The Quest for the Most Versatile Shoe

Like many people that read this blog, one of my favorite pastimes is researching an item of clothing in search of the “perfect one” – the piece that will be the ultimate addition to my wardrobe. I do this in part because I try to keep my wardrobe relatively simple and utilitarian, but also because it’s much cheaper to read about nice clothing than it is to buy it. An example of this has been my quest to find the most versatile shoe out there – in part because I wanted to add it to my wardrobe, but also because I just enjoy the research and thought that goes along with it.

As I discussed in my “In-between shoe wardrobe” post, there are several factors that determine a shoe’s level of formality – material, color, shape, design, and so on. For maximum versatility a shoe should balance all of these factors, allowing it to be appropriate in the highest number of situations.

For me, I concluded that the most versatile shoe for my wardrobe was the Ralph Lauren “Marlow”, made by Crockett & Jones. The sticker price is quite high, but it can often be found on the secondary market for under $500 (which is still a lot of money, to be sure). That said, the versatility and quality of the shoe make the price (a little bit) easier to swallow.

So what makes these shoes so versatile? There are few factors:

Shape. The classic round 325 last by Crockett & Jones is a nice middle ground between sleek English oxford lasts and chunkier American styles like Alden’s Barrie. The double leather sole does add some heft, but not enough to make the shoes too chunky to wear with tailored clothing.

Material.  This is where these shoes really shine (pun slightly intended). The shoes are made of shell cordovan, which is tough and hard-wearing, but also has a rich, deep luster. The shoes are also the perfect shade of Hershey bar brown, which is hard to beat when it comes to versatility.

Style. The wingtip blucher is a great candidate for the title of “most versatile;” given the right last shape, the design has as a good mix of country and city (especially in a dark color like this).

So far I’ve worn these with outfits ranging from jeans and sweaters to blazers and trousers. I think they could even be worn with a suit, although they’d look most at home with a textured seasonal one over a slick, four-season worsted.

What’s the most versatile shoe in your wardrobe? What is your ideal pair?