The Right Shade Of Brown Shoe

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Black shoes are easy. You can wear them with grey or navy suits (though personally I find navy with black to be a bit too police-uniformly), and no one will bat an eyelid. It’s no wonder, then, that they remain the footwear of choice for the besuited masses. But black shoes can also be a bit boring, and perhaps too severe for certain outfits and circumstances. Brown shoes, on the other hand, offer an almost limitless variety of shades and hues to play with. The Italians discovered this aeons ago; it’s about time the rest of us followed suit.

Finding the right kind of brown shoes to compliment your existing wardrobe is a both matter of personal taste and common sense. Generally speaking, the darker the shade of brown, the more versatile the shoes will be. Chocolate brown shoes, for example, can be worn with pretty much any colour suit apart from black and the very darkest shades of grey. For this reason, your first – and probably second – pair of brown shoes should be dark in shade.

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Brown shoes become trickier to pull off the lighter in shade they become, but I’m a long-standing fan of medium shades of brown with rich, ruddy hues to them. And provided the leather is of a good quality, medium brown shoes will, over time, develop a wonderful patina – just be sparing with the coloured shoe polish. I find that it’s better to stick with neutral unless I seriously need to cover up scuff-marks or scratches.

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I have something of a love-hate relationship with tan shoes. They always look great in shoe-shop windows, but I find that, when worn with navy suits especially, they can look like overripe banana skins. With lighter shades of clothing, however, tan shoes can look good. But if you’re a frequent wearer of light grey, khaki and/or light brown suits and trousers, you’ll get a fair amount of use from a pair.

Wet And Welted

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My last week or so has been a mess of snow, ice, rain, slush, and almost every form water can take on this planet. To say this has make footwear an issue is an understatement – stepping outside, one encounters slippery ice patches and ankle-deep puddles on the same block. So, I thought I would take a moment this week to talk about rough-weather footwear and the best options for keeping your dogs warm and dry.

The most obvious, and obtrusive, option is a vulcanized rubber boot, such as the classic Hunter Wellington. Not the most stylish if you’re within 50 miles of a metropolis, these really get the job done. Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in the first half of the nineteenth century, some speculate by accident, and within a few years it gave us the full rubber boot and Charles Macintosh’s eponymous raincoat.

Mr. Goodyear’s son, yet another Charles in our story, invented the Goodyear welt, which for our purposes is the necessary forerunner to the Goodyear Storm Welt. The regular welt, as I’m sure many of you already know, is a strip of leather between a shoe’s upper and sole, which allows the sole to be replaced indefinitely. Think of it like an anchor. The storm welt on the other hand, is a second band of leather stitched between the welt and outsole, but folded and stitched in the opposite direction from the first welt. Essentially this creates a sealed space between upper and outsole, instead of a crevasse. To my eye this looks best on country boots, in a beautifully-grained mahogany leather of an almost impossible thickness. If you need a storm welt, you should be wearing boots, not shoes. And for me, black shoes are all about looking sleek and polished, so forget it.

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Now there is a middle ground between these two options, which is my personal favorite – the Dainite sole. Forget commando or other rubber outsoles. This is the rubber sole to end all others. Thick, dense rubber, with a patented studded surface, the Dainite sole is made in England and has been since 1894. As long as your feet are solidly on the ground, they look almost as clean and formal as a leather sole, but without the rain-absorbing effect of the later once you step outside. I had a pair of boots with them that finally died, but while my current everyday winter boots have commandos, you can bet when I get them resoled I’ll be going Dainite or bust. Dry feet are a must.

The New Year List

I am a compulsive list maker. My latest is a quick note of those retailers I intend to visit and interviews that are still pending, and in some cases long overdue.

North Sea Clothing

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I highlighted independent British label North Sea Clothing back in March of last year. The label was founded by one man, Neil Starr, with one aim: recreate the classic pre-war Royal Navy issue Submariner Jumper. Since then one can only assume things have gone well because North Sea Clothing has since produced the equally solid and beautiful Expeditionary Jumper and has a Norwegian Submariner about to launch. Sadly I never got around to tracking down Neil Starr for that interview. Well, this is the year.

Tim Little

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Tim is another guy who I’ve never yet met, but whose work I’ve admired from afar. 2010 was an interesting year for Tim. Having sometime earlier established his own London based label, Tim Little Shoes, he was recruited to reinvigorate Northamptonshire shoe maker Grenson. And a highly successful bit of recruiting that turned out to be. Well, Tim has moved on quite considerably from there and last year bought the company and the factory. Finding out just what prompted this bold move and what he has in store for the company should make an interesting interview.

John Simons

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I’ll bet that John Simons needs little introduction for many UK readers of Mensflair. But for those unfamiliar with this name, John is the man responsible for introducing Ivy League clothing to the UK market (you can read more here). That may seem small beer at the back end of an Ivy resurgence that still shows little sign of fading; but John was importing famous American Ivy League brands back in the sixties. To many he is a legend. Sadly the lease on his last shop ran out and John announced he intended to retire. Well, proof that men of the cloth never retire, just before Christmas he opened a new shop and while he continues to import hard to get American labels he is also producing his own extensive range of authentic Ivy League inspired clothes, under the label J.Simons Apparel Company. There are some great looking pieces, but I’m yet to visit the shop or get my hands on some of his kit.

Archer Adams

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I’ve profiled Archer and his original rock and roll clothes here before. When I first discovered Archer the shop was just being kitted out and he was awaiting the first deliveries of stock. Since then it seems the shop is fully up and running, the shelves are stocked and he has brought forth some great pieces, including that elegantly simple raincoat I high lighted last time (not to mention the tie you saw me wearing in my recent Herring Shoes photo shoot. High time a paid the man a visit and checked out the full range of clothes.

It’s going to be another busy year. Still, should keep me out of trouble.

Notes from Rome Part 3

This post represents the last of my notes from Rome. Things which work well in one locality don’t always travel well to work in another – just ask anybody who’s brought back a pair of cowboy boots from the US. Nevertheless, they can get you thinking in the right direction.

Things to consider and lessons to learn:

Trainer Shoes

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I expected to see plenty of elegant slim welted Blake Stitched leather shoes when in Rome. Not a bit of it. It seems Italians know the limitations of Blake Stitched shoes for wet weather as well as the rest of us do. And so they pick entirely practical options with rubber soles. These came in two forms; by far the most popular is the trainer shoe – as pictured above. This half-breed footwear is one I’ve warmed to in recent years. More practical for lengthy periods of ankle work than straight shoes, but substantially more elegant than trainers and luggers. The other shoe type to be found was chukka boots, again with heavy duty Dainite Rubber soles. However, in each case the preferred material for the upper was suede, even in wet weather. Brave fellows.

Simple Colour Pallet

The prevalence of suede footwear fitted very well with the reserved colour pallet that most men exhibited; the suede being used to add texture and interest. Black, Navy and Beige – particularly in the trousering department were the colours adopted – not a lot of grey surprisingly.

Although entirely in keeping with the season, it’s not a colour pallet to excite the imagination. However, the clever mixing of texture within this limited colour range provided depth and interest. So a black shiny synthetic puffa jacket might be paired with beige moleskin jeans and brown or black suede trainer shoes. There is elegance in simplicity, and that is the fundamental lesson here.

They Know The Value of Scarves

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It seems curious that a peoples’ of the Mediterranean should show the greatest appreciation for scarves. The chap pictured above is typical of what I found and saw. Take a very simple colour pallet and use the scarf to add an additional note, breaking up the monotony and effectively providing your personal style cue.

Fur Collars

I’m a fairly open minded sort, but you’ll never convince me that what my wardrobe needs is the odd fur collar. But the Roman’s wore them prolifically and so they credit a mention at least.

Layering and The Appearance of Layering

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I’m a big fan of layering clothes, it’s almost an obsession. The Italians are masters at it, so it is not surprising that they’ve taken it to a different level. Whatever your size the one disadvantage of layering clothes is that, while you’re adding depth and texture you’re also adding bulk, which can thicken or straighten your silhouette. This is true no matter what size or shape you are.

The Italians have worked around this by creating jackets with zipped inlays (as demonstrated by the chap in the Photo, Adrian Holdsworth of London’s Volpe). This creates the illusion of layering without the bulk.

And there in a nutshell is my weekend in Rome – minus the hangovers.

Novelty Ties

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Recently, while wandering through a local department store , I noticed a table of post-holiday sale items. Novelty ties featuring Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus were piled indiscriminately on the table. It was a grim reminder that the excitement of the holidays had passed. It was also a reminder of how much I absolutely despise novelty ties.

Novelty ties, typically made of polyester, feature a variety of garish images including commercial products, pop culture icons, sports teams, cartoon characters, and holiday themes. For some reason Tobasco hot sauce seems to be a popular theme in the novelty tie milieu. Once, in a fit of novelty tie hatred, I wrote the following haiku:

Tobasco on silk.

Spilled hot sauce on an Hermès?

No. Worse. A theme tie.

I know. Terrible poetry. But you get the point.

Proponents of the novelty tie might argue that they are a fun way to show off your personality. But if you’ve got a solid personality, do you really need Bugs Bunny dangling from your neck? A man’s clothing should draw attention to his face where others can get a true sense of his personality. In opposition to this goal, a garish novelty tie draws all the attention to itself.

Novelty ties are also a jarring mix of the formal and informal. Neckties are typically worn with dress clothes. A tie that looks like a slice of bacon is just completely out of place. My tastes run more in the direction of a solid navy grenadine tie. When it comes to the novelty tie, I just don’t get it.