Noisy men’s shoes as a status symbol?
October 29, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

In my workplace, it seems that for males, the higher up you are in the hierarchy, the noisier are the shoes, almost as if it’s in the job description. Middle managers shoes tend to make a bearable noise level, but when a male VP walks by, I could swear he’s wearing high heels. Are quality men’s shoes noisier? Or is this just that executives tend to prefer noisy loafers by design?
posted by racingjs to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Quality men's shoes are made with all leather soles which are also of high quality. Good leather soles make more noise than rubber soles, or even than leather soles of lesser quality, in my experience. I am not sure if this is what you are experiencing. You may also be hearing people walk who have put toe and heel protectors on their shoes, which are hard plastic wear guards that are almost like taps for dress shoes.
posted by OmieWise at 1:26 PM on October 29, 2013

Expensive men's loafers tend to have leather soles, which are much harder and less textured than the rubber soles on your typical white-collar workaday dress shoes. You can see the shoemaking process for Louis Vuitton men's shoes here, to get a sense of it.
posted by mhoye at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

Better quality dress shoes usually have leather soles and a heel built up from several layers of leather. It doesn't have quite as much give as a sneaker or a rubber sole, so they tend to make a sharp clacking noise when walking on them. I've noticed that even the Allen Edmonds I have with rubber soles tend to make more noise than cheaper dress shoes I've owned, I believe because the rubber is a bit stiffer.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2013

I was going to go with the "leather sole"/hard heel theory too. There is also the "I don't give a fuck about making a disturbing noise with my feet because I am more important than you" that could be a correlation - a little like with doctors and bad handwriting.
posted by rongorongo at 1:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [14 favorites]

Just to pile on, the best heels are also attached with tiny nails through the leather for extra clackyness.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:33 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

My guess is that people lower down on the totem pole hear their shoes squeaking and think "oh no, these shoes are SO NOISY!" and either stop wearing them to work or walk more carefully. Whereas people up the ladder are a little more comfortable in their skin and don't care about such things.

Granted I work in film/TV and sometimes have to be on set, but when I was a newb, I was very conscious of things like loud shoes, whereas obviously the director, producers, first AD, etc. barely bother to be quiet at all. And that's in a place where absolute silence is required.
posted by Sara C. at 1:34 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

As someone who wears leather soled shoes almost every day there has to be something else going on. My broken-in Allen Edmonds just aren't very loud. My guess would be stiff new shoes, but also that these guys aren't keeping shoes long. Maybe they are buying new shoes a couple times a year instead of enjoying a properly broken in part of shoes (which should last for multiple years).
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:37 PM on October 29, 2013

My guess would be stiff new shoes, but also that these guys aren't keeping shoes long.

Another add-on - the fancier places will resole their hand cobbled shoes as soon as they wear.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:39 PM on October 29, 2013

I don't give a fuck about making a disturbing noise with my feet

I think that would be the secretarial pool at my firm, where open-heeled shoes and their FLAP FLAP FLAP rule the halls.

As previous answers have stated, higher quality dress shoes tend not to have rubber soles or heels, so they will sound louder on hard floors. Without rubber between a wood heel and a hard floor, you can really hear some clacking sometimes. It's not to impress anyone - I'd prefer it if my shoes were quieter on hard floors, but it's a trade-off for the quality.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:43 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have noticed this at my workplace, but it doesn't correlete to management, just to the male fashion nerds. Therefore I am concurring that its an issue of the hard soles on really good quality shoes. To make the issue worse, we have concrete floors, and metal stairs, in a giant open-plan workspace. Women's high heels on the stairs are the worst - CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG
posted by Joh at 1:51 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Along with the leather sole issue, people who are particularly fashion conscious and protective of their soles may have metal sole taps on their toes and heels.

My office, for the record, is carpeted on all the floors, so you can't hear any difference.
posted by deanc at 1:57 PM on October 29, 2013

Traditional men's "best dress" shoes have a hard heel and sole, and thus make noise compared to less expensive, more casual and more flexible shoes. I have to buy very expensive shoes because my feet are 7.5 EEEEE, so I am familiar with the clacking noise they can make.
posted by slkinsey at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013

They're definitely not high-end or dressy, but I have a pair of 19th centuryish reproduction hobnailed brogans with hard leather heels, and they are indeed pretty clackety on hard surfaces. I always assumed it was the leather but maybe it's more the nails, or the combination of the two.
posted by usonian at 3:47 PM on October 29, 2013

Are quality men’s shoes noisier?

Yes, and unlike some of the other commenters here i don't think it's the sole. It's the heel. Nice shoes have a heel made out of some completely solid hard material(sometimes wood, sometimes other stuff) with a very thin layer of rubbed nailed to the bottom. On the nicest shoes i've ever had, that layer of rubber was hilariously thin. It's like they expected you to get that redone every six months and not wear them super often or something.

So straight from the cobbler/factory they're not very quiet, but as soon as that rubber wears even a little bit they get logarithmically louder until one tiny corner has worn down just enough that it's mostly just the hard bit of the heel going CLACK CLACK CLACK.

This really doesn't take as long as you'd think.

A lot of the cheaper dress shoes i've seen really seem designed with someone buying them and either wearing them until they fall apart at the low-mid range, or just getting a lot of wear out of them before getting them redone in the midrange. There's a lot more rubber involved in the heel, and possibly even the sole if it's not leather.

Which leads to, paradoxically, the crappier dress shoes i've had often far outlasting the nicer ones. The actual leather of the nicer ones tends to be far nicer, but the sole and heel just doesn't last as well and is really intended to be regularly replaced. I guess it makes sense to assume that someone would spend $35-60 to get $500 shoes or whatever redone, but not so much at the lower end so build in a bit of extra toughness so they don't feel ripped off... or something.
posted by emptythought at 4:55 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's called a power click. The small folk who walk around in rubber soled shoes and make no noise also make no impact. The big boys wear shoes that scream "I AM A MAN. MY SHOES ARE LOUD. HEAR ME ROAR."

At least, that's how my brother tells it.
posted by Grither at 4:28 AM on October 30, 2013

It always seemed to me that certain personality types are more likely to be noisy people. Whether it's high heels, hard soles, clanking jewelry, shuffling feet, crinkling candy wrappers, etc. It seems to telegraph some kind of neediness. Which may or may not be a personality type that is considered positive by your company's management.

There might also be confirmation bias going on.
posted by gjc at 5:22 AM on October 30, 2013

Best answer: I'm not an expert, but my stepdad was.

Yes, they are deliberately noisy as a status marker. The noise is to let you know that they are wearing expensive, traditionally handmade dress shoes (or something like them). These shoes are noisy for two reasons.

Firstly, a technical reason. Handmade shoes are meant to last a long time and to be repaired/resoled by a cobbler. Generally this requires the sole to be made of hard leather and nailed on, rather than being moulded rubber or PVC.

Secondly, their design deliberately sets them apart from more practical or casual designs. The usually smooth/treadless, inflexible sole is not practical for running, offroad walking, or going long distances. It's only practical for walking indoors or on pavement. Thus, wearing them marks you more definitively as an urbane, high-class official - the kind of person who doesn't have to move other than between rooms or to a car, doesn't have to carry anything, doesn't have to hurry, or be inconspicuous, or other "low-class" ways of moving.

Really expensive/traditional dress shoes will even have a metal (or plastic) heel/toe protector, ostensibly to protect the parts of the shoe that would otherwise wear down quickest, but really to make the shoe even louder, more ostentatious, and less practical.

In the UK, these kinds of shoes were especially prevalent among civil servants, business executives, politicians and military staff, and other echelons of the establishment until about the 80s/90s -- less so now as that kind of class marker went out of fashion.

But the noise of clacking heels is still associated with expensive shoes and will be emphasised or mitigated depending on what kind of wearer the shoe is marketed to. Some will have leather outsoles applied to reduce the noise and increase comfort and grip. Others will not, especially among people -- like higher-level management types -- who want to evoke the markers of "high class".
posted by Drexen at 5:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check out the soles of progressively higher and higher end dress shoes. First you start with rubber soles or some kind of very soft leather on the soles. As the quality gets higher, the leather soles become so hard that they almost look like they're made out of wood. Contra Drexen, they're actually much more comfortable than low-end dress shoes, in part because of the better arch support.

The status issue comes in where all over the hierarchy, everyone "knows" they should wear a nice suit, but they're not always aware of what qualifies as "nice shoes." As one rises up the ladder, one becomes more aware of subtleties of professional dress that they weren't aware of before, so they do things like buy better shirts and then better shoes.
posted by deanc at 8:15 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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