There’s an old saying: "Invest in your shoes and your sheets because if you’re not in one, you’re in the other." While the finest Egyptian cotton bed linen might be a luxury beyond the reach of many, high-quality and, crucially, comfortable footwear should be viewed as a necessity. After all, you’ve only got one pair of feet, so it’s imperative that you take care of them.
To misquote George Orwell, not all shoes are created equal. They might, at a glance, look reasonably similar but there’s a huge chasm when it comes to the quality and comfort between the cheap and the not-so-cheap designer options. The former tend to rely on glue, rather than stitching and are typically manufactured with shoddy materials, such as low-grade leather. These shoes fill a niche, certainly, but are not long-term value pieces and are best avoided by anyone looking to build a serious wardrobe.
The following quintet of footwear styles should cover you for most occasions and will ensure you put your best foot forward.
Save the multi-detailed, pumped-up kicks with fluorescent stripes for the gym; and think twice about tricked-out high-tops. Opt, instead, for one of the countless variations on the all-white leather sneaker that are proliferating shops now and which are available in both high-street and high-end varieties.
A pair of pared-back, understated old-school kicks, such as Adidas Stan Smith or Converse Jack Purcell will make you out as particularly fashion-forward. And if you’re feeling brave, or simply fancy refreshing the looks, simply sub in a pair of coloured laces for a cheap yet effective makeover.
HOW TO WEAR THEM: Whether at the base of denims, chinos or cords, worn with a jeans-and-T-shirt combination or teamed with smart trousers and a blazer, virgin white trainers are one of the most versatile, not to mention comfortable, forms of men’s footwear.
HOW TO CARE FOR THEM: After unboxing your brand-new trainers, treat them to a few sprays of a stain and water repellent. A quality product won’t seal the pores of the leather, which means that it’s still breathable, but will give them a protective layer against everyday scuffs and stains.
An everyday eraser can work wonders on light marks. For heavy scuffmarks, however, try swabbing with nail-polish remover and then wiping the trainer clean.
Canvas trainers, meanwhile, require a little bit more TLC. Tempting as it may be to give them a quick 40-degree spin in the washing machine, the best way to clean canvas kicks is manually, with fabric shampoo and water. Even on a gentle cycle, the soles of your shoes can be irreparably damaged in a washing machine.
Less casual than a trainer but not as formal as, say an Oxford or wingtip, the casual office shoe is a particularly versatile form of footwear that merits a place in every man’s wardrobe.
The casual office shoe comes in many guises, most commonly a navy or tan suede brogue, a desert boot or, at the extreme end of casual, a driving shoe– what one you go for is simply a matter of taste.
If you work in a relaxed yet reasonably smart work environment or in a creative field, aim to have two pairs of these - ideally a lace-up and a slip-on for variety – and rotate them regularly to prolong their life.
HOW TO WEAR: Driving shoes, which are available in both leather and suede varieties, don’t exactly lend themselves to the winter elements but look great, nonetheless, teamed with slim-fit trousers and a shirt-and-blazer combo. For a more casual look, wear them with coloured chinos and a button-down shirt or polo tee.
In terms of colour and material, look for tan, beige or light brown varieties for maximal versatility. Alternatively, it’s hard to go wrong with a navy blue.
A good suede desert or chukka boot, meanwhile, which is not quite high-top and not quite low-top, is a wonderfully versatile option. From cords to jeans, chinos to moleskins, they go with everything.
HOW TO CARE FOR THEM: If you’re investing in a pair of suede shoes, make sure to treat them before you wear them with a protective suede spray, which will guard against the adverse effects of rain and mud.
If you’re really particular, a suede eraser (basically a block of crumbly rubber) and brush are also recommended. The former is used to eradicate small stains and blemishes, while the latter brings the nap (or fuzz) of the suede back to its original state.
If your choice of casual office footwear is leather, make sure to keep them gleaming. Regular polishing (and we’re talking the type of polish that comes from a tin, rather than out of a bottle) will prolong their looks and livelihood significantly. Ideally, look for a polish which is composed of natural ingredients such as beeswax or carnauba wax, which will nourish the leather, preventing it from getting dry, cracking, and losing its lustre.
Whether you’re a seasoned mountain-climber or a fashion-conscious man about town, there’s a style of boot on the market that is bound to appeal.
For something that will see you through a number of different occasions, think urban utility boots á la Timberland and Redwing. Styles like these lend themselves to dressing up or down and can be worn just as successfully with a smart casual look as a pair of favourite jeans.
Other covetable options include suede desert boots and, our recommendation, brown leather brogue boots. The latter are particularly popular this season and, thanks to the distinctive punch hole design on the upper, allow for a dressier take on rugged.
HOW TO WEAR: While it should never be worn with a suit, the lace-up boot should slot seamlessly into your wardrobe and will team well with a number of outfits, from smart to smart-casual, as well as a variety of hues, particularly navy and grey.
For a more dressed-down vibe, wear them with a white button-down shirt and rolled-up dark denim jeans for a look that’s comfortable and casual, yet still refined.
HOW TO CARE FOR THEM: Boots may be inherently durable and designed to take a beating, but they still need looking after. To extend their life, use a leather protector, which adds an invisible shield to water, oil and mud, before wearing them for the first time.
To protect suede shoes against the elements, look to a product such as a suede spray, which will keep the molecules away from the top layer of the material. Your second line of defence is to look after your shoes if you’ve worn them in the rain: dry them out naturally, fill the toes with crumpled newspaper and make sure you don’t place them near a radiator or an open fire, which will only damage the leather, making it cracked and brittle.
Whether it’s for business meetings, weddings or special events, the formal shoe is the footwear that adds a smart finishing touch to any ensemble.
Wingtips are a time-honoured classic but suffer (perhaps unfairly) from rather stuffy connotations. If all those swirling perforations make you dizzy, show some visual restraint and opt, instead, for some black cap-toe Oxfords. No fuss. No showboating. Just an understated classic.
HOW TO WEAR: The minimal, subtle Oxford complements formal wear perfectly – whether you’re wearing a dress suit to a black tie function or a charcoal slim-fit suit to a business meeting or job interview, it’s a fail-safe winner. Every time.
HOW TO CARE FOR THEM: How to keep your shoes’ leather looking its best? Polish them each time you wear them. And if that’s too time-consuming, or a little too OCD, at least ensure that you give them a decent polish before you go out in bad weather.
Frequent conditioning is key too, in order to keep your Oxfords looking immaculate. Once every four to six months, take the time to apply a rich conditioner to the shoe before the polishing process. A complement to the polish, it will further extend their life and will ensure you get the best out of the leather.
Beloved of the Euro jet-setter and city trader at the weekend, the loafer is a type of shoe in that it straddles the two worlds of casual and more formal style, making it a unique piece in that respect. It can never truly be seen as a formal footwear style, though, because of its casual heritage.
HOW TO WEAR: Although predominantly a summer shoe, loafers can be worn throughout the year. Team them with chinos or jeans and a polo shirt for a casual yet refined look. Alternatively, worn at the base of a pair of Levi's 501s in selvedge denim with a chunky turn-up will score serious style points. For a dash of Euro flair, consider a tasselled loafer with pants that graze the middle of your ankle.
HOW TO CARE FOR THEM: Suede loafers will require a little more investment in terms of time and care than their leather counterparts. Regular brushing is needed to keep them looking clean and pristine. If you favour the leather variety, ensure you keep them scuff-free and treat them to a fortnightly polish.
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