Leave Clownshoes for the Circus

This week, we visit with Leo and his partner Jordan after a particularly good month at the firm.

“Where did you get those?”

“What? These?” Jordan said, pointing down, “oh, well since we had such a good month, I decided to treat myself.”

Jordan reclined in his chair, feet up on his desk. Moments ago, I had walked into his office to ask about a file. But I was transfixed — there, on Jordan’s feet, was a pair of tan, square-toed loafers with a gold-bit and faux-snakeskin details.These were the worst shoes I’d ever seen.

“One man’s treasure is another man’s trash,” I responded.

“But these are designer!” he implored.

“Yeah, a designer who’s hired by the circus, maybe.”

“The salesman told me these were in!” he said, somewhat defeatedly.

“The salesman would do anything to get a sale. And those monstrosites look like below on a clown. You’re not a clown, you’re a lawyer. You need lawyer shoes.”

There’s an adage that a man’s shoes are the first thing one person notices when a man walks into a room. If this is true, you don’t want someone to think you somehow got lost on your way from the circus caravan and mistakenly stumbled into court.

If you want to cultivate a professional image, you need to have professional shoes. Here are some things to consider.

Don’t Be Cheap.

Check out a group of lawyers, and you’ll see many who’ve spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on custom shirts and suits, but appear to have neglected the same level of attention to buying quality footwear. This is to their detriment. Just like a good suit or quality shirt, shoes are an investment.

A good pair may last you your whole life. Bad shoes will ruin it.

Bad shoes are generally glued together, made with inferior corrected -grain leather, and are built to be disposable. Many  fashion brands make bad shoes. So while the salesperson might assure you their shoes are represent the latest trend in footwear, they’re probably selling you hideous garbage.

In fact, speaking of hideous garbage, I have a confession to make. A few months back, Josh Camson wrote an article here about The Most Versatile Men’s Outfit. And I made a snarky anonymous comment about these. I’m not proud of my anonymous snark, but the message is solid — those tan, slip on, glued, square-toed shoes are exactly what you want to avoid. (Sorry Josh. No hard feelings, right?).

Tie Those Shoes.

A real, grown-up pair of shoes will have laces. You know, like the kind your learned how to tie in kindergarten? Yeah, those. Grown-ups tie their shoes. You should too.

I can see the comments section now: “But what about loafers?” I like loafers. I own a pair. But one shouldn’t wear loafers with a suit. Loafers are casual shoes and a suit is not a casual outfit. Simple. You can wear loafers with a suit when you make partner, or when you’re dressed down in an odd coat and trousers. Until then, lace up.

Styles to Consider.

There are two main different styles of lace-up shoes: Balmorals and Bluchers. If you care to learn more, I’ve given you the links to their respective Wikipedia articles; I’m just going to give you the very basics.

Balmorals

Balmorals are also known as closed throat shoes. Because of the way that they are constructed, the lacing area of the shoe (the vamp), forms a V shape. It looks like this:

Blucher

The Blucher, or derby, is a more informal shoe. The lacing is “open throat,” meaning that the leather that holds the laces is a separate piece that is sewn to the shoe. It looks like this:

 

Balmorals verses Bluchers — Which Style Should I Wear?

Traditionally (in English circles), balmorals were the acceptable style to wear with suits, whereas bluchers were traditionally more appropriate for casual wear with a jacket or odd trousers. But these days, no one really cares.

What Color Should I Pick?

If you’re starting out and need a solid, formal workhorse shoe, you want black. Black is business. Black is conservative. Black is formal.

Some people will try to tell you that black footwear should not be worn with a navy suit. Those people are wrong. Black shoes go well with any court-appropriate suit color, and are in fact the best choice for formal business wear.

Brown is a less formal color, though still generally acceptable for daily wear. Burgundy is another less formal, though quintessentially American, choice. If you want to be safe, though, stick to black.

What Should I Look for When Buying Shoes?

Avoid  square toes.

Companies make square-toed shoes because it’s cheaper and easier than making a good rounded toe shoe. They pass it off as fashion, but it just makes your feet look like Frankenstein’s monster’s. Meanwhile,  the shoe companies laugh at the increased profit margins. Moreover, they are normally made of inferior leather and have rubber soles. Just say no. Besides, a slender shoe with a rounded toe creates the illusion of height by appearing to elongate your leg.

Look for leather soles on shoes.

While it’s not a perfect indicator of quality shoes, leather soles are an indication that a shoe is constructed a little better.

Avoid Shoes Made in China, India, or Brazil.

Moral qualms aside, shoes made in these countries are generally thrown together very poorly with inferior leather, shoddy finishes, glue, and poor craftsmanship. Fashion brands, for example Steve Madden, Kenneth Cole, or Banana Republic, make their shoes here to save money, not because they make good shoes.

What About Exotic Leathers like Snakeskin?

Can You Recommend a Solid Lawyer Shoe?

If you’re looking to graduate from clown shoes into footwear for grownups, your first real shoe should be a black balmoral captoe. And as I see it, the best, most solid example of this is the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue.

Allen Edmonds shoes are made in Wisconsin with quality leathers, and they’re Goodyear welted — which means that they can be resoled several times, instead of just thrown out once you’ve worn through the soles. Though they’re not cheap (they’ll cost you around $300.00), with some good care and polish, they’ll last you for years.

Keep those Shoes Looking New — Three Easy Tips.

Once you’ve made the investment, you want to help those shoes last. Here are three quick tips to keep them looking good.

A pair of new shoes with heel and toe taps installed, Courtesy Ask Andy About Clothes Forum.

  1. Taps. Before you wear them outside, take them to your cobbler and ask for heel and toe taps. These are small plastic bits that help prevent premature heel and toe wear. They’ll easily add a few months to the life to your soles.A leather-soled dress shoe with heel and toe taps.
  2. Shoes Trees. Yes, they’re essential. They help your shoes keep their shape and help them last a long time. Don’t skimp, get cedar trees.
  3. Leather Care. Finally, ensure that you polish and condition your shoes regularly.

There you have it, some dos and don’ts when it comes to buying real lawyer shoes. If you have other thoughts or questions, or you think this article was “truly hideous garbage,” let me know in the comments below.

And Josh, seriously toss those shoes.

(photo: Mens Shoes from Shutterstock)

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  • Okay, Jordan isn’t really this bad, is he?

  • “Burgundy is another less formal, though quintessentially American, choice. If you want to be safe, though, stick to black.”

    I agree with most of your advice, especially the parts about not wearing loafers, and that light brown and tan shoes should be avoided. But I’m less enthralled with the categorical statement above. I think that burgundy/cordovan or very dark brown shoes are perfectly acceptable—and not “less formal”—to wear with navy suits, and, in fact, show a sense of style.

    I know where your advice is coming from, though. It’s like the elementary-school teacher instructing her students never to start a sentence with And or But. If the teacher tells her students that they can use And or But at the beginning of a sentence, the result will be a mess of sentence fragments—the students simply won’t know when it’s appropriate to do so.

    The same thing goes for your general “no-brown-shoes-with-navy-suits” advice. If you were to tell your readers that it’s acceptable to wear brown shoes, and they decide to wear some hideous light tan shoes and a blue suit to court, you’ll be blamed. So I get it, it’s better to be safe.

    • Black is more formal than brown, as a rule.

      I own burgundy and brown shoes too, but black means business.

  • I don’t wear a suit to the office everyday. I typically only get dressed for clients and for court. So, I own one pair of quality shoes. They are a dark, grainy brown that almost look black.

    I wear these shoes with every suit I own, including black. At first I was uncomfortable with this, but I don’t think I will ever own black shoes again.

  • shg

    Some further details, if you’ll excuse me, Leo. After a day of shoe-wearing, you have five minutes from removing your shoes to putting in the shoe trees. The shoe leather remains soft and plable from the heat of your foot for only five minutes, after which the distortion of the day of wearing will be fixed in the shape of your show. Get the trees in the frigging shoes before the shoes cool down and stiffen up.

    Next, you have unusual shaped feet, or find off-the-rack shoes uncomfortable, there is a solution: bespoke shoes. The best come from London, where they will craft a “last” in the shape of your feet. Once done, it will be there forever and you can order new shoes as needed. They are expensive, but not too much more than a good pair of premade shoes. And it beats the hell out of foot pain and visits to the creepy foot doctor.

    Finally, for better or worse, older lawyers will judge you based upon your shoes. It’s how we were taught by our fathers, and despite all arguments to the contrary, we still do so. That said, fashionable shoes are a telltale sign of cluelessness, which will embolden your adversary, scare your co-counsel and make the judge think you require a stern lecture.

    True, there is no reason why your shoes should give rise to such misguided generalizations about you, but they do, even if you’re not Jordan. And yes, Jordan is that bad.

    • Your contributions are always welcome, shg.

    • Kathy B

      What are your favorite bespoke shoes? My husband has been ordering from J Adler because they use a cast of your foot.

  • JD

    AE Parks are can’t-miss, and every male lawyer should own one pair in black. Agreed.

    Can’t say I agree on “light brown,” though. Allen Edmonds probably sells more shoes in Walnut than in black, and with good reason: it looks fantastic out of the box and gets better with age. I have a pair of AE captoe bluchers (Clifton, I think) in walnut and they can dress down a navy suit, dress up a pair of jeans on casual Friday, and do everything in between. And the patina after two years and 50+ polishes is incredible. I don’t know how light is “light” in your book, but if you spend any time on the AAC forum, you’ll quickly find that Walnut is pretty well-regarded there.

    Same goes for “must have laces.” Depending on the style, a single monkstrap can be more formal than a laced blucher. A double monk can be even more so.

  • Cameron Parkhurst

    Take care of your shoes! Polish, new soles, heels, laces when needed. They will look good and fit well for years. Plus why spend good money on good shoes and not take care of them? A pair of poorly cared for expensive shoes look no better than a pair of inexpensive shoes.

  • Lindsey

    As a woman, I didn’t really think about after market taps (shoe repairs are for fixing heels and straps, of course), but now I think I might have to take my oxfords to a shoe repair place–female ones these days, no matter how expensive, always seem to be of lesser quality than their male shoe counterparts (I blame the hipsters for that).