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A Gentlemans Guide to Dress Shoes

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WELCOME to my Gentlemans Guide to Dress Shoes.  Before we begin I feel compelled to take a bit of editorial liberty here, and to express my opinions on a very special subject - that being GOOD TASTE and STYLE.  There are many well heeled and/or somewhat self indulgent people in this world who will spend top dollar to procure the finest of anything they happen to desire.  However they seem to often times be afflicted with a complete lack of taste or sense of style, and try to compensate for this by simply spending a boat load of money.   This is NOT effective.   An item that is ugly or unattractive at $50 - remains ugly and unattractive at $5000.  Remember - while beauty is only skin deep - ugly goes all the way to the bone.  This said I would like to present a few style tips before we begin.

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF DRESS SHOE STYLE AND TASTE

1)  Thou shalt not buy anything with a "tassel".  I am not sure if a "tassel"  was ever in style - but it most certainly has faded from glory since the end of World War 2.  Pom Poms, ribbons, bows, silver bells, studs and concho's fall into this category also.  Just don't do it.

2)  Thou shalt not not buy two tone wing tips, or any other two tone dress shoe for that matter.  NOTHING says 1950, sock hops, bee bop, and drive through hamburger stands - MORE - than two tone dress shoes  These are UGLY - to the marrow - to anyone.  Period.

3)  Thou shall not buy strange or "exotic" skins.  These went out with the disco ball.  Still found on some cowboy boots for unknown reasons, they have no place on a gentleman's dress shoe.  This includes ostrich, alligator, crocodile, sting ray, eel, frog (seriously!), lizard, and any other bizarre hide.  Proper dress shoes are made of leather.  Period.

4)  Thou shall not buy suede shoes.  Blue suede shoes died with Elvis.  All other colors of suede dress shoes followed shortly thereafter.  Let them rest in peace.

5)  Thou shall not play - one two, buckle my shoe.  Unless you are a Leprechaun - your shoes should at no time have - buckles. 

6)  Thou shall not fold, spindle, perforate, and mutilate thy dress shoes.  Remember in the modern world - from a style standpoint - less is more.   The over done perforated, medallioned, multi tier, spike edges wing tip went out of style while JFK was president.  This is NOT the style anymore.   Bluntly only cigar smoking, grumpy, stodgy old bankers at the country club still wear these shoes.  Basket weaves, embossing, patterns and any other such nonsense fall into this category also.  If you want to embellish your shoe a bit - on the edge of the toe cap - or with a medallion - that is fine.  But keep it tasteful.  And understated.  It is SO easy to overdo it.  In the modern world, elegance is most often defined by understated simplicity.  I tell you again - less - is more.  If in doubt - just say - NO.

7)  Thou shall not dress like a green haired drum player from Rolling Stones magazine.  In terms of style - again - less is more.  Do not get too over the top with the latest fashion trend.  You will look like a fashion victim - constantly.  Dress shoes do not sport Andy Warhol style patches, tattoos, splits, decorative scars or seams, studs, concho's, nose rings, silver bells, red soles, or lights in the heel.  A nice pair of conservative or semi-conservative shoes will take you much farther, and make you much happier, in the long run.

8)  Thou shall not be a rainbow.  There is no "new black".  Black - is the new black - and still goes with everything.  If you don't know what color to buy - buy black.  Period.  If you don't want black - stay with a conservative color.  Brown or cordovan burgundy would be considered conservative.  Tan is acceptable under the age of 35.  And unless fancy yourself some sort of "Gangsta" - for the love of God do not buy blood red full quill ostrich or neon purple crocodile shoes to go to work in!  Or to be seen anywhere else in public in for that matter! 

9)  Thou shall not wear slippers in a formal environment.  Contrary to what wine tasters in California might wish you to believe, a proper pair of dress shoes has laces.  There is nothing wrong with slippers or loafers in less formal environments, or even at the office, if attire is business casual.  But nothing looks quite so silly as a man in a nice blue pinstripe suit coming to work wearing - slippers. Even worse than that - wingtip slippers - with tassels.  The only thing worse than that would be two tone canary yellow and tangerine orange full quill ostrich with alligator trim slippers with patches, tassels, and heels that light up!  Formal dress shoes have laces.  Period.  So if you are going to wear a suit to any occasion - remember to TIE your shoes.

10)  Thou shalt not skimp on quality.  Do not choose a fine pair of shoes - and skimp and save at the end.  It makes you look like you ran out of money.  Spend the extra few dollars and get the leather soles instead of rubber for example. Also shell cordovan leather is the finest quality shoe leather available.  It is worth the extra money.  If the shoe you choose is available in this material, pay the extra money, and buy it.  You will not regret your decision.


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USA

Allen Edmonds - This is probably the shoe most often encountered as a high quality and well made dress shoe.  Having owned and currently owning multiple pairs of shoes from this maker, I can attest to their overall quality of construction and durability in day to day wearing and use.  At the price point that these are sold at, and especially with discounts, it is very hard to go wrong with a nice pair of Allen Edmonds in terms of quality received as compared to price paid.  Bear in mind that Allen Edmonds is one of the larger companies on this list however, and as such makes certain concessions to be able to market their product at a price point of 1/2 to 1/5 that of many others on this list.  However unless you are a true shoe aficionado, I doubt you would really notice these differences without them being pointed out to you directly, and so in terms of bang for the buck - these shoes have to receive a top rating.  The very fact that shoes with a price tag of under $300 - and available for well under $200 in discount situations, can be reasonably compared to shoes which sell for $500 to $800 is the strongest testimony possible of the price / value balance received with the Allen Edmond shoe line.   At their upper end they are also one of the few makers who offer shoes in Shell Cordovan.  Having owned a pair of their Cordovan wingtips for the past 8 years - which still look almost new - if you are looking for a $500 or so pair of shoes that will last an enormous amount of time and still look great, these are certainly worthy of consideration.  Compared to many of the top English and Italian makers on this list, I would dare say that Allen Edmonds are built in a more "substantial" way, in terms of thickness of leather and soles and overall weight and feel.  This is not necessarily a bad thing since this substantial construction can only enhance durability and longevity, but it does tend to loose some of the more refined elegance that can be found with top English makers for example. 

Alden - This is in my opinion the premier maker of high quality shoes in the USA.  Alden shoes are extremely nice in terms of their construction and finish, and I personally prefer them over the Allen Edmonds.  These shoes are often found in extremely upscale shops, and in Germany and other parts of Europe where there is something of a cult following, these often command prices double or more what they sell for here in the USA.  The fact that these shoes in Europe can sell side by side with the best shoes from England and Italy and at a comparable price point, is testimony to their exceedingly excellent construction and finish at the upper levels.  These shoes compare on average VERY well when compared to top end machine made ready to wear shoes from makers such as Crockett & Jones, Church's, Tricker's, Loake, Grenson, Testoni and so forth. with little if any qualitative differences to be found.  This maker also offers upper end shoes made of Shell Cordavan, and you will find these to be supurb in almost every way.  While the MSRP is more or less similar between Alden and Allen Edmonds - the reality is that you will seldom if ever see Aldens selling at a discount of more than 15%.  Simply they are so good - they don't have to.  So in the end these shoes will often be more expensive at the cash register, although many afficianados would claim they are easily well worth the price, and also offer one of the best price / quality value scales available today.  An Alden shoe, in the ready to wear machine made category, is extremely difficult to match, and even more difficult to surpass.  They are truly a hidden bargain and best of all made right here in the USA.  Having owned a pair of Allen Edmonds Cordovan's, a pair of Aldens Cordovan's is definitely on my MUST BUY list.   One of the best PRICE options for Alden is any BROOKS BROTHERS / PEAL dress shoe made in the USA.  The last time I checked they were ALL made by Alden under contract for their label.  As such you can routinely find sales and what not on these items, and save some substantial money on Alden shoes this way.

Johnson Murphy - I mention Johnson Murphy mostly in memory of what was once a top tier maker who now has succumbed to market demands and price pressures, and has deliberately moved much farther down into the midrange market.  Once upon a time both Johnson Murphy and Cole Haan joined with Aldens and Allen Edmonds to create very high quality welted footwear.  However a few years ago they shut down their Tennessee facility and moved almost all manufacturing overseas, except for their Crown Aristocraft line, which is still made in the USA.  Much of their line is now made in Italy, and as such, is roughly comparable to any other private labeled shoe made there, of which multitudes exist already.   It is a shame - at one point in time they were among my favorite makers, and excellent in terms of bang for the buck.  Now I can not recommend them so highly, and tend to not buy their products anymore.  Its a real shame - they were once quite excellent.  However I will say after seeing their Crown Aristocraft line that this line is still of very high standards, and should indeed be considered as representative of the Johnson Murphy of old.



England


John Lobb Paris - I am not quite certain if this is best classified as an English shoe or a French shoe, after being bought by the Hermes Group.  The shoes are actually made in the former Edward Green facility in Northhampton, England, so they are here for the moment.   All this said, John Lobb is widely considered to be among the very finest makers existant in terms of any measurable item of quality, fit, or finish.  The shoes with the "beveled boot maker" soles (Lobb calls them the "Prestige" line) are usually considered as among the best possible at any price - the Rolls Royce of English shoes if you will.  They also have a price to reflect all this - with shoes running into multiple thousands of dollars for a pair.  The regular line isn't quite as good - but are indeed excellent shoes by any measure - with prices above $1000 in almost all instances.  For an executive, lawyer, or doctor however - there are a few makers that can compete with John Lobb, but very few that can hope to match or exceed it.  Needless to say this brand has a cult following all over the world, with shoes often handed down from generation to generation.  But for those who seek the very best - you must consider John Lobb carefully.  I would personally LOVE to own a pair of these shoes!  One of the best PRICE options for these would be HERMES - MADE IN ENGLAND which are made by John Lobb to Classic Grade standards.

Edward Green - Very close behind John Lobb in overall quality would be Edward Green.  While they do not to my knowledge have a line that compares to the Lobb Premier line, their shoes are made to standards equal to or better than the Lobb standard line.  Again these are considered among the best of the best - simply said - if Lobb is a Rolls Royce - then Edward Green could be thought of as Bentley.  I would personally LOVE to own a pair of these shoes!  One of the best PRICE options for these would be RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL (Not POLO) MADE IN ENGLAND Shoes - as I understand it these are made by Edward Green, and can usually be found at a discount with a bit of shopping.  Still somewhat expensive, but changing the label to Ralph Lauren can save a SUBSTANTIAL amount of money for the same quality.

Church's - This is a brand which is widely regarded highly, so I have included them here.  I own a pair of Church's, and honestly, I am not so overly enthusiastic as others seem to be.  They are a nice shoe, a good shoe, an attractive shoe, even a refined shoe.  But in terms of price to value, overall feel and impression, and many less tangible areas, in my personal opinion, there is something left to be desired.  Yet some people seem to swear by them.  To each their own I guess.  Personally I would rather have a pair of nice Aldens.  Note that there are several grades last time I checked.  Royal - which is priced close to Edward Green shoes - the top of the line.  Custom Grade - which is the level most people think of when they consider Church's, and which I have referenced above.  And Prima Classe - which are I believe made for Church's in Italy. 

Crockett & Jones - This company makes 2 different grades of shoes.  The regular line which would be meant to compete with Alden or Church's, and the Handgrade line meant to compete directly with John Lobb and Edward Green.   These are excellent shoes in both lines at their respective levels.  I haven't had much experience with their Handgrade line, however their standard line of machine made ready to wears are indeed quite nice at their price point.  They possess excellent materials, fit, finish, construction and feel - by any measurable terms they are outstanding.   They do seem to have a nice business in making private label shoes for marketers like Cleverly, Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and others.  One of the best PRICE options for these is RALPH LAUREN POLO shoes which are MADE IN ENGLAND.  These are made under contract by Crockett & Jones and are generally available at a discount making them an attractive option.  Another similar option is BROOKS BROTHERS / PEAL shoes which are MADE IN ENGLAND with a SINGLE ROW of nails on the heel.  BROOKS BROTHERS uses Alden for Made in USA, and both Crockett & Jones as well as Alfred Sargent for Made in England, and can often be purchased on sale at steep discounts.

Tricker's - I would place this at approximately the same level as Crockett & Jones.  Possessed of excellent materials and workmanship, they are an excellent shoe to be sure, without serious faults to be said about them.  Excellent by any measure.   However they have very little to really set them apart from the rest, to give them a special recognition, and like Crockett, this puts them at a bit of a disadvantage against their more well known competitors.  My experience with these however that DOES give them a bit of an advantage, is that they are often commonly available in UK size 13 - USA size 14.  The other makers such as Crockett, Church's, Grensen, and so forth normally stop at UK size 12 - USA size 13.  So if you are a larger man there certainly IS a reason to look at Tricker's.  Additionally I would say they do tend to provide the same quality level as comparable Church's or Crockett shoes, at on average a somewhat reduced price point.  So for bang for the buck, they are worth a closer look.

Alfred Sargent - Alfred Sargent is another maker that produces private-label merchandise for everybody and another maker with a profusion of different lines of varying quality. The Premier and Premier Exclusive lines appear to be very good and very fairly priced.   Again there is nothing to really set them above or apart from the competition, but they do provide an excellent product by any measure.  One of the best PRICE options for Alfred Sargent is any BROOKS BROTHERS / PEAL dress shoe made in ENGLAND with a DOUBLE ROW of nails on the heel.  As such you can routinely find sales and what not on these items, and save some substantial money on Alfred Sargent shoes this way.

Grenson - The firms name is a contraction of "William Green and Sons" - which would imply some possible past relationship with Edward Green.  This company had a "Masterpieces" line which was very high quality and comparable to the Crockett and Jones Handmade or even Edward Green.  However to my knowledge at this time they are no longer sold under their own label, but rather as private label offerings such as "Stuart's Choice" from Paul Stuart.  Those who own them unanimously seem to adore their Grenson Masterpiece shoes - I think this is the best measure possible for their overall quality.  The current premium range that I am aware of is called the "Rose Collection" and appear to my eye to be of acceptable quality by top tier English standards, but in my opinion quite a ways off when compared to the best from Green, Lobb, or Crockett.   Make up your own mind here - your mileage may vary.

Gaziano & Girling - I have only seen these shoes on one occasion so I don't know how completely accurate I can be on them.  They seem to be predominantly a "bespoke" or made to order / handmade maker, although they do have a small selection of ready made.  Their quality on these Bespoke shoes appears to be superb in every way, and their clientele among the most well heeled imaginable.  In any event these are undoubtedly excellent shoes, even if as rare here in the USA as chicken lips.  If you have a chance to see them or try them, I definitely would not hesitate.  I would personally LOVE to own a pair of these shoes! 



France


JM Weston - Excellent quality shoes.  People tend to either love them or hate them, but in the end, you can't go wrong in terms of quality.

Berluti - These shoes carry a big name and reputation.  In my opinion they are not quite as sublime as the marketing might suggest, and would definitely rather go with Edward Green personally.  However they are very well made with a huge following, and I doubt you would be disappointed in them.

Aubercy - These appear to be mostly Blake constructed shoes similar to those from Italy, or perhaps they are made in Italy.  In any event they are among the highest quality of their type, and if you like the flashy styles, it would be hard to go wrong.



Italy


A. Testoni - Three different levels of quality here - Regular (Studium), Black Label, and Amedeo Testoni.  The Amedeos are among the best shoes from Italy in my opinion.  I have 2 pairs of Black Labels personally, and very much enjoy them.  They have a fine quality of materials and excellent attention to detail, fit, and finish.  Of the Italian shoes readily available on the market, these are among my favorites.

Silvano Lattanzi - Impeccable Quality.  What more can really be said?  Perhaps a bit flashy for some tastes, but the quality rivals anything found anywhere, and has a price to match.  I would personally LOVE to own a pair of these shoes!

Kiton - Supurb shoes.  Often mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Lattanzi, Vass, or top English makers, what more really needs to be said?  The price is definitely not for the faint of heart, but there are excellent by absolutely every measure.

Martegani - Tending to be Blake constructed and upper middle teir Italian shoes.  I have a pair in Ostrich and think of them as quite beautiful and well made, if a bit flashy in style.  Hard to go wrong with these at the prices normally encountered.  These are very good shoes offered at a reasonable price.  You can find these on Ebay through the national liquidator - and if you find a deal - don't hesitate to snatch them up.

Gravati - Upper middle tier Italian shoes.  Similar to Martegani - they make very good shoes at a reasonable price.  Most are Blake style soles, with the occasional Goodyear welt.  They also from what I understand make shoes under contract for various designer labels.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy a pair of the price is right.

Moreschi - A good maker of mid range Blake constructed shoes from what I have seen.  The styling is a bit over the top on some models for my taste, but they also have some more conservative, well made, and reasonably priced models.  Very similar to Gravati from what I can tell, perhaps ever so slightly behind in terms of fit and finish - but thats just my impression.

Santoni - Santoni makes amny different lines of shoes, some Blake, and some Goodyear construction.  You can't complain about the construction or the feel of these shoes - they are excellent.

Salvatore Ferragamo - to my knowledge Ferragmo does not own their own production facilities, but rather have their items made under contract.  They have varying qualities - Studio - Lavarazione Originale - and Tramezza.  I have a pair of Lavarazione and got the best compliment possible from my 19 year old daugher "Dad, those shoes make your feet look human...." (laugh)  With a size 14 wide - that is saying something.  I am very happy with them overall, even though blake constructed.  If you get a good deal I would not hesitate, particularly on their upper two lines.  They do have something of a cult following.

Bruno Magli - similar to Ferragamo I do not think they own their own production facilities.  Of varying levels of quality, the only one I would personally purchase is their Platinum line.  These shoes appear excellent overall, but blake constructed.  They tend to be in my opinion a bit pricy for what you buy - but if a good deal happens along, I wouldn't hesitate.  They do have something of a cult following, and the true afficonado will seldom wear anything else.



Others


Carmina - From Spain, Carmina is a shell cordovan specialist, this gives Carmina its primary claim to fame.  They have quite a variety of cordovan colors not normally seen - green, blue, tomato red, and whiskey - to name a few.  The shoes are goodyear welted and in my opinion compare favorably to Allen Edmonds and Alden, as well with many English makers.  If you happen to find them at a bargain - definitely grab a pair.  They do offer some very nice calfskin shoes also.

Mezlan - From Spain, these are upper middle quality Blake constructed shoes.  In my opinion the quality of these tends to be very good overall, however there usually seems to be some small issue with each style that would keep it from being a "great" shoe in my judgement.  Tastes vary - and your milage may vary with it.  If you see a pair you like, at a good price, you could do far worse than these.

Vass - From Budapest - Hungary - these are a handmade product made to extremely high standards.  Among the very finest ready to wear footwear to be bought anywhere and at any price.  The quality of these shoes in my opinion rival the best of the English makers, and do so at a street price comparable to Testoni, and only slightly more than Allen Edmonds or Aldens.  Truly a hidden gem if you are interested in what can only be counted as among the very finest footwear available, and at an extremely competitive street price.  I would personally LOVE to own a pair of these shoes!

Bally - From Switzerland although some shoes seem to be made in Italy.  Its really hard to describe these since they tend to fluctuate based on the year of manufacture.  I would tend to rate them as upper midrange overall, and of excellent quality.  I don't think I would go long on price for these, but if a pair presented itself at a bargian, I also would not hesitate.  Your milage may vary.

St. Crispins - From Vienna, Austria, although most of their shoes I believe are made in Romania.  Overall a very excellent product, not quite up to the standards of Vass in my opinion, but excellent in its own right all the same.  I would definitely not hesitate to own a pair of these, especially given a reasonable street price.  I will say I like the look of these, and they do appear a bit more elegant than some other central european makers.  Take a look and form your opinion of style - the quality is top notch.


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Best of luck to my fellow shoe afficionados! ---- Claude Suddreth


 
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