Three decades ago I went to work as a stock boy in the men’s shoe department at Nordstrom after receiving my certificate in shipping and receiving. It wasn’t my first choice and little did I know how it would shape and change my life.
Shoe salesmen have a unique culture unto themselves. Known as “Shoe Dawgs,” they have the uncanny ability to size up a customer within minutes. There’s no such thing as a "browser" in the mind of a shoe dawg and everybody who enters their coveted department wants to buy a new pair of shoes.
One of my first lessons was, no two pair shoes are created equal. This is one industry in which you truly get what you pay for. If you go cheap, you’ll get cheap shoes. If you want quality, drop a little cash and the reward will pay off in the long run, believe me. A well-made pair can last a decade and that’s not stretching it.
Shoes should not be an afterthought and people will notice the quality you are wearing. They reflect your personality as well as your status and values. If you are applying at the corporate level, your shoes should reflect your ambition. The type of shoes you wear could be the difference between the mailroom and the boardroom – seriously.
While the current trend is athletic shoes with suits and slacks, it’s just that, a trend. I’m old school and believe dressing for the office should be different than dressing for a happy hour.
As I have pointed out before, the very first thing you need to be aware of is the type of leather your new shoes are made from. I always recommend full grain leather. This is leather that has been treated minimally and is pretty much the same as it was when it was taken from the cow. Full grain leather ages gracefully and develops a natural patina. You can expect 10+ years of wear from full grain leather with proper treatment and care. Cheaper leather and man-made materials will break down faster and lose shape after only a couple of months.
Leather soles are preferred over rubber as they are more durable and will last longer, especially if you pay extra and have heel taps and sole savers placed on your shoes.
How shoes are constructed will affect quality and price. An inexpensive pair will be cemented with glue which can come loose and fall apart. It is, for this reason, you’ll want to invest in shoes that have been stitched. Goodyear stitching is recommended. This is a process which securely connects the sole to the uppers resulting in shoes that are more breathable, durable and easier to resole.
Proper care is a crucial part of extending the life of your shoes. Polish and clean them on a regular basis. Use cedar wood shoe trees to absorb sweat and maintain the shape of your shoes. Get your $500 kicks resoled before the holes set it.
There are so many styles to choose from, the selection process can be grueling. However, for business, you will probably want to stick with the classics. Wingtips, cap toe, and derby are going to be most appropriate. If you work in tech, the rules are more casual and monks, loafers and Beatle boots will work. Artsy careers can get away with a lot and it’s not unusual to see two-tone wingtips, square toes, and super pointy toes. Unless you work on a ranch, no cowboy boots. Have at least two pairs in tan, brown or burgundy as these are the colors you will wear more often than black. Black is reserved for black slack – not navy or grey.
Brands you should look for are Allen Edmonds, Johnston & Murphy and Cole Haan. Avoid Rockports, Stacey Adams and Kenneth Cole – while they will look good initially, they are poorly made. If you have $1,500 to burn, Ferragamo or Magnanni are going to last you the longest and might even get you that promotion.