Choosing high-grade professional mens dress shoes
September 15, 2015 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What style and color of professional high-grade dress shoes should I invest in?

I've been in a professional corporate environment (sales) for a couple years now and am at the stage in my career where I really need to be improving my presentation. I've made my mind up and done a bit of research on my next suit, but I'm at something of a loss for what kind of shoes I should pick up.

I work in Japan, so erring on the side of conservative is best (have to deal with stodgy old-guard salary men). I'm looking for a good pair of shoes that will last at least a decade, so I'm ready to pay up to about 4 or 5 hundred for them, but with that investment comes a responsibility to choose the right style.

I get that I need to look for full grain leather and Goodyear welted soles, but where I'm stuck are: style and color. I'm getting a navy blue suit with charcoal pin stripes, I read that black is a safe bet there. Should I avoid broguing? Do I want an Oxford or a monk strap?

What styles should I avoid?
posted by GoingToShopping to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The standard answer to this is shell cordovan oxfords from allen edmonds or alden. All fashion is local (and I'm sure there are likely crazy good shoemakers in Japan), but in general the further away you get from conservative styles, the more casual - so plain or cap toe is probably your best bet.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would get a black cap-toe oxford for a suit like that in the setting you'd be wearing it in. Monks are probably a bit too fashion forward.

Aldens are apparently very popular in Japan right now, but buy them in the US - they'll be a lot cheaper.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:32 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If this is for daily wear, you should get two pairs - they will retain their shape longer if you let them rest on shoe trees between wearings.

The Allen Edmonds Park Avenue is the canonical business shoe for this purpose.

The most formal shoes are lace-ups without broguing, like the Park Avenue.

You don't want a monk strap. Monk straps are much more casual and come and go in fashion.

Shoes like the Park Avenue have a slim profile, a neutral toe (not bumped up, not squared off, not chiseled, not pointy) and lacing/quarters are in the most formal style. You could wear this kind of shoe to a funeral.

Why not look around in Japan? There are amazing Japanese shoemakers, and google turns up lots of blogs, styleforum threads, etc.

IME, Japanese shoemakers are often more inclined to the fantastic - pointier toes, more colorful leathers, etc - than American or European makers.

What do your peers wear? If they usually wear pointier Japanese shoes, you might want to mimic them.

Some good formal styles:

The wholecut, which is beautiful but makes your feet look big.

The wholecut chelsea (if you need a business boot): via RM Williams

A dressier dress boot which looks more like a shoe via Allen Edmonds

A pretty brogued dress shoe.

Trickers Jermyn Street line - don't let these mediocre photos fool you, they are lovely shoes, especially the Henley. Pediwear is very reliable and ships worldwide.

You'll find that Allen Edmonds's quality is variable, although always better than standard off-the-rack shoes. If I were getting a basic pair of business shoes, I'd get the Henleys.

The chunkier the shoe, the less formal, so a slim shoe with some broguing is more formal than a chunky longwing brogue.

If this were my situation, I would either buy a pair of very plain black oxfords like the Henleys and a pair of slim brogued Oxfords or those two plus a pair of lace-up dress boots. You might be able to get away with a deep burgundy color depending on the suit. When you get a grey suit, get some whiskey-colored shoes - they're so nice.

Also, consider the weather - you probably want to get sole covers put on (any cobbler can do this) and if you expect to be wearing them in truly bad weather, you might want to invest in a pair of overshoes. (Get unlined ones - there are ones with an interior felted layer, and I have heard rumors of this rubbing off on the shoes.)

I suggest learning to shine these yourself - commercial shoe shines tend to be thick and gloppy because the shoe shiner is used to working with corrected grain plasticky leather.

To avoid (for this purpose): thick soles, "English" shoes, veldshoen, rubber soles, anything trendy, anything that feels or looks puffy like a trainer or a walking shoe, shoes with bumped up toes, shoes with the welt on the outside, funny colors in any part of the shoe....I mean, I assume you know to avoid "comfort" shoes and streaky suede and so on. (I adore English-style country shoes in funny colors, but they won't do for work.)
posted by Frowner at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Buy this shoe.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Excellent input, everyone!

An ex colleague of mine who was a bit of a shoe freak told me that light brown shoes are tough to match, yet a google source indicates that they work well with blue, grey and brown suits. I'm planning on my next suit to be dark blue/navy and the one after that to be grey.

I currently have a black suit with ghastly chrome buttons (?!!!) that I never plan on wearing again, and despite black suits being perfectly acceptable over here, I'm not planning on stepping back down that path in the future.

One pair of light brown and one pair of black should have me colored, yeah?
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, I find Aldens (even in calf but especially in shell) rather heavy for their size.

Aldens are held to look very "American", and I assume that part of their current popularity in Japan is the whole Americana/workwear thing. They're great shoes and very well-made, but to my mind intrinsically just a little more casual than the Park Avenue or the Henley. Probably no one will care, though. Alden uses very nice leather indeed, IMO nicer than either Trickers or even the best used by Allen Edmonds.
posted by Frowner at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I find my Aldens to be much, much more comfortable than the Allen Edmonds I have, but it's probably just a personal preference. I have wide feet, so the Alden's slightly stodgier-looking lasts seem to fit my feet better.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Allen Edmund and Alden are both excellent US shoe companies. But I am curious as to whether might find that in Japan they are more expensive than they are worth. You might find that some Italian brands are no more expensive. Maybe Bruno Magli -- great shoes and in your price range in the US -- or Santoni -- which are out of your range in the US, but I don't know about Japan.
posted by rtimmel at 11:54 AM on September 15, 2015

And I've never been good at figuring when and how to mix black shoes with brown, but I have found that oxblood is a shoe color that goes with most anything dark.
posted by rtimmel at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2015

I think going conservative is the right choice.

Brooks Brothers is in Japan and you can get the Allen Edmonds shoe there, but they look to be about $100/10000 yen more than if bought in the US. You would likely get more variety of sizes in the US as well (my feet are size 30 in Japan and I could never get the shoes I wanted). Maybe go into Brooks Brothers to see what colours of the Allen Edmonds they carry. If they run the full gamut then it isn't much help but if they only have black, or black and oxblood then you know which colours to get.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2015

Black would certainly work, but if you're only going to buy one pair, there's nothing wrong with the same shoe in brown or cordovan, and you'll end up with a much more flexible shoe.

You should eschew straps or broguing in a shoe you'll typically wear with a suit. Straps are more trendy, and the latter is indicative of a less formal shoe most of the time.

I'll echo the rec for the Allen Edmunds Park Avenue; I actually have two pair: one brown, one black. They're excellent shoes I expect I'll have for years and years, but I also don't wear them every day.

AE are great shoes, but if you can afford Aldens you'll find they're much, much better. However, it's a level of "better" that matters to almost no one if you're not a shoe nerd anyway. The AE are comfortable, durable, well-made, and cost hundreds less.
posted by uberchet at 1:16 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Grenson Moorgate
posted by fmnr at 3:29 PM on September 15, 2015

I have had a pair of $500-ish Ferragamo black cap-toe oxfords for 15 years, worn at least 50 days every one of those years, and plenty of walking on many of the days worn. So simple, light and beautiful. Soles replaced twice in that time. No repairs needed to the uppers ever. Look good as new with a shine, and feel better than ever.
posted by MattD at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2015


You are in what I consider to be the second best place in the world when it comes to high quality leather shoes, and so I would avoid American and British brands where you're going to pay at least a 50% markup after import fees. It's probably even worse now that the yen is so weak. If you are looking to purchase while you are in Japan, I would recommend a local brand over Aldens or Allen Edmonds. They're good but after the markups they're no longer a good value.

Here's a list here of high quality Japanese shoemakers. The list starts off with bespoke, but the bottom of the list has all of the major Japanese RTW shoemakers. The only thing that you have to watch out for is that some of the brands on the lower end (Regal, Union Imperial) have outsourced some of their lines to be manufactured overseas but they do have lines that are completely made in Japan as well.

In terms of style, go black with laces and no broguing. Oxfords will be more appropriate than bluchers but not many people care once you get down to that level of detail. The same applies to plain toe vs captoe vs wingtip. For reference, the most conservative choice would be black calfskin oxford captoes with no broguing.
posted by C^3 at 10:32 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the link, C^3! I've been thinking of bespoke too, but isn't that going to be pretty expensive? I wouldn't mind going up to 6 or 7 hundred, but wouldn't something like that run into at least the two thousands? I didn't see many general price listings on those links from the forum you posted.
EDIT: Ok, I take that back, I AM seeing prices, and they're between 2 and 4k.
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:36 AM on September 16, 2015

Yeah, from the link I was referring to the bottom of the list which lists the major Japanese Ready Made shoe makers that do higher quality dress shoes. 6 or 7 hundred USD should be enough to get you a pair maybe even two of the higher end Japan made Regals / Union Imperials / Scotch Grains.

The only thing you have to be a bit careful about is if you have wider feet. Japanese shoes tend to run a bit narrow, but the larger department stores should have the wider sizes for these brands.
posted by C^3 at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2015

I still have a question for you, GoingToShopping - are you planning on wearing this pair every day? I think that spending six or seven hundred on one pair means you'll wear it to pieces and it will spend a lot of time looking shabby....

....BUT I understand the allure of Japanese shoes. A possibility might be (and this would work for other brands) to try on a lot of stuff, figure out your size in a given style or on a given last, and either buy a gently used second pair online via eBay or whatever Japanese-specific market exists, visit high-end consignment shops (I assume Japan has something like this what with the intense style-conciousness in some cities and neighborhoods) or keep an eye out for a great online sale. This is what I do - almost every pair of fancy shoes I have was purchased gently used online because I know my size in different brands and lasts. (Which is how I know what Aldens are like - my budget does not run to new Aldens! Or new Trickers, for that matter.)

Also, I notice that loafers tend to go on sale more and also to be cheaper in the secondhand market - a possibility would be a nice pair of lace-ups and then a sale/secondhand/etc pair of loafers. These Paul Stuart ones are obviously not used or cheap, but they do illustrate that you can have a graceful loafer made to the standards of any other dress shoe. Opinions vary on loafers with suits, but I think that as a non-client-facing shoe they are quite acceptable virtually everywhere.

And also, have you considered Meermin? I have not handled any of their shoes, but they are entirely mail-order and get very high marks from various men's style blogs. As I understand it, their widths are standard and my feet are just a tiny bit wide, so I haven't considered them, but their shoes are very nice and price-competitive, and as I understand it they are used to advising people on fit via email. Meermin might be a possibility for a nice but less expensive backup pair.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on September 16, 2015

Also they have really lovely-looking dress boots, if that's ever a need of yours - it sure is in the frozen Midwestern US.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 AM on September 16, 2015

I'll probably be wearing them for more special occasions, meeting clients and whatnot. I haven't started at my new job yet so I'm not entirely sure what the dress code in the office is. If it's required to be somewhat formal, I do already have two sets of mid/low-quality dress shoes that will surely suffice.

On the other hand, I'm looking for something I can treat as a pet; keep it properly maintained at all times and have re-soled as needed.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:26 AM on September 16, 2015

Okay, here, look at these shoes by Hiro Yanagimachi....they're probably outside your budget, at least the made-to-measure ones, but those whiskey-colored slip-ons midway down the page, the ones with the single scallop in the cap-toe....I could just cry from longing. As you rise in the ranks, you absolutely must spend some of your filthy lucre patronizing Japanese shoemakers, if only so that we may all live by proxy.
posted by Frowner at 1:05 PM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Spanish language version of HALT (hungry, angry...   |   What's my best option for streaming tomorrow's... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.