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PIMP MY BROGUES: THE DIFFICULTIES OF WEARING TRADITIONAL MEN’S SHOES
Folk wisdom warns us not to judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. But I give you express permission to judge me before you’ve done the full mile. In fact, I’d rather you stayed out of my shoes altogether – I forked out 140 quid for them just the other month and they’re already wearing out fast.
The shoes in question are a pair of suede brogues, in brown, from a very well-known British shoe manufacturer. But it’s not this particular pair, or this particular shoemaker, that have upset me; it’s ALL traditional men’s leather shoes. Much as I hate to admit it, I think trainers get my vote nearly every time for anything other than pairing with suits.
These are not superficial comments, you understand. These reflections are the product of a sartorial experiment. I’d never paid much for footwear in the past and the idea was to pay top dollar and see if investing a bit more was the way forward (…OK, not exactly top dollar – £140 isn’t actually very much for traditional men’s shoes, but it’s not nothing, and it’s a darn sight more than I paid for my last pair which came from M&S and did sterling service.) Well, I’m sorry to say that the experiment so far is really not looking good.
I knew in advance that a leather sole would wear out eventually, but I didn’t expect it to happen so fast. And I didn’t anticipate the toe and the heel perishing as well. Past experience with less expensive models has introduced me to the magic of the cobbler – rubber pads, rubber soles, metal toe and heel clips are all available. But I object to rushing over to get my shoes pimped out the minute I unbox them! It’s madness! Like buying a brand-new car and taking it to the mechanic before you can drive it!
And it’s not just those initial inadequacies of the shoes that trouble me, it’s also the strenuous upkeep involved once you’ve got going. First of all, you really need shoe trees in whenever the shoes aren’t being worn in order to stop them creasing. This isn’t aesthetic fretting; it’s a matter of survival. If the shoes crease, the creases become fault lines that weaken and thin out over time until eventually the leather actually splits and leaves you with your socks peeping through. Wardrobe consultant Brandi Titkos says “Shoe trees will help maintain shoe form and can help release and prevent future creases. The cedar ones in particular have a wonderful aroma and absorb sweat, moisture and odour to keep your shoes smelling fresh and new.”
Then, if you don’t want the suede to get ruined you need to treat it regularly with a waterproof spray, and if you’re in normal leather you need to polish it regularly to protect the surface. If it’s raining, you probably shouldn’t go out in a traditional shoe at all, but if you are caught in a shower, it’s imperative that you race back home and stuff your shoes with newspaper so they can dry out immediately and not get misshapen. Honestly, shoe care is more like having a pet than a pair of shoes. Brandi also explains how "dirty shoes can absolutely ruin an otherwise perfect outfit. Footwear is one of the first things women look at so make sure to keep them sparkly clean. I had a client recently tell me that he never paid attention to his shoes and now that he stays on top of them women compliment him all the time.”
If you approach the whole thing as a hobby, then it can become almost enjoyable. You can work on your polishing skills to perfect your mirror shine until you can see your face reflected back at you in the toe cap. This really is possible, believe it or not. There’s a YouTuber called “The Elegant Oxford” who achieves some genuinely amazing mirror shines and does all sorts of interesting patinas too. And if you’re really into your polishing there are even world championships for shining shoes.
But for me, that’s all a bit too much effort. There is a potential compromise, which is the hybrid shoe that has a traditional upper paired with a rubber sole, or even a full trainer sole. Allen Edmonds, an American shoe brand of long-standing, has what they call a “dress sneaker”. On the website you can even personalise your own, creating wacky combinations of uppers and soles, such as a Burgundy Cordovan Oxford upper with a bright blue trainer sole. Frankly, though, I’d rather just wear a trainer and be done with.
You see, as far as I’m concerned, the whole point of a smart shoe is that it’s smart. The minute you stick rubber soles on the bottom you lose the slim line and the elegant shape. It’s a small thing but a significant one. Rubber soles are a ruinous modern touch, like putting a rucksack on with a suit, or sticking a beanie on with a traditional overcoat. The rubber sole is just too chunky. It turns the shoe into a Doc Marten (Not that there’s anything wrong with a Doc Marten, but it’s not my idea of refined footwear.) When I wear a traditional leather shoe with a leather sole, I feel I could be pacing the corridors of power, playing bridge at the club, or hosting a dinner at the embassy, when in reality I’m just walking around Aldi. It’s a game of make-believe, as dressing nearly always is to a large extent. Rubber soles… they just burst my bubble.
All of which leaves me in a quandary. I’m wedded to this idea of a traditional leather shoe, but I’m not prepared to pimp it at the cobblers and I’m not willing to compromise with rubber. I don’t know what to say… it’s just sole-destroying.