There are quite a few clothing stores in downtown San Francisco. Some are common and approachable, like Uniqlo and Macy’s, while others like Nieman Marcus and Wilkes Bashford are only for the true ballers among us. Of course, it should come as no surprise that my favorite store is neither of these things - it is small, unassuming, and focused on doing just one thing but doing it well. It’s something surprisingly unique to the Bay Area, too - the Alden Shop of San Francisco.
I know what you’re thinking: “I thought Alden was a Massachusetts brand! It says ‘New England’ right there in the photo!” Well, you’re not wrong, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Alden shoes are indeed made in New England, and they’re sold at high-end retailers all over the world. What makes the San Francisco shop unique is that it is one of only two stores that is directly affiliated with the factory (the other one is in Washington, D.C.). For that reason, it is the biggest - and best - collection of Alden shoes anywhere.
The “In-Between Wardrobe” is a series of articles aimed at helping men find items that will play a versatile role in their closet. It is written with the idea that most men don’t wear extremely formal or casual clothing on a regular basis; they usually need items that are somewhere in the middle. See all articles in the series here.
Shoes are a critical element of in-between dressing, and are one area that is constantly being messed up by men that don’t know any better. The core idea behind finding an in-between shoe is balancing casual and formal features to achieve something that can be worn with a large variety of clothes.
First, it is important to understand what makes a shoe a “good” shoe and how to look for high-quality materials and construction in footwear. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, read my previous post on that topic. Once you’re on board with that, join in below.
After recently writing an article on my favorite spring items, I decided to delve in to a few specific pieces that are worthy of their own conversation. One of these items is the loafer, which can be an attractive and versatile addition to any shoe wardrobe. I generally wear loafers as a replacement for sneakers, when I have a casual outfit that I want to polish up a bit. Loafers can certainly be worn with more formal clothes, but I like them best with heavily worn chinos or denim and button-down collar shirts.
My preferred loafer is of American or English descent; I enjoy the comfortable and casual sensibility that they evoke, and I am not particularly fond of the more aggressively styled Italian loafers I see out there. Although there are many derivations of loafers on the market these days, I will focus on tassel and penny varieties (both of which have a rich history in the US). I feel that the penny loafer is easier to wear (and therefore a better first purchase), but tassels are certainly having a moment right now and have more than earned their reputation as a “classic” over the years. The list below highlights the best manufacturers and models for those looking to add to their footwear selection this Spring.
It’s been difficult for me to start thinking about fall because San Francisco is just now leaving its second winter (“Fogust”) and things are finally getting warm here. Nonetheless, most of us are entering a period of sartorial transition by slowly trading in linens and loafers for tweed and suede. To me, Autumn is about casual comfort. Items that are approachable, comfortable, and reflect the changing temperature end up getting the most use from me.
I will refrain from saying that this is a list of “essentials”; what you might need depends very much on how you like to dress, where you live, and the formality of your lifestyle. That being said, here are some of my favorite items for the coming months.
Previously: Part I, Part II. This is the third installment for my fellow white collar ballers.
If you’ve spent any time learning about men’s clothing (be it from family, friends, or the internet) you’ve probably heard a disproportional amount of talk about shoes. Shoes are a huge part of what dressing well is about (both in cost and importance), even though they take up a fairly small amount of space on your body. It can’t be stressed enough; shoes are often what separate the men from the boys, and business casual workplaces are notorious for bad shoe choices. A little bit of knowledge here will go a long way. Shoes are also the foundation of your outfit in stylistic and structural terms; if you buy well and take care of your purchases they will in turn keep you comfortable and stylish for decades.
1. Save up some money.
This one has the potential to get expensive. Accept the fact that high-quality shoes will be expensive if bought new, and can even be pricey when bought secondhand. Thrifting can be a good option here as well.
2. Learn the differences between “real shoes” and bad shoes.
High-quality shoes are expensive for many reasons, but the biggest two are material quality and construction. These qualities are much more important with shoes than they are in a shirt or pair of pants because shoes need to stand up to a tremendous amount of wear. Read Kiyoshi’s post and Put This On’s article to get a sense for what I’m talking about. If you buy a high-quality welted shoe that fits well and is well taken care of it will last for decades. Trust me.
Need some help finding out which brands can be trusted for high quality shoes and which can’t? I’ve included a short list at the bottom of this post, but my rule of thumb (toe?) is this: don’t buy shoes from any manufacturer that can’t tell you what last their shoes are made on. Any respectable shoe maker will have products on a range of last choices and will be able to tell you about them.
3. Understand the different styles and their applications.
Ready for some shoe terminology? This should be enough to get you started.