Dress Shoes: Professional / Office / Special Occasion
Sources: Styleforum, Dappered.com
These brands (and some noted models) are some of the best values in the Men’s shoes world. While the more expensive Horween shoes are beautiful and great quality, it probably does not warrant the premium (there are diminished returns, especially when jumping from $500 American Shell Cordovans to $1000+ European made shoes). Horween may be better suited for leathers you actually touch and won’t get worn out (such as “Leather Bags and Wallets“).
Best Budget Dress Shoes $200-$300
Meermin from [Meermin.es] (Great Oak Antique Oxford, slightly more expensive than Jack Erwin but worth it, only Japanese Cordovan so choose Carmina over the high level Meermin Maestro models, Great Oxford in Oak Antique color. Better quality than Ed et Al and better value than Markowski). Even though Meermin is constructed in China and only finished in Spain, it seems to have consensus as the best value. Source: Flanderian at Askaboutandyclothes. Carmina is a related brand made all in Spain but at least $100 more
Jack Erwin from [JackErwin.com] (Great Professional Loafer – Abe)
Septieme Largeur from [SeptiemeLargeur.fr] (Great Professional Loafer – Miro)
Alden from [AldenShop, TheShoeMart] (Great Longwings – more color options than the Septième Largeur Longwings, Also Ravello Wingtip Blucher in Whiskey color)
Best Value Mid-Level $400-$500
Carmina (also have Horween Cordovan) Best value expensive brand, better than Allen Edmonds and Alden. Buy from [Epaulet]. Great Value for Horween, definitely better than Meermin and Septieme Largeur. Loake is also another great brand substitute for Carmina in this price/quality range.
Best Absolute Premium $1k (Diminishing returns for the money)
Edward Green (Horween Shell Cordovan, better fitting than John Lobb) from [EdwardGreen.com]. Another substitute in this price/quality range is Crockett and Jones (better than Allen Edmonds and Loake and Alden but not as great as Edward Green)
Don’t Get: Not great – Cole Haan (ie Glen Chukka), Johnston & Murphy, Florsheim, Clark’s (ie beeswax Desert Boots / Chukkas, still comfortable but not as well made as before, Desert Boots are bulky), Kenneth Cole, Russell & Bromley, Steve Madden, Crockett & Jones (aka C&J, ie Drummonds, cordovan, getting expensive close to Edward Green prices albeit not shell cordovan prices), Beckett Simonon and John Doe (cheap like Jack Erwin but not as great), R. M. Williams (Australian, ie Macquarie, order from bootsonline, not enough reviews), Polo Ralph Lauren (PRL) Darlton (great but expensive)
Style Tips: Dress Shoe Style Guide
Semi-Formal (More Casual) – More brogueing (punchhole decorations) is less formal. Wingtip (should pair with jeans, but sometimes with a suit), Longwing (also less formal like Wingtip / more flashy, so get a color other than black to showcase the designs), Derby/Blucher (wider and overtop lacing, less formal than Oxford), Monkstrap (straps instead of laces, is in the middle of formality between Derby and Oxford)
Most Formal / Professional – More Plain (less brogued), Straight Black Captoe Oxford (the classic for Englishmen Business Attire, but Punchtoe is also formal)
Out of style – Wide Squared or Wide Rectangled toe
Most Durable Workboot ~$450
White’s Semi-Dress or Smoke Jumper [Amazon], or Baker’s Custom White’s Bounty Hunter. Whites are superb, heavy duty and re-buildable. Custom made so built for your foot for perfect comfort. Semi-Dress is the shorter boot, and Bounty Hunter is the Smoke Jumper boot made on a Semi-Dress last (in other words, a taller Semi-Dress). Pick only soles similar to Commando / Lugged sole for more grip (the classic workboot sole). Baker’s Custom Nick’s is another similar great custom workboot brand.
Best Fashion Boots:
My favorite – Meermin Copper Antique Calf from [Meermin.es] – More unique with the brogued design.
Red Wing Beckman (new name for Gentleman Traveller — GT) $340 [Amazon]. Goes well with any outfit, but go for the Moc-Toe, as the regular Beckman’s toe is bulbous and un-stylish. Iron Ranger [Amazon] is another popular style, but more workboot looking. More comfortable and better style than Danner’s.
Thorogood Boots $160 [Amazon] – good over Red Wings only if your budget is limited, don’t like the white soles
Alden Indy Boots $522 [AldenShop] – less of a workboot, more fashion than the Red Wing and Whites, softer/smoother ride (absorb more shock) and softer leather. The 405 was the model Harrison Ford wore in Indiana Jones, but the model evolved over the years. 403 looks a little better. They offer shell Cordovan (the very best leather). Better design and comfort than Allen Edmonds. OR Alden Ravello Wingtip Boots (even though is brogued, I think it still looks more classy than the above options and also can be casual)
Jack Erwin ie Carter Wingtip (Sullivan Collection) $220 from [JackErwin.com] Great value and good quality. Might not hold up as well as the three “best choices”, but it is my personal favorite for its style (not as brogued out as the Alden Ravello Wingtip).
Don’t get: Timberland (less comfortable, even Pro model), (not sturdy) Caterpillar and Keen and Bates and Sears and Wolverine (ie 1000 mile, might be good if you prefer the look but buy the ones where the sole is stitched to the leather instead of the glued that fails pretty quickly, still Red Wing has better QC) and Dun Laps, Belleville (not as good as Danner’s), Meindl (heavy/clunky), Wescoboots (great quality and repair policy but are workboots), Frye, Dr Martens (Doc Martens) even if made in England (Whites are better), Allen Edmonds (good choice if you have wide feet, as they also offer such sizes, models Dalton / Leeds in oxblood look great but Alden is slightly better), British brands: Church’s (overpriced fashion label after Prada bought them, cordovan), Edward Green ($1k+, cordovan), Lobb ($1k+, cordovan), Cheaney ($1k+, cordovan), Gaziano & Girling, St. Crispin’s, Crockett & Jones (C&J, ie Drummonds, cordovan), Laszlo Vass (Hungarian, $1k+, cordovan), Carmina (Spain, for boots Alden has better styles, but Carmina is best for dress shoes below)
Factory Seconds – some brands’ factory seconds are good but some are too highly defective and worse quality
Best Western Boots
Premium: Lucchese ($1k) – Don’t get the 2000 line, only the classic
For Boot / Leather Shoe Treatment:
Boot Preservative / Conditioner: Conditioners reinvigorates leather with fats and oils, preventing it from drying out or cracking and heightening its water resistance. Some include wax, like polishers have, which shines (best for dress shoes and not casual). If you don’t go into severe weather, you don’t need the weatherpoof dressing above, only needed is (and good scientific evidence defends it) Coconut Oil ie Nutiva [Amazon]. It’s better and cheaper (and VSC – DaLuca Venetian Shoe Cream – is just a good polisher, not a good conditioner, even though Nick Horween recommends it). Put this first before the Weatherproof Dressing below. Don’t use: Mink oil, Leather cleaners (do damage so only use when necessary), Neatsfoot Oil is also not necessary, Saphir Renovateur is too expensive and not great
Weatherproof Dressing: Pecard Weatherproof Dressing [Amazon] is the best (similar to Montana Pitch Blend). Waterproofers helps fix and hide scuffs and scratches (conditions) and adds more water resistance at the same time. Better than Sno-Seal and Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Leather Preservative. If you’re under a budget, use Beeswax.
Shoe Trees: Woodlore Adjustable Mens Cedar Large Shoe Trees [Amazon] (maintain the shape of your shoes and draw out inner moisture)
Best Casual Shoes: Loafers, Sneakers, Boat Shoes
Best Casual Sneakers
White Canvas Sneakers ie the classic PF Flyers Basic Low Top Sneakers [Amazon]
Best Boat Shoes
Sperry’s are the classic brand, ie Light Brown, Tan or Brown (usually worn without socks)
For a more grown-up Boat Shoe, Blucher Moc (aka Ranger Moc) (ie Brands LL Bean, Rancourt, Quoddy, Eastland) with styles: Navy upper with red brick sole, or the classic brown with yellowish laces
Jack Erwin $125
Best Exercise Sneakers, Best Barefoot Running Shoes
Expensive does not mean better Source
Don’t get: Not Durable – Salomon (tread wears out quickly), Teva, Merrell, Just Okay – Asics Gel Intensity 2, Nike Pegasus – not very light
Barefoot Options: Toed, Foot-Molding, Sneaker-Like – only for exercise (can’t fit orthotic insoles)
The “barefoot” shoes option is not an answer for everyone such as people with abnormalities of structure or people who impact the ground hard and require cushion, but they still may work great for active people who are light on their feet and only flat-footed (or only need orthotics for non-sport activities such as work, going out). While they reduce stress on the shins and knees, however, barefoot running (especially when your form is only being on the balls of your feet) shifts a lot of that stress to the ankles and calves. It is important to not land hard, especially solely on the balls of your feet. And work your way up, should only be doing barefoot at 10% of the distance you normally run at first; injuries can happen if pushing oneself too hard while wearing a new type of shoes.
Vibram Fivefingers (all-terrain/weather) [Amazon Search]. One-color leather Vibrams (brown or black) are classy ie KSO Trek / Speed LR / Flow (neoprene instead of leather) but they are discontinued. Some nice looking models include the Speed XC that has some yellow: Amazon. If you are okay with non-leather: [Non-Leather KSO Evo Men’s on Amazon, Non-Leather KSO Evo Women’s, Non-Leather Treksport Women’s, Non-Leather KSO Women’s]
If you’d like Toe Socks for the Vibrams (especially for Winter use), get Injinji [Amazon]
Barefoot Shoes (Tighter Feeling):
Vivobarefoot (can fit inserts in these, EVO better than Stealth and the One) [Amazon Search]. Merrell Flux Glove or Vapor Glove are great but not durable (Trail Glove and Flux Glove are too stiff)
Barefoot Shoes (More sneaker-like, less tight):
Adidas Adipure Gazelle [Amazon Search] (seem to be more durable than Nike Free, Merrell, and New Balance Minimus)
Secondary: New Balance Minimus [Amazon Search]
Don’t Get: Nike Free Run (more for looks than the New Balance Minimus which are more comfortable runners). Inov-8 Bare-X 180 – not great, Too Cushioned – Saucony, Mizuno, Altra, Skechers, Brooks, Pearl Izumi. Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 (made by Asics) – Bruce Lee’s shoes (yellow with black version) in his last movie Game of Death, very comfortable and perfect for light sporting, however they’re fashion sneakers rather than for actually running/athletics. Xero Shoes Minimalist Huarache Sandals $25 InvisibileShoe – Pretty much flip flops except specialized for running, supposedly very comfortable (they are custom fit) – durable, however, not very stylish, and may slide around too much for running, not much support, aren’t great when wet.
Best Sandals: For Light Hiking/Water
Best Sandals: Kiwis. Keens aren’t stylish
It is best to get versatile socks (socks that could double for both activity and dress). Best material is wool (only the cheap ones are itchy), as it is wicking (not only removes moisture but allows it to evaporate) instead of absorbent cotton (which is why those get smelly). Wool is also insulating when wet, while cotton is not. However, high end wool socks may not be machine dryable. Match your pant color, or go one shade darker, and use minimal patterns, ie Dark gray/blue/brown socks with denim/navy/khaki pants. Thin (never thick gym socks) black socks only with black or dark-gray pants. Never white, unless you’re exercising (or going Californian)
Cheap and Recommended – Dress socks at Costco, or Gold Toe [Amazon] (Gold Toe Windsor Wool is good and machine dry-able). Premium socks are usually not worth the value over these.
No-show socks (ie for boat shoes) – Journeys No Show $10/5pairs [Journeys], better value than Ninja Sox which are similar price for only 2 pairs and better quality than OSABASA, however they may slip and not be super comfortable. Another option is the Washable Insoles (Sockbed) so you don’t need to wear socks [Amazon]
Premium Dress socks – Merino wool is better than cotton (even fine for summer), and Falke is the best brand (better than Pantharella OTC and Viccel), ~$17/pair: [KJBeckett, SocksFox]
Other Retail Options: Costco, Banana Republic, Gap, J.Crew
Don’t get: William Abraham (expensive), VK Nagrani (expensive), Marcoliani?, Penance Hall?, Neiman Marcus, Bass, Brooks Bro’s ($19/pair)
Activity Socks Source
Balega Hidden Comfort [Amazon] (better than Thorlo Unisex Walking Crew)
Gold Toe [Amazon]
Hiking – Kirkland Signature Merino Wool [Amazon] – Better value than the Darn Tough (1/4 price) and almost as good
Not great – Smartwool, Point6