My grandfather used to say ‘You can always tell a man by his shoes.’ And while many things have changed since grandpa’s day, this remains one of the principles that holds firm in the rule book of men’s style. This doesn’t mean to say that men ought to have an extensive range of shoes for different occasions — thankfully, there’s no need for men to compete with women for equal closet space in this regard. But a few carefully selected items of footwear can set up the average male for most eventualities, leaving him free to spend the rest of his time (and money) on wardrobe items that express his true self.
But even though they may not own up to it, many men feel as clueless about choosing shoes as they do the rest of their clothing, and fall back on a few ‘safe’ items that can easily become bad habits. Here’s a simple shoe shopping guide for the man who’s looking for a confidence boost in the footwear aisle.
A pair of Oxfords: a.k.a low rise leather shoes you can lace up. And while you can find Oxfords in many different styles, I’d narrow it down further: a pair of leather shoes you can polish. The color’s up to you (although grandpa had a thing about never wearing ‘brown in town’) and dress shoes like these can be the stylish complement to anything from a business suit to chinos or jeans.
A pair of loafers: the slip-on partner to Oxfords, these comfortable shoes are sometimes worn as dress shoes for work — although lace-ups are still de rigueur in certain situations. Whether you like them with a plain front, tassels or a Gucci style metal bar, they can also double as casual footwear with or without socks.
A pair of boots: depending on where you live, boots may be a style choice or a winter weather necessity. The right type of brown, black or oxblood colored leather boots can sometimes do duty as dress shoes for work, while tough boots with a rugged tread may suit those who work out of doors or negotiate icy winter conditions.
Casual shoes: your lifestyle dictates your choice. For your leisure wear, choose between athletic shoes, sneakers, boat shoes or sandals for a look that goes with cargo pants or cords, slacks or shorts as you like to wear them. Shoes can match your belt if you wish, or make a bold contrasting statement that lends flair to your attitude.
If you’re already doubting the wisdom of this sage advice, it’s worth conceding that one of the problems of style rules is that there really are no rules, that fashion statements come and go and that one man’s ‘preppy’ is another man’s ‘poseur’. But grandpa usually knew more than he was letting on, and his advice was as much about being practical as it was about looking good. A few good pairs of different shoes, properly looked after, can be the foundation of the average man’s wardrobe and get him ready for work, leisure and all the unexpected situations in between.