Men Need Shoes Too
I see you. Looking down on me. Or rather, down at my shoes.
I know what you’re thinking. That they’re different than the ones I was wearing a little while ago. Which were different than the ones I had on this morning. Which were different than the ones I had on when I was walking the dog. And it’s not even noon.
But I don’t have a shoe problem. What I really have is an extraordinarily wide, wide spectrum of shoe solutions. Everyone says that there aren’t any rules any more. Really? Because the last time I arrived at a gala in my pajamas I left in a strait jacket. Not a very slimming look. But, you can read about that incident another time. The point I’m making is about shoes not pajamas, and it is this: maybe rules have eroded but that doesn’t mean that you can wear sneakers to work, or wear the same pair of shoes all day every day until you die a long lingering death of boredom. The problem of what shoes to wear has become a complex issue; there are now a zillion more shadings of what the really, truly, exactly right shoe is at any given moment. Perfectly polished wingtip? Aristocratically worn-in loafer? Studded, rhinestone-encrusted
Louboutin high-top? (I’m still trying to figure where to wear that one. Walking the dog?)
Besides, it’s not just that the rules have changed — the times have, too. The world of shoe collecting – or what a gentleman might call connoisseurship — may have once been the province of women seeking glamor and possibly height (see Bradshaw, Carrie), and then of novelty sneaker enthusiasts (see Z, Jay-), but today, I stand on the shoulders of these high-heeled giants. They have paved the way for men like me to come out loud and proud and well-shod and say it: I have a lot of shoes and I’m not ashamed.
So before you judge me, friend, you need to walk a mile in my shoes.
But before you do that, friend, let me figure out which pair. And that might take a minute. Look, if you’re going to walk a mile, which is not something people often do in one sitting these days, I don’t want you to walk all that way in shoes that haven’t even been broken in, because you’ll end up with blisters and you’ll judge me very unkindly. So my lovely, whisky-colored Alden wingtips are definitely out – they’re so new I won’t even wear them to the front door. That also goes for the featherweight Prada medallion-toed lace-ups I just got. It also goes for the Dolce & Gabbana pointy-toed snakeskin masterpieces, I bought them a few years ago, but I really haven’t worn them yet. I’m waiting for the right invitation. (To Cuba. In 1953.)
Plus, they’re really not so me, and if the whole point of you walking a mile in my shoes is that you want some that really are me, right? So that counts out these platonically perfect Chelsea boots, because while I love them and they go with pretty much everything (except I suppose Bermuda shorts – can you imagine?) I feel like they don’t really get at the essential cocktail of wisecracks, genes and pharmaceuticals that really defines me. They’re for those special occasions when I need to be modest.
So, let’s see. Yes, these Johnston & Murphy white bucks are comfortable and very me – or at least the me I want to be on Saturday evening at a cocktail party in the country – but against all odds I have actually kept them white so far, and that would probably change before you hit the mile marker. (Not to mention the trip back — the math of this walk a mile-in-my-shoes thing has always seemed a little fuzzy. Is it round trip? If not, how are you getting back? Do it involve cab fare? This metaphor is very unclear.)
Anyway, so that’s a no on the bucks. The Thom Browne black-and-white spectator wingtips are great – old-school snazzy to the core. But look at the soles. They have steel taps on them, which might drive you crazy before you reach the end of the block, and I would worry the whole time you were gone. And talk about worrying, there’s no way I could let you take my super-classic (as in pre-Mayflower-classic) hand-stitched Maine moccasins with the soft leather sole. They’re so fantastically comfortable it’s like wearing gloves on your feet. You can feel every pebble. A mile of concrete would ruin them. I’d let you drive a mile in them, but that would be cheating. (Plus, I’ve seen how you drive.)
Hiking boots? Okay, well….which ones? The spiffy caramel nubuck Danners with the red laces, or the battered brown leather Vasques with the black/yellow laces? They’re kind of heavy. I mean, I would really worry about you walking a mile in those with those spindly legs of yours! (Calm down, I am just kidding.)
Okay, maybe these Mark McNairy blue-and-ochre saddle shoes. They are nice and comfortable, and they could even use a scuff or two. They’re that perfect shoe for a Thursday night out – maybe even a spiffy Friday look. You know, crisp unwashed denim jeans, a nice dress shirt, and you’re good to go. But actually I really don’t think they go with what you are wearing. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you can pull these shoes off. I mean, I can barely pull them off — and I’m me!
Speaking of me, you really can’t get more me than these sandals – custom-made for me by legend Barbara Shaum. But the thing is that they’re so molded to my feet it’s almost a spiritual bond. Your feet would trample that bond. I don’t think you want that kind of brutality on your conscience.
Oh. These? The ones on my feet? My perfect espresso-brown loafers from Church’s that they don’t sell anymore? That I actually convinced them to go back to the factory and make one last pair. Yes, they are amazingly well broken in, so they’re the obvious choice, but honestly, I wear them so much, they’re like a part of me. I wouldn’t be able to last for ten minutes knowing that they’re out there cheating on me with someone else’s feet. And trust me, after you’ve walked a mile in those, are you really going to be able to trade them back for…. whatever you call those shoes you’ve got on? I didn’t know they still sold those.
Anyway, I can see where you are going. “This guy has a lot of shoes.” It’s true. I do have a lot of shoes. Maybe 30 pairs. Maybe even 40. (Who’s counting?) I have sneakers (Fluorescent Adidas running shoes, 1950s-classic Pro-Keds, Adidas Originals sprinting shoes (replicas of the ones used in ‘64 Olympics), Alejandro Ingelmo brown leather high-tops, and classic Tretorn tennis shoes. I have lace-ups — Alden long-wing brogues, Edward Green cap-toes, Bottega Veneta demi-chasses, and John Lobb monkstraps. I have slip-ons – from Gucci, Prada, Church’s, Tods and Quoddy Trail. I have boots – old cowboy boots, old motorcycle boots, vintage 1970s Gucci cowboy boots, LL Bean duck boots, Tods work boots, Red Wing work boots, and Prada Chelsea boots, ankle boots, calf boots, riding boots, and hiking boots. I have sandals – from Marni, Jil Sander, Fenestrier, Mephisto, and my favorite, handmade ones. But this isn’t frivolous. I actually need these shoes.
Look — intelligence is adaptation. The complexities of contemporary urban life require multiple solutions. Success today requires juggling many knives (I have about 25), spinning many plates (breakfast, dinner, midnight snack) and filling many shoes. (Don’t even get me started on hats – I once made an entire Halloween costume by pinning a wide variety of no less than 50 hats all over a shirt and pants so that they completely covered my body. When people said, “What are you?’ I said, “I wear many hats.”)
You’re still looking down.
Maybe you think that my plethora of beautiful shoes expresses some deep Freudian crisis brewing deep in my soles. Who’s to say? Maybe you are right. But once again, let me just say that before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes. The thing is — in order to actually do that—I’m afraid you’re going to have to get your own pair.