Choosing Men's Shoes
December 27, 2004 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I pretty much just wear sneakers, but what with being 35 and all, I've been thinking that maybe it's time to start wearing adult shoes. The problem is that whenever I go into a men's shoe store, I see row after row of essentially the same looking style. I'm sure there's a difference between cool shoes and not cool shoes, but I don't have any idea what that difference is. Outside of wanting something cool, comfort is key. I'd mostly be looking for casual wear it with jeans types of shoes (not ready to graduate to adult trousers just yet). So, what's the difference between good and bad shoes?
posted by willnot to Shopping (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Doc Martens with street soles, not boot soles. They go with everything.
Ditto with Skechers, and even more so on the comfort with those.

These both will last you forever.

Bad shoes are those loafers with tassels on them.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:30 AM on December 27, 2004

You don't have this store in the US, but Schuh in the UK is a great place to get such shoes. Their website will give you food for thought.
posted by ascullion at 7:31 AM on December 27, 2004

For comfort and kinda-style, I like a pair of tsubos, These in particular. They're like bedroom slippers that you can wear to business meetings.

Surely matt and all the cool kids will also mention medium. Frickin kids today with all their 'style'.
posted by zpousman at 7:36 AM on December 27, 2004

I love my Merrells. Exceptionally comfortable, usually moreso than Skechers, with a variety of styles that tastefully and professionally bridge the gap between basement casual and business casual. The "World" line is particularly good for wearing to work.

And if you're looking for an online shoe source, I've never been dissapointed with the prices and service at Shoebuy.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:39 AM on December 27, 2004

My non-sneakers (actually, my only shoes at the moment... I should go shoe shopping) are a pair of Sketchers Alley Cats. They look great with jeans. I actually have a hard time finding new shoes because I like these so much. So, yeah, I'm gonna recommend Sketchers, too.

But no matter what you get, if you're going to wear them with jeans, avoid shiny. Avoid avoid avoid. Oh, and buckles. Are you a 6-year-old girl? Didn't think so. Really, anything but laces and lace-holes is bad on a guy's foot.
posted by billybunny at 7:40 AM on December 27, 2004

Walking shoes like Rockport or Timberline can be had in styles that look good in an office but feel and wear like sneakers. Cool is up to you, no shoe actually provides that. A dweeb in "cool" shoes is actually more dweeby, not less.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:46 AM on December 27, 2004


I wore sneakers every day until I was about 27 and then tried on a pair of Clarks "Natureveldt" shoes and that's what I've been wearing every day since.

They require no breaking in, they feel like sneakers and they can easily pass as "nice" shoes when you shine them up. They're not "formal" for wearing with a suit, but they are great for every day use (with Jeans/Khakis) and just incredibly comfortable.

I'm on my third pair in seven years. (I'm pretty hard on shoes and do a lot of walking.) Once a pair starts looking a little worn, I get a new pair that I keep for "going out" and just wear the other ones for hanging out/yard work/painting/etc. If you took care of these shoes and just wore them to an office type job, I could see a pair lasting for many years.

The Clark's web site is kind of a pain to navigate, but here's a link to an online shoe store with a great "shoe viewer" built in:
posted by evoo at 7:54 AM on December 27, 2004

a nice pair of boots (I'll also support skechers here) can look stylish enough, but be comfortable and also very useful (depending where you live, you can't wear sneakers all year anyway).

depends what kind of look you're going for though. You don't have to graduate to old-man shoes - as a woman, I don't feel I need to start wearing "pumps" - I just wear nice, well made shoes that fit the feel of my generation. At one time, docs were just for a certain crowd, but now you can wear them to the office. We're in charge now! (well, okay, that's a bit hyperbolic - but it is much more acceptable in many lines of work while it was actually considered kind of 'hardcore' when I was in high school... which is hard to believe now, but -)
posted by mdn at 8:15 AM on December 27, 2004

medium does make a great pair of shoes -- and they sound like exactly what you're looking for: stylish, comfortable, and yet not screaming, "Look at my shoes! Aren't they cooooool?!?" Another line that fits the bill: gseries from Cole Haan. They're expensive, but they're done in conjunction with NikeLab (Nike owns Cole Haan) and a very comfortable pair of work shoes.

Incidentally, not sure if anyone's answered your question about the difference between "good shoes and bad shoes," although I think the answer is somewhat obvious: good shoes are ones with style you like, that are comfortable to wear, and don't torment your wallet. Bad shoes are, well, like any other bad product -- poorly designed, cheaply or incorrectly made, not worth what you pay for them, etc.

An example: I hate to say it (because I like their clothes and think they make quality stuff), but Banana Republic doesn't make a very good men's shoe. They look greatt, and if you get them on sale, they're not terribly expensive, but they're the kind of shoe that by six o'clock on a workday, you're prying them off your feet as fast as you can. But I have a wide foot that not all shoe manufacturers consider.

That's another good piece of advice: if you've never had your foot measured by a truly knowledgeable shoe salesman, do it. I wore size 9 shoes for years because that's what some salesman told me, and anything smaller felt uncomfortable. When I had my foot measured by someone who knew what he was doing, he explained I was probably told that because I have a wide foot, and a 9 will accomodate that better than a 8.5 -- but the best fit would be a 8.5 wide. Seems silly, but once I knew, I got shoes that fit a heckuva lot better.
posted by mrkinla at 8:28 AM on December 27, 2004

This isn't necessarily helping with the question, but I just have to say that I really like billybunny's Skechers link. When I met my husband he was wearing either plain black Converse high-tops, or what were basically Doc Marten's, but they were really Army Surplus. (Clearly, he's not a suit-and-tie kind of guy.) For a whle after that he mostly wore hiking boot variations, and the last many years he's been wearing sneakers exclusively - but this is a problem when we need to do something slightly more formal (not often, and he does have one pair of German boot-shoes that look good and fit the bill, but they weigh a freaking ton). The billybunny shoes are pretty much the first shoes I've seen that I think he would happily go for without even blinking - so, thanks, I'll look for them!
posted by taz at 9:06 AM on December 27, 2004

More towards the sneaker end than the shoe end, I have black suede DCs with black laces and black soles - a bit like these - which are comfy and (according to me at least) smart. They're about $50-60. They look great with both scruffy and smart jeans. Their line is always changing, you just have to get down to the skate shop and check them out, look for sales, etc.
posted by carter at 9:15 AM on December 27, 2004

I've always found the basic black Fluevogs with a swirl to be a thing of beauty.
posted by matildaben at 9:24 AM on December 27, 2004

I second the Cole Haan + Nike shoes, I'm wearing a pair right now and they're super-comfortable.

Doc Martens last forever, and never look scruffy as long as you use the Docs leather-treatment balm on them once every few months.

I'll go against the grain here and warn you to stay away from Sketchers. I've had horrible luck with them - every pair I've tried has fallen apart after 6 months (I've had my Docs for 3 years).
posted by falconred at 9:32 AM on December 27, 2004

I love my Börns. I've never felt a more comfortable shoe, and they didn't require any breaking in. Are they cool? I think they were a couple years ago when I bought them. They're still in good shape.
posted by goatdog at 9:51 AM on December 27, 2004

AskMeFi thread of interest: Shoes for business travel?

And I'll vouch for the Cole Haan + Nike shoes recommended above.

... I wear Mephistos + orthotics, and I couldn't imagine anything being more comfortable.
posted by fourstar at 9:55 AM on December 27, 2004

you must have very odd shoe stores! i've just come back from shopping for shoes and there was a lot more than just business shoes where i looked (department stores in a mall). i, too, am trying to wear something more adult than sneakers - i found a pair of shoes in a sneaker-ish style, but made of grey leather, with some dark red leather trim. the current fashion seems to be for a quite a thin sole on the outside (the padding is inside) and some shoes have a squarish toe. the brand was shop's own, but there were many others.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2004

Now, look. Slip-on loafers (even those with tassels) can be cool too. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.
posted by Futurehouse at 10:05 AM on December 27, 2004

The diffierence between good and bad shoes for women is often money- cheap shoes look bad, fall apart quickly, and will often be very uncomfortable. I imagine the same might be true for men's shoes, as well. Be willing to invest in a decent pair of shoes; they'll last for a long time, and you'll want to wear them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:12 AM on December 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

I would stick with Mephisto and Rockports for comfort. They truly are amazing. Be sure to try several pair on and don't be afraid to tell the sales person that they don't feel right. If they don't, they don't. I have horribly messed up feet (not sure how or why.) If a shoe doesn't feel good right away, don't buy it.
posted by glyphlet at 10:32 AM on December 27, 2004

ok, here's what the best-dressed gringo will be wearing with jeans this summer....
posted by andrew cooke at 10:40 AM on December 27, 2004

Me, I haven't had problems with Sketchers falling apart; the first pair I had lasted 5 years. And, as an unsophisticate who's historically looked askance at dress shoes, I can vouch for their naturalness as a sneaky middle ground type shoe that goes well with most anything.
posted by furiousthought at 10:56 AM on December 27, 2004

I hate to say it (because I like their clothes and think they make quality stuff), but Banana Republic doesn't make a very good men's shoe.

I would even go further and say that this applies to almost any store that just happens to also sell shoes. If their main product is clothing, then you can count on their shoes being a rebranded third-party product. This goes for the whole Gap trinity (Banana, Gap, Old Navy), as well as the other denizens of the mall like Aeropostale, American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch and so on. You might be lucky with an L. L. Bean shoe, but their the exception and not the rule.

Your feet do much to support you, so don't skimp on them. You might flinch at a nigh-or-over $100 price tag, but a good shoe will not only treat you well now, but for years to come.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:10 AM on December 27, 2004

Without question, John Fluevog makes wingtip shoes that are the ultimate in style and comfort. The soles are soft rubber and feel like walking on clouds. Some of the other shoes are really funky, but the wingtips are stylish enough to impress the kids and reserved enough for everyday office wear.
posted by mullingitover at 11:43 AM on December 27, 2004

I'll second falconred. I have never had a pair of Skechers last over six months, but still it's my favorite brand, along with Kenneth Cole.

For comfort, I'd definitely go with Clarks.
posted by Penks at 11:44 AM on December 27, 2004

buy at least two pair and alternate. they last longer this way and dont fall apart as fast.
posted by hortense at 12:10 PM on December 27, 2004

Ugh, ugh, ugh.
No, no sketchers. No Doc Martens. A lot of people still wear these, but unless you want to advertise that you're so style-unconscious that you need to be beaten over the head vigorously with a clue-by-four, and that you're one of the sheeple to boot, don't buy either. In fact, don't buy anything with a big thick chunky rubber sole on it. If you do, I have your zip code, and I will personally hunt you down. I'll make an exception for the high-class colored leather sneakers with the gummed soles on them. Those are pretty cool.

There's a few things you need to know. One is that brand doesn't matter that much; what matters is style and quality. Also keep in mind that people notice shoes and socks, especially women. Don't wear white socks unless you're wearing them with sneakers. ;)

There are two types of style: classic and modern. Classic shoes, like the aforementioed tassle loafers with rounded and off-center toes, will never, ever, ever, go out of style. I have two pairs of tassle loafers. I wear then with everything from suits to jeans. I get funny looks from some when I wear them with jeans, but I'm usually wearing a business shirt and jewelry, so they're allowable if a little eccentric.
Modern style is some of the squared toe shoes or the extremely pointed shoes. The pointed shoes, while some women wear them, look dorky on guys. Nonetheless, you can find them in evidence at places where people who spend way too much on their clothing hang out. I kind of like the squared toe trend, and I hope it'll stick around for another year.

Currently, wingtips and capped toe dress shoes are pretty much out of style. Both are still allowable under the 'classic style' clause, but they call that kind of thing 'grandfathered' for a reason. Tooled ankle-high cowboy boots worn with dress slacks are coming into style, but that may be a Portland thing ... I haven't seen the trend elsewhere, although I've been eyeing a pair myself.

As far as quality goes, when you're buying dress or casual leather shoes, you don't want something with a sprayed-on lacquer finish. Or patent leather. The best way to test for this is to scratch the shoe a little with your thumbnail, and then try and rub the scratch out with your thumb. If it doesn't buff out, you don't want that shoe, because that shoe will get scratched all over the place and you'll never polish it up again.
Another thing to watch for with dress shoes specifically is the sole. In a wet climate, like Portland, Seattle, or BC, a rubber sole on dress shoes is allowable due to the fact that leather soles, if worn daily in the rain, get saturated and have a tendency to rot. Everywhere else in the world, it's considered highly dorky to have a rubber sole on a dress shoe. Rubber soles are always allowed for casual shoes.
Surprisingly, for casual stylish shoes or casual work shoes, I've found that some of the "old fart brands" like Rockport are surprisingly comfortable for every day wear. And they don't have labels on the outside.
Personally, for daily wear, I wear a pair of lace-up thin brown leather loafers with a rubber-over-leather sole and a squared toe. Although I'm from Oregon, so if it's raining out and I have to walk a long ways outdoors, I usually wear my gore-tex hiking boots or sneakers...

If I were you, and I were looking for a stylish casual 'adult shoe', I would pick the same squared toe shoe that I love. I don't have them with me and I'm travelling right now, so I can't give you a brand, but the style is general and shouldn't be hard to find. I find that they're best worn with narrow legged dark blue jeans.

Again, if you're in your mid thirties, I'd say stay away from Doc Martins and Sketchers and the ilk. Not only will people think you're trying to regain your punk rock 20's, but they're astoundingly painful shoes to wear until they're broken in, and they weigh 80 lbs. Oh, and they're ugly.
posted by SpecialK at 12:17 PM on December 27, 2004

Doc Martens have been “de-recontextualized” back into workaday wear. If chosen well, you may safely ignore SpecialK's banishment of the brand. I have two pair of non-leather Doc Martens boots that are manifestly respectable; they do not clash with the majority of my pants.

Fluevogs are well-made, distinctive, quite expensive, and pleasantly noticeable, but not necessarily comfortable. You may need some aftermarket insoles.
posted by joeclark at 12:30 PM on December 27, 2004

Again, if you're in your mid thirties, I'd say stay away from Doc Martins and Sketchers and the ilk. Not only will people think you're trying to regain your punk rock 20's...

Eh, I wear Skechers/Doc Marten boots and have been since my twenties, so I don't think I'm trying to regain anything; I'm prolonging it.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2004

I've always liked loafers, but do make sure to have your feet measured before you buy them (which to be honest I'm not sure I've ever done... I think I just narrowed it down.) In the past, given my wide feet, I've bought either ones which were too large or too small. Because there are no laces, the large ones will allow your heel to grate against the back of the shoe, which can wear it out -- the small ones will have the heel dig in, no fun, ESPECIALLY with stiff Rockports. This whole difficulty of having loafers fit without laces has led to those little triangles of black elastic webbing on either side of the tongue. Keep in mind that this stuff tends to stretch and fray and will wear out long before the leather does. Presumably you could have it repaired, but the cheaper shoes are the ones more likely to feature it.

I'll second SpecialK's comments about the leather -- most lacquered or patent leather will look horrible after a few months, with sharp creases over the toes.. Try to get something a little more flexible. And don't be afraid to get something other than black. I mean, you should own black shoes, but it's perfectly acceptable to wear brown shoes with just about anything other than a tuxedo. White socks though are always forbidden.
posted by maledictory at 1:21 PM on December 27, 2004

Rockports rock. I've got the brown cap toe, goes great with khakis (I graduated to adult pants), basic black and a suede pair that look like Bass shoes but are ten times more comfortable. If you know your size and hate the mall, I recommend Zappos. Free shipping and a very liberal return policy.

I stand for long periods (trying to teach SAP to government employees) and the Rockports are always comfy right out of the box.
posted by fixedgear at 1:29 PM on December 27, 2004

> they call that kind of thing 'grandfathered' for a reason.

Looking as if you learned to dress for dinner by watching your father and grandfather dress for dinner may not be cool but it is and will always be upper class. It implies, for one thing, that your grandfather dressed for dinner.
posted by jfuller at 1:50 PM on December 27, 2004

In my experience, Rockports are highly unpredictable. One pair I own, bought just before 9/11, right near the WTC, are still going strong. The other pairs I've owned, their more formal shoes, get shot in less than a year. They're also not very comfortable, IMHO after the sole compresses.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:26 PM on December 27, 2004

Another issue might be parallel "outlet store" goods. The aforementioned bad Rockports were bought in Century 21; the aforementioned good Rockports were bought in a real shoe store.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:30 PM on December 27, 2004

or because no-one else bought the crappy ones, so they were sent to a clearance shop?

just to emphasise the bit SpecialK wrote that agrees with my experience (i wish i'd phrased it better in my first post) - there are three levels of "fashionable" at the moment. level zero is the classics. level 1 is square toes. level 2 is pointy toes (particularly with a narrow heel and pronounced sole under the forefoot, for some strange reason). and level 2 is probably not where you want to be if you have to ask what a replacement for trainers could be.

as for level 0 being upper class or not - maybe in america it's appearance that counts, but in the uk there's a big different between being upper class and wearing their shoes. so go with the square(-ish; it doesn't have to be rectangular!) toes.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:51 PM on December 27, 2004

The square-toe shoes that I wear pretty much everywhere are very similar to these, but in a more traditional brown.
posted by SpecialK at 3:05 PM on December 27, 2004

My best suggestion is to find your most stylish (not fashionable; stylish transcends fads and "what's in this season") gay or metrosexual friend, and get him to take you comparison shopping.

That said, you can never go wrong with Fluevogs.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:14 PM on December 27, 2004

I agree with andrew that one person's casual is another person's dress (or shabby, for that matter). Casual as in Chippewa Steel Toe Loggers or casual as in tassle loafers? Boat shoes or Vans? Hush Puppies or Ecco (I just got a pair of these - like butter)? You'll need to have an idea of who you are and what image you want to present (or whether you want to present an image - but see below) first before anyone can recommend anything.

Many women are incredibly shoe-aware. We men worry that our penises are too small or our hair too thin; meanwhile women are looking at our feet. So, you might want to consult female friends or SO for their opinions first, if that kind of thing is important to you.

And what the hell is up with men's dress shoes these days? They look like they're made for a clown, a duck, or one of Santa's helpers.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:03 PM on December 27, 2004

Another vote for Sketchers and Clarks. Both are extremely comfortable and will work in almost any west-coast situation. Clarks work in the East, but only in a casual context.

I'm on my second pair of Kenneth Cole quasi-formal shoes. The first pair was terrible, this second one is more like a pair of sketchers except that they look a little more appropriate in a business setting.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:48 PM on December 27, 2004

I second mrkinla-- fit is paramount to comfort. But on to fashion. It's hard to find any one shoe that fits all occasions. What you need to do is build a collection of hard-wearing shoes that will compliment your wardrobe.

Signs of a bad shoe-- colour is too light or bright to match more than one outfit. The sole is so thick it scuffs easily.

Basic rules-- Black shoes are generally easier to match than brown. Coloured shoes are difficult to match, and even harder to keep clean. Buckles often look too formal or childish if they do not match your pants.

Basic rules: The larger the sole, the more casual the shoe. Try to find a nice basic shoe in black, or a dark brown with a sole that is comfortable, but not a focal point. Shinny and textured leather wears poorly. A buckled shoe should either look formal, or casual. If you really like it, it feels good, for God's sake, wear it!
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:36 PM on December 27, 2004

Mr. PT swears by Eccos, which are pricy on a teacher's salary but are the most comfortable shoes he can find. He's on his feet all day so comfort is really important. I couldn't find the exact shoe on their website but they resemble Rockports (but are lots more comfortable, he says). He gets them at Johnston & Murphy, which seems to have a nice selection and where they are very nice to their customers in an ass-kissing kind of way.
posted by SashaPT at 9:42 AM on December 28, 2004

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