Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shoe-in

Chapter 14
For the past few weeks, we have concerned ourselves with the formal side of life, what with proms, weddings, Easter, and so forth...the impression given to the uninformed masses might be that the well-dressed man should always be attired in some form of tuxedo! This explains why the Average Guy jumps into a black rental suit whenever the formality of an event exceeds his capacity to wear a tee-shirt to it.

In actuality, dressing like a grownup necessitates dressing well for all sorts of events, most of which aren't formal at all, some that are downright casual, and some of which don't even involve leaving the house!

To illustrate this, let's take a break from the pomp and grandiosity of recent events. Set the WABAC Machine to the middle of the last century, and let's take a peek inside the closet of a well-heeled gent to get a look at his shoes, (courtesy of an illustration from an Esquire of the time.) His selections are, of course, tremendous overkill for most men of today -- but some of these styles can surely serve as a spark of inspiration for you, to include in your own closet's shoe rack.
Starting at the top left of the rack, we'll work our way across and down. Follow along with me as we poke our nose in where it doesn't belong! Don't make too much noise, or our host's valet will find us snooping about in his chambers, and kick us out of the house before we've had our tea.

At the upper left, we find a pair of patent leather opera pumps. (Even in a closet, we can't seem to escape formality! Its position of prominence in his rack shows that he probably gets a lot of use out of 'em.)
Yes, this is actually a man's shoe! Impossibly dainty and fey to our modern eyes, this 18th-century French style is actually the "most formal of the most formal" shoe in existence. Most correctly worn with white tie and tails, it can also be worn with black tie semi-formals. The bow must be dull black grosgrain. If you really have a driving need to possess these, they are still being made, but they are not easy to find, nor are they inexpensive.

Next to these, we find an unusual pair of brown calfskin monk strap bluchers. It's a good middle-choice for most situations, neither too formal nor too casual, and can be worn as an everyday shoe for a bit of flair either in town or country.

On the second shelf, our host has a pair of brown suede full-brogue captoe balmorals. These are great country-casual shoes, worn to spectator sports or at sporty events. In light tan, ivory, or white, it would be a smashing summer resort shoe. Worn in town with a suit, it looks informal and comfortable -- in other words, don't wear this to the office.

Next to them, a popular style today, a Norwegian-style blucher in brown calfskin. Notice what makes the shoe a Norwegian:  the tongue and upper are in one piece, stitched to the sides in a curve over the toe, and the two sides are stitched together with a vertical seam in front and back. These are considered even more sporty and casual than regular bluchers, even in black. They can pick up a rakishly casual style by having them made as spectators, by substituting the upper in a contrasting color, in suede, or in cloth.

On the third row, we find the workaday town shoe, the old standard, the black calfskin captoe balmoral. Most often worn with dark suits and businesswear,  it's the quintessential town shoe. Notice that this pair is not brogued, which makes it a touch more formal than it would be otherwise. This is more than likely a reflection of this particular gent's many casual shoe options.

Next over, he owns a pair of brown wing-tipped fringe-tongue brogues. The nubbly soles tell us this gent is a golfer -- but even without the cleats, these shoes are nice, but too rustic and casual for any other use but country sports, perhaps a picnic in the park, or lounging around the house.

Moving down to the fourth shelf, we discover a brown pair of quarter-brogued captoe balmorals. This middle-range shoe is an all-purpose town-and-country compromise between his black balmorals and his brown suede balmorals, in the upper two rows. As a result, this is a shoe that most men would wear quite a lot, in a wide variety of situations: the traditionally-styled equivalent of the monk-strap shoes on the top row.

Next to them, we find a grand old pair of button-top balmorals. They are the daytime formal equivalent of the opera pumps on the top row -- the most formal thing you can wear with a morning suit or to a wedding. (This gent must get a lot of use out of his morning suit; otherwise he'd just wear his captoe balmorals on the third row.) Black with boxcloth uppers in fawn color. Often the uppers matched the waistcoat of the morning suit, so I'd be willing to bet this fellow's morning vest matches the shoes.)

On the bottom row, we find a pair of patent-leather wholecut balmorals with flat silk laces. Its lack of brogueing and stitching, as well as its patent-gloss, makes it more formal than any of his other balmorals -- in fact, it is his second-finest pair of shoes, just behind the opera pumps. What his black captoes are to his button-tops for day formals, is what these shoes are relative to his pumps for evening dress: a little less grand, but still a perfectly fine option. (He probably reserves these for black tie, and uses the pumps for white tie, which would be most proper.)

The last pair on the rack may seem humble: a pair of buckskin house slippers. Soft and cozy, the usefulness of a nice pair of shoes to kick back in should not be underestimated. They may become your favorite pair, and will get plenty of use. Just never wear them out of the house.

On the floor, next to the rack, we find another pair of Norwegian-style slippers, the peasant shoe. Yes, this is the well-known penny loafer. Many wear them with suits, but you'd be better off using them with respect to their humble origins: for lounge wear, around the house, or at a summer resort. Penny optional.

The last pair of "shoes" are actually field boots, and if you don't have access to a horse, you'd look a little silly wearing these. Our gent apparently spends a bit of time at the paddock, and riding the countryside. These would be best replaced with driving moccasins, if you enjoy recreational country outings.

You don't have the bankroll for a closet full of shoes, you say? Give it time. With a bit of clever searching, you can build up quite a nice usable collection over several years. You don't have to start out quite this grand -- You can distill our wealthy patron's closet down to the basics, and still be well-shod in most situations. Begin with a brown brogued balmoral for general use, a plain black balmoral for more formal purposes, and a pair of casual loafers. From there, you can build more specialty shoes as the bank account allows.

Shh--do you hear someone in the corridor? It may be our host, looking for us. Close the closet door, quietly now! we shall wait for him to pass by, and rejoin him downstairs. With luck, he'll never suspect we were here.



2 comments:

  1. Today this closet is replaced by one containing half a dozen different sneaker options plus thongs (i.e. flip-flops). Even if one sported a closet such as this and wear the appropriate shoe and the appropriate time, it would never be appreciated by the overwhelming majority of people, which in my opinion, is what dressing well is all about.

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