A man’s shoes are as crucial as his suit

THERE’S an old saying that if you want to know if a man’s well-dressed, look down. It’s absolutely true: good shoes make an outfit and bad ones stand out terribly, and that’s especially true of the City. So what should you be looking for in a good pair of English lace-ups?

First, if you’re going to spend more than £100 on a pair of shoes, it’s really worth investing a little knowledge. The traditional heart of the industry, Northampton, is still producing a lot of very good shoes. This means that the shoe, with a plastic mold inside it, is taken around a factory from one Victorian machine to another, with the leather being stretched, stitched and soled. More expensive shoes involve more steps – like the bed laster, for instance, which pulls the leather around the toe separately.

Cheaper shoes also use cheaper leather, which will not polish or soften to your feet as well, or corrected grain, which covers up imperfections in the leather. The cheapest of all use a plastic-coated leather that doesn’t take polish and can’t recover from scuffs – that’s why those cheap, high-street ones with the turned-up toes don’t quite look leather.

Many English brands make great shoes – Barker, Loake, Crockett & Jones, Church’s, Edward Green and John Lobb are among the most famous brands. Value for money extends to American brands, such as Alden and Allen Edmonds, but less so to Italian and French shoes where a large part of what you pay for is design.

The problem is that men simply aren’t spending enough; they don’t see shoes as a priority. But they should, says Euan Denholm of Edward Green. “It’s always worth spending as much as you can afford on a good pair of shoes, since they will reward the investment several times over.”

If you’re smartening up your wardrobe and have £1,000 to spend, think about putting two thirds of that on a suit and one third on a pair of shoes. The same goes if you have £5,000 to spend – get a bespoke suit and a bespoke pair of shoes.

So what types of shoes should you be buying to wear with your suit? The big two are Derbys and Oxfords, both lace-ups but differentiated by the fact that one has a V-shaped split in the middle of the shoe (Oxford) and the other laces up two separate pieces of leather on either side of the shoe (Derby). Then there are monk straps (with the buckles) and slip-ons.

The Oxford, with its clean front and often single piece of leather, is smarter than a Derby. When you add holes (brogueing) or a toecap to that Oxford, it becomes less smart. So for the big meeting wear your navy suit, white shirt and plain black Oxfords. A more casual day in the office can be met with dark brown Derbys – perhaps with that checked suit.

“Suede is generally considered casual, but it can also make a nice alternative to calf [leather] with a suit. The change in texture stands out just the right amount. Just make sure they are very nice suede shoes,” recommends George Glasgow of bespoke shoemaker GJ Cleverley & Co.

Then all you have to do is look after your shoes. Because what’s the point in an investment if you neglect it? Don’t wear the same shoes on consecutive days; put wooden shoe trees in them at the end of the day to support their shape; and polish them every few weeks. Properly maintained, English leather shoes will reward you more and for longer than anything else in your wardrobe.

Simon Crompton is the writer of the men’s tailoring website, www.permanentstyle.co.uk


Word reaches City A.M. of the launch in November of the first London outlet for the French ultra-luxe shoe brand Corthay. The supremely gifted shoemaker Pierre Corthay, who used to run the atelier of fellow French luxury shoe specialist Berluti, will be opening a boutique in Knightsbridge. Expect to find bespoke, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear creations of that are the ultimate in Continental elegance and chic.

Each year shoe company John Lobb Bootmaker releases a limited edition line to celebrate the feast day of St Crispin, the patron saint of cobblers. That might seem so much, er, cobblers in itself, were it not for the fact that these shoes are such seriously desirable items. This year’s “Saint Crepin” selection (the brand is owned by French company Hermes) is a classic capped-toe Oxford , the quintessential City shoe. They’ll be available from October 25. www.johnlobb.com