Even veterans of English weather can now agree that it’s summer. Life may not be as easy as one would like, nor the cotton high, but it’s time for gentlemen to pay attention to the climate and, little by little, dress appropriately. But too many men think too little about shoes.
Sometimes they’re just practical foot coverings, something to save our soles, but they deserve more consideration than that, both practically and aesthetically. This is an area in which women are far, far ahead of us. Having been on the loose on the streets not only of London but also of Dublin for the past few weeks, I have soaked up the sights and have harsh words for you all.
I assume at this point that the readers of this column are at least open to my sweet advice. So I’ll start with the strictest and most absolute advice: no sneakers. I’m deaf to the inevitable refrain of “They’re so comfortable!” If that was the only consideration, if not the main one, we’d all be wearing belted kaftans and Crocs. Workout shoes are (dare I say) fine for sporting activities, but in everyday life they’re ugly, often dirty, and actually a La-Z-Boy for your feet.
I accept that many of you will want to obey the summer heat more than I do. The mercury has to be above 30°C before I get rid of a jacket, and shorts are reserved for the most informal occasions. If you’re as stubborn as I am, you can rely largely on the traditional assortment of oxfords and Oxfords (although I’d also add that the co-responsor’s brown and white shoes are a dandy touch in this weather : Shipton and Heneage have a magnificent example).
Beyond this circumscribed selection, the traditional bourgeois solution is the deck shoe or boat shoe. It’s a cliché, I’ll admit, and you’ll have to endure a few light banter, but clichés exist for a reason: deck shoes are comfortable, practical, and walk just the right line between informality and anarchy. They’re respectable enough to wear with chinos and a blazer, if you must, but will be equally at home with shorts and a polo shirt. Russell and Bromley, Oliver Sweeney and, again, Shipton and Heneage will provide.
If you want an even more casual option, the espadrille is your friend. Worn correctly, for example with a linen shirt and trousers, these Pyrenean shoes are comfortable and easy to put on) but have enough Mediterranean glamor that you can think of yourself as the type to rub shoulders with Dickie Greenleaf and Tom Ripley in a seaside resort Italian, sipping a negroni and watching the yachts go by. Aurélien has sleek suede examples, while Hackett mixes the shape with the classic penny loafer to good effect.
And the sandals, I hear you cry? Go out.
A final word must be said on the issue of socks. Traditionally, socks with casual summer shoes have been a stereotypical British solecism, demonstrating our lack of sartorial sophistication. But you have to be practical. You can’t expect to get your hooves stuck unprotected in a pair of leather shoes all day and pay no consequences.
As far as practicality goes, sports socks are the way to go (although I have a bias against “hidden” clothing: see also backless vests). If you wear long pants, however, there should be no absolute ban on traditional ankle socks. Make a virtue of a necessity and pull out your brightest pair to lend a touch of interest amid muted beige and sand notes.
In short, be reasonable. But if common sense were common, then columns like this wouldn’t exist. So I hope these few tips are helpful and that you stay smart, respectable, but comfortable as the temperature continues to rise.