wardrobe. How wrong I was. Shoes have the ability to make or break a look. A man can be impeccably dressed from the ankles up, but if his shoes are terrible then he might as well not have bothered.
Up to a few years ago I used to have just the one pair of dress shoes: a pair of leather-soled black slip-ons that I bought for £60. I wore them to work five days a week, regardless of the weather. Needless to say, they didn’t last more than a few months. The rain seeped in through the soles, prematurely wearing a hole right the way through it. The uppers would become soaked through, and then crack with the heat as I (stupidly) left the shoes to dry near a radiator. I didn’t know the first thing about shoe trees, either. Then I began to read a few blogs about men’s style, and my outlook changed considerably.
Why three pairs?
Basically, your feet sweat more copiously than you’d think, especially on hot summer days. All that sweat has to go somewhere, and a lot of it is absorbed by your shoes. If you wear the same shoes every day the sweat can’t evaporate entirely, and bacteria begins to feed on it. It is this bacteria that causes your shoes to smell.
In addition to sweat, shoes inevitably get soaked with rain, snow, or (if you’re like me) beer at some point. Heavy downpours, especially, will soak leather soles right the way through. If this happens, they should be “rested” (ie, not worn) for at least two days. If you have three pairs of shoes, then this isn’t going to be a problem.
Choosing your first three pairs of dress shoes
First of all, buy the best shoes you can afford. This might seem a bit extreme, but a good pair of shoes should last you at least ten, if not twenty, years. Always try to buy shoes with Goodyear-welted soles. A Goodyear Welt ensures that the soles of your shoes can be easily replaced when necessary, essentially providing you with a brand-new shoe.
For your first three pairs of decent dress shoes, I suggest the following:
1. Black Oxfords with cap toes
Black Oxfords with cap toes are the most formal shoes on my list, and will probably end up being your most worn at the workplace. They work with almost any type of suit, and are suitable for almost any formal occasion you are likely to attend.
2. Brown brogues
My personal favourite, brogues are not as formal as Oxfords, but they are more versatile. They can be worn with most suits (the exceptions being charcoal- and black-coloured ones) as well as jeans. They also have the added advantage of looking better as they age. Remember that the lighter the brown the more difficult it is to pair your shoes with dark-coloured items. Chestnut brown makes for a good in-between choice.
3. Dark brown dress chukka boots
Probably a bit of a controversial choice here, as most blogs will suggest you buy loafers as your third shoe. However, for most of the year the weather isn’t entirely suitable for loafers, especially here in Tokyo, which receives twice as much rain as London. A good pair of rubber-soled boots, as long as they’re properly polished with a beeswax-based product, will put up with heavy summer downpours as well as frigid, sleety winter storms.
How to rest your shoes between wearings
Shoes should be allowed to “rest” for at least a day after each wearing to allow moisture to evaporate (and at least two days for rain-soaked shoes). When resting shoes you should use shoe trees to retain their shape. Plain, unvarnished cedar ones are ideal – simply slip them in your shoes when you come home from work. If your shoes are wet from rain or snow, prop them at a slight angle (so that the soles are slightly raised above the floor) to allow moisture to evaporate more evenly and minimise the risk of the leather cracking.
Cleaning and polishing
A quick Google search on this topic will lead to hundreds of different guides on polishing shoes. Some will tell you to polish, condition, then polish again once a week, some will tell you to condition then polish twice, and some will tell you to use nothing but spit and a bit of elbow grease. Cleaning and polishing really is a matter of personal choice, and how much work is needed depends on how much punishment your shoes have been through.
As for me, I usually give my shoes a thorough clean and polish once every two weeks, alternating between shoe cream and leather conditioner. I usually find that if my shoes get scuffed between polishings, a quick buffing down is enough to sort them out.
When I clean and polish my shoes I use a horsehair brush to get rid of any surface dirt, then give each shoe a quick rub down with a damp cloth. After that I usually apply one layer of shoe cream or conditioner, wait for a few minutes until it hazes over and then use another horsehair brush to buff to a nice shine. That’s it. No second application, no waterproofing spray. I’ve found that Saphir’s products are more than up to the job.