June 9, 2014
The In-Between Wardrobe, Part II: Shoes
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.
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1. Understand what makes a shoe casual or formal. Finding a great in-between shoe is about finding balance; go too far in the formal or casual direction and they will lose their versatility. To gauge a shoe’s formal/informal balance, remember the following principles:
A smooth shine is more formal than texture. In other words, materials like suede, pebble grain, cordovan, and so forth are intrinsically less formal than plain calf leather.
A sleek toe is more formal than a round toe. A shoe’s last determines the shape of a shoe; dressier options will have slimmer profiles or chiseled toes, while others will be rounder and follow the natural shape of a foot more closely. Compare this to this, for example. 
A leather sole is more formal than a rubber (or other synthetic) sole. Each type of sole has its own benefits and disadvantages, but a thin leather sole will appear more formal than a thicker double leather sole, and that will be more formal than a chunky rubber one. 
A dark color is more formal than a light color. Pretty self-explanatory.
Fewer seams are more formal than more seams. Compare a wholecut to a captoe, for instance. 
No brogueing is more formal than brogueing.
Closed lacing is more formal than open lacing. More on that in a minute.
2. Understand what an in-between shoe is not. I’m hesitating writing these because they are not hard-and-fast rules and can all be broken effectively; nonetheless, it’s easiest to avoid shoes with these characteristics if you’re looking for maximum versatility.
With that said, an in-between shoe is not:
Closed laced. Closed lacing is one of the defining characteristics of oxford/balmoral shoes. Shoes with closed lacing are on the most formal tier and don’t look as correct with more casual clothing; they’re great for suits and can be worn with sportcoats, but an open-laced shoe will be more versatile. Don’t be the guy wearing sleek captoe oxfords with denim.
Aggressively shaped. In-between shoes should have rounded toes because a strong point or chisel will evoke a formality that is incongruent with in-between clothing (and they also look best on closed laced shoes). Square-toed shoes are best avoided altogether.
Black. If you’re just beginning then it’s probably best to save the black shoes for formal designs. There is a wide spectrum of browns, tans, and burgundies that look great on in-between shoes. While we’re at it, save the navy, green, and red for later too (if you get them at all).
3. Pick your style. So what designs make great in-between shoes? I’d say that there are four main categories, although options exist outside of these. They all can be found in a myriad of materials, shapes, and styles, so take some time finding what you like. 
Bluchers/Derbys: These are characterized by their open lacing pattern. This family includes variations of longwings, shortwings, plain toe bluchers, and captoes, to name a few. 
Boots: Many boots come in styles similar to bluchers - wingtips, captoes, etc - but there are also some new shapes introduced. For instance, chukka boots are one of the most versatile shoe styles out there, in my opinion. 
Loafers: there are many of styles and configurations to choose from, but the most popular are penny loafers and tassel loafers. I wrote an article on these here. 
Monksraps: Single and double monks can make great in-between shoes because their buckle configuration increases the casual appearance of an otherwise formal shoe. I’ve mentioned my opinion of double monks before, but I won’t deny that they are cool shoes. 
4. Save up and buy something nice. Well-made shoes are expensive; it’s just an unfortunate truth. There is a huge range of prices, but none of them are cheap. If you’re comfortable going secondhand, ebay and thrift stores can be a great option. The list below covers some of my favorite makers, although there are plenty more. 
 “Accessible” ($300 and under at MSRP): Loake (1880 line), Meermin Classic line, Jack Erwin, Markowski, Ed Et Al, Allen Edmonds (on sale/factory seconds), Rancourt
Expensive ($300-$800 at MSRP): Crockett & Jones, Alden, Carmina, Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn (most made by Alfred Sargent), Peal & Co. for Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren
Look but don’t touch: John Lobb, Edward Green, Vass, Gaziano Girling, St. Crispin
Shoutout to jacobbockelmann for letting me photograph his grail shoe collection for this post; few people understand the in-between wardrobe as well as he does so follow his blog for continued reading on that topic.
EDIT: for those that want to know the shoes in the picture above (L to R):
Top: Vass, Charles Tyrwhitt, Alden, Allen Edmonds, Alden
Bottom: Carmina, Ralph Lauren, Alden, Alden, Peal & Co. for BB

The In-Between Wardrobe, Part II: Shoes

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.

Read More

March 17, 2014
Loafers for Spring and Summer
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.
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Of course, buying high quality footwear is a worthwhile but expensive endeavour; if these prices are higher than your budget allows I highly suggest combing ebay for the models below. As long as you know your size well it can be a great place to stock up on well-made shoes for a reasonable price.
Alden: Nobody makes American loafers better than Alden (and the price reflects that, unfortunately). Noteworthy loafer models: cordovan tassel, calf tassel, suede tassel, cordovan penny, unlined suede and calf penny. If you’re in the Bay Area I’d highly recommend stopping by the Alden store in San Francisco, whether you’re in the market to buy or not.
Allen Edmonds: AE makes a wide range of loafers, but they are not all made to the same standard of quality (and some are much more attractive than…others). Here are their classic models: “Grayson” tassel in calf and cordovan, “Patriot” classic penny in calf, suede, and cordovan, and “Randolph” full-strap penny loafers in calf and cordovan. The price for AE calf shoes is significantly cheaper than Alden, whereas their shell is comparable in price. However, AE will hold regular sales when Alden does not.
Ralph Lauren: There are a few noteworthy shoes from RL, the most impressive of which are the “Marlow” penny and tassel cordovan loafers. These are part of a wider collection made exclusively for RL by Crockett & Jones. They are made out an exceptionally beautiful deep brown shade of Horween cordovan that can not be found on any other shoes (that I am aware of). They are incredibly expensive, but can usually be had for a (still incredibly expensive) price of $500-600 during seasonal sales. RL also carries loafers made by Allen Edmonds, but it’s usually worth going directly to AE unless these pairs are on deep discount (which happens occasionally).
Brooks Brothers: Like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers has a few classic models made by high-end shoemakers that can sometimes be bought at good prices during sales. Their cordovan tassel and unlined penny are made by Alden, and are sometimes included in the 30% off corporate discount sales (see here; next one is on 3/20/14). They also carry these handsome calf penny loafers made by C&J; they’re the ones in the photo above. Brooks Brothers has many more models but a good portion of them are unattractive or not of good quality.
Carmina: This Spanish shoemaker has a wildcard option: the extremely popular string tie loafer. It may not have the historical significance of the penny and tassel, but has the same casual elegance. They also have more traditional models like this one.
Meermin: This blogger favorite is easier on the wallet and has many tassel and penny loafers in a variety of colors and materials. I prefer the styling of Meermin’s tassel loafers over the penny, but both are a good buy at about $225.
Jack Erwin: Another wallet-friendly option is Jack Erwin, a young company offering simple shoes for under $200 (free shipping and returns included). I have no experience with them, but their penny loafer could be a good option for the price. Some notes - the shoe is Blake welted and features a slightly sleeker last when compared to the sturdier and rounder goodyear-welted shoes featured above. This is not a bad thing, just a difference in construction and styling. The shoe does look a bit more “Continental” because of this, but is still simple enough to be a versatile choice.
There you have it - any of these options will keep your feet handsome and happy in the warm months ahead (whether you wear socks or not is completely up to you). If you know of another model that should be mentioned, please let me know in the comments below!

Loafers for Spring and Summer

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.

Read More

November 5, 2013
It’s (kind of) on Sale: Carmina Shoes
Carmina, the small Spanish shoe company that has been making big waves in the menswear world, has risen to prominence in an impressive fashion over the past few years. In a landscape dominated by England and Italy, Carmina has shown that Spain is a major contender in the world of fine footwear, and did so by creating beautiful lasts and using extremely handsome leathers. There was a time that Carmina shoes were described as “undervalued” and “the next big thing,” but that honeymoon period has inevitably passed, as we have seen Carmina prices slowly rise in parallel with their popularity.
The Armoury is quite possibly the most celebrated vendor of Carmina shoes, and their stock is exceptional. Their selection starts at around $550, excluding shipping.  Epaulet is the biggest stateside vendor; they have a unique collection of shoes and are known for their made-to-order programs. Their stock starts at around $550 as well, and includes shipping in the US.
There are several other vendors available, but one that is often overlooked is the actual Carmina website. Prices there are generally a bit lower, but the stock is somewhat miscellaneous and the product photos are not nearly as majestic as the other options, and fail to do the shoes justice. Compare the photo above with this one (or this with this) and you’ll see what I mean.
However, it is worth noting that the Carmina e-store is offering free worldwide shipping until December 31st (on orders over 250 euros, which shouldn’t be difficult to meet). This is a savings of about $70 for US customers. Not huge, but definitely noteworthy. Also note that non-EU countries can deduct VAT, which divides the list price by 1.21.
There are a few things to note about this sale. First, the dollar is currently getting dominated by the euro, which takes a bit of the sting out of the discount. Nonetheless, there is still a comfortable net savings. Second, shoe returns are challenging and expensive, so if you don’t know your size then it is important to do your homework and understand that there will be some risk involved. Lastly, it is my understanding that not all available models are shown on the website, and that the free shipping discount will be applied to other available stock as well. All inquiries can be made to Betty (betty@carminashoemaker.com), the lovely lady that deals with more menswear nerds than most people face in a lifetime.
Some personal favorites of mine: the celebrated Inca last double monks (~$445), the popular string tassel suede loafers (~$360), and the suede balmoral boot shown above (~$500). There are also lots of great cordovan options as well. None of these are cheap by any means, but the prices are about as low a price as I’ve seen, at least for those of us who don’t live near one of their stores.
(photo via)

It’s (kind of) on Sale: Carmina Shoes

Carmina, the small Spanish shoe company that has been making big waves in the menswear world, has risen to prominence in an impressive fashion over the past few years. In a landscape dominated by England and Italy, Carmina has shown that Spain is a major contender in the world of fine footwear, and did so by creating beautiful lasts and using extremely handsome leathers. There was a time that Carmina shoes were described as “undervalued” and “the next big thing,” but that honeymoon period has inevitably passed, as we have seen Carmina prices slowly rise in parallel with their popularity.

The Armoury is quite possibly the most celebrated vendor of Carmina shoes, and their stock is exceptional. Their selection starts at around $550, excluding shipping.  Epaulet is the biggest stateside vendor; they have a unique collection of shoes and are known for their made-to-order programs. Their stock starts at around $550 as well, and includes shipping in the US.

There are several other vendors available, but one that is often overlooked is the actual Carmina website. Prices there are generally a bit lower, but the stock is somewhat miscellaneous and the product photos are not nearly as majestic as the other options, and fail to do the shoes justice. Compare the photo above with this one (or this with this) and you’ll see what I mean.

However, it is worth noting that the Carmina e-store is offering free worldwide shipping until December 31st (on orders over 250 euros, which shouldn’t be difficult to meet). This is a savings of about $70 for US customers. Not huge, but definitely noteworthy. Also note that non-EU countries can deduct VAT, which divides the list price by 1.21.

There are a few things to note about this sale. First, the dollar is currently getting dominated by the euro, which takes a bit of the sting out of the discount. Nonetheless, there is still a comfortable net savings. Second, shoe returns are challenging and expensive, so if you don’t know your size then it is important to do your homework and understand that there will be some risk involved. Lastly, it is my understanding that not all available models are shown on the website, and that the free shipping discount will be applied to other available stock as well. All inquiries can be made to Betty (betty@carminashoemaker.com), the lovely lady that deals with more menswear nerds than most people face in a lifetime.

Some personal favorites of mine: the celebrated Inca last double monks (~$445), the popular string tassel suede loafers (~$360), and the suede balmoral boot shown above (~$500). There are also lots of great cordovan options as well. None of these are cheap by any means, but the prices are about as low a price as I’ve seen, at least for those of us who don’t live near one of their stores.

(photo via)

February 5, 2013

Business Casual Basics, Part III: Shoes

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.

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