The One Shoe Every Lawyer Ought to Own

BlackShoes

In light of yesterday’s post about not dressing like a pompous ass, I feel like it’s time to revisit my recurring topic of men’s dress.

A while ago, someone asked me to write a post about the five shoes that every lawyer needs. But really, a lawyer needs only one style of shoe, which he ought to buy five times.

I’ve noted before that there’s an adage that a man’s shoes are the first thing a person notices when a man walks into a room. Let’s make sure that the image you convey is professional. Here’s an overview recap of the one professional shoe every lawyer ought to own.

The One Shoe checklist

The one shoe that you ought to own has no fancy broguing, wacky colors, pointy toes, or exotic leathers. Instead, it’s simple, straightforward, and professional. Here’s a checklist of the characteristics it ought to have:

  1. black;
  2. full-grain leather;
  3. captoe;
  4. lace up; and
  5. goodyear-welted.

Let’s run through them one by one.

Black

You’re a professional, and your professionism needs to be reflected in your wardrobe, shoes included. Black is not only the most formal color for a shoe, but also the most versatile. Whether your suit is navy, grey, charcoal, olive, or tan (the only suit colors you should be wearing) — it doesn’t matter, because they all work with black.

Furthermore, if you don’t like to spend more than 30 seconds thinking about what you want to wear in the morning, black’s the best shoe color option. And even if you do like spending more than 30 seconds on any given day thinking about what you ought to wear, black’s the best professional choice.

Full-grain leather

Make sure your one shoe is made with full-grain leather. Not top-grain, not corrected-grain, not patent. Full-grain.

Full grain leather is made from a complete hide that’s been tanned and dyed, but otherwise is minimally processed. It’s more expensive that other types of leathers because it’s not been altered in any way — whether sanding or buffing — and that showcases the unique qualities of the leather. Because the hide isn’t buffed or sanded, the leather retains its grain, and it’s stronger, more flexible, and more breathable the other types of leather. It’s used in higher quality shoes and furniture. You want to make sure your shoes are made of this type of leather.

Many cheaper shoes today are made with “corrected grain” leather. Corrected-grain leather is cheaper than full-grain leather because manufacturers sand off imperfections, then press a faux grain into it. Often, corrected-grain leather has a plastically sheen to it. It does not have the same durability as full-grain leather. It’s decent for a penny loafer or another less-formal shoe, but not for the one shoe.

Captoe

A captoe shoe is the most classic, conservative, business shoe you will find. It’s called a captoe because, somewhat obviously, there’s a leather cap on the toe. Keep it simple here, and avoid decorative stitching or broguing on the cap.

Lace up

A formal business shoe laces up. Slip-ons are for slippers. You’d not go to a business meeting in fuzzy bunny slippers, would you? Listen, before all you loafer lovers start giving me a hard time, I own loafers too, but they’re meant for office hours, not court.

Goodyear welted

A quality shoe is made with a welt. No, not like what you’re left with after you’re bit by a mosquito.

Rather, a welt is a strip of leather that’s stitched to the upper of a shoe that’s used at the attach point for the shoe’s sole. The leather outsole of the shoe is then attached to the shoe by being stitched to the welt. The benefit of a Goodyear welted shoe? It can be resoled several times. If you walk as much as I do, you’ll run through a shoe’s sole every several months. In fact, I have a pair of shoes I’ve resoled 3 times now, and they look almost good as new.

Instead of tossing a pair of shoes every time you start to get holes in the sole, you can save your money and be less wasteful by simply having them resoled. Cheap shoes manufacturers simply glue the sole on, which doesn’t last as long or lend itself to resoling.

Why is it called Goodyear? You know that guy who got the patent for vulcanized rubber? His son invented the method in 1869. Pretty talented family.

Give me a recommendation

The best shoe for your buck is the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue. It’s a timeless design, made in America, and an excellent value at $345.00. It has all the qualities that make an excellent one shoe.

Is it more than you might spend for a department store shoe made overseas? Definitely. But they’ll last you the rest of your legal career, and there’s something to be said for that. You’re better off buying this one shoe that 4-5 cheaper, poorly made pairs.

You don’t need fifty different styles of footwear. You need a serviceable, professional, durable shoe. You can’t go wrong with the black captoe.

Don’t forget to keep them polished.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mightyboybrian/6458875245/

  • Pat Stoneking

    Allen Edmonds Park Avenues are often less expensive during Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale.

  • Anon

    Currently park aves in black at the AE Factory sale for $200. Call their number and find out…

  • http://fpbankruptcylaw.com/ Frank Pipitone

    I’m as cheap as they come and I refuse new shoes until my old ones are no longer “operational.” I will never pay more than $100 for a pair.

    Also, I am a firm believer in brown shoes for every occasion.

    With that said, this article has really got me thinking about shoes as an investment rather than an item of clothing. Hmmmm.

    • Leo Mulvihill

      Brown shoes are less formal than black. Black is business.

  • http://www.massrealestatelawblog.com Richard Vetstein

    Big fan of Clarks’ dress shoes with padded insole which can be a life saver for long court days on your feet. I’ve had 3 pairs of these: http://www.clarksusa.com/eng/product/newmann/26071729

  • Daniel Andoni

    This is a good article however I think it is incomplete, Allen Edmonds will not last a lifetime unless you take care of them. That means spend twenty bucks and get yourself some wooden cedar shoe horns. Also you must water seal your shoes once a year. Finally it doesn’t keeping them shined will also help to prevent scuffs and for us Northerners salt stains. I would reccomend rubbers when salt it present. Finally, when your not wearing them keep
    For the last ten years I have worn one of four pairs of shoes to court. Either black shoes, brown shoes, black boots or brown boots. Shoes May through November and Boots through the winter.

    • Leo Mulvihill

      1) Nothing lasts unless it’s taken care of.
      2) I think you mean shoe trees.
      3) Never water seal; that ruins the point of breathable full-grain leather. Conditioner and polish, though, are essential.

  • Kate Graham

    I guess the title was meant to read “The One Shoe Every Male Lawyer Ought to Own.” I’m a lawyer, but I don’t know what I’d do with these shoes. Perhaps use it to beat the cognitive bias out of other lawyers???

    • http://bradykrissesq.com Brady Kriss

      What would I do with a pair of men’s shoes?

    • Leo Mulvihill

      Kate: my column has been a men’s column since day 1, as I am neither cross-dresser nor drag queen — at least not while lawyering (though that might be a great marketing niche). There has been a women’s column on clothing as well, and I never through once to complain about the likewise non-gender neutral subject matter of each column.

      Why not submit a post to Sam about appropriate women’s shoes? Or you can keep complaining about cognitive bias — whichever you find more useful

      • Kate Graham

        My beef is not with your column, but with the headline, which presumes that “lawyers” = “male lawyers.”

        • Leo Mulvihill

          Since this is and has always been a column by and directed to only male lawyers, it was assumed and presumed.

          • bandito

            I beg to differ. Show me one example that gives any indication that this column is male only. What about all of your female contributors?

            • Leo Mulvihill

              Take a look at the clothing articles I’ve written. I think you’ll notice a trend. http://lawyerist.com/author/leomulvihill/

              • bandito

                Especially, “Simple Interview Dress for Men.” Not “every lawyer.” You specifically address men.

                Sorry Leo. I have to agree with Kate. You cannot say “Every Lawyer,” and assume/presume only men.

                • Groton ’74, Harvard ’78

                  Is it really that big of a deal?

  • njAtty

    I can’t agree that one pair of good shoes is sufficient as the only pair of dress shoes in a lawyer’s closet. The main reason for that is that if you only have one pair of shoes, you’re going to have to wear those same shoes every single day. Leather shoes don’t last long when they don’t have time to dry out between wearings. At a minimum, everybody needs two pairs of dress shoes, so you can alternate them every other day. Even so, good shoe trees are essential to making those shoes last.

    Additionally, I believe you’re doing the bar a disservice by advising that everyone only needs black shoes. True, black is more dressy, and the preferred color for evening functions, but black is also way overdone—for the simple reason that many guys stick with black because they’re not sophisticated enough to make anything else match. Many sartorial authorities firmly believe that brown shoes are more appropriate with a navy suit. Brown shoes also go great with some shades of gray. Sure, brown is less dressy, but who’s arguing in Supreme Court everyday?

    • Leo Mulvihill

      “I can’t agree that one pair of good shoes is sufficient as the only pair of dress shoes in a lawyer’s closet.”

      Agreed. But you could own 2-3 pairs of black captoes and be set for life.

      “Many sartorial authorities firmly believe that brown shoes are more appropriate with a navy suit.”

      Black is business. Black is more formal, period. Brown shoes are fine too, but they’re a step down in formality from black. I’m not aware of contrary authority on that point.