There are two simple rules for owning a small shoe collection that is versatile enough to cover all bases. The first: forgo fashion and hotfoot it to classic styles. The second: spend as much as you can. Think quality, not quantity because the old adage is true. Your shoes are often the first thing people notice about you, especially if they look like they’ve been round too many blocks.
For The Smartest Occasions: Black Oxfords
The black Oxford shoe is your classic ‘school’ shoe: it’s strictly for work and formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, christenings and job interviews. Basically, whenever you’ve got the good suit or black tie out. It’s often viewed as the shoe for ‘professionals’ – in fact they used to be a dress requirement for jobs at banks in the city. A little boring, perhaps, but also a safe pair of hands (or feet) and the work horse in your footwear collection if you have a job that requires daily smart attire.
Ostensibly, the name comes from a type of half boot that became popular at Oxford University in the 1800s, but today most Oxfords will be found in shoe format. In technical shoe-geek terms, these are ‘close-laced’ shoes, where the inside and outside quarters are stitched under the vamp (the piece of leather that makes up the front of the shoe) and the tongue is stitched in separately. A high-quality pair is a worthy investment because they’ll never not work for smart occasions. Some of the finest examples are made in England by Crockett & Jones, Church’s, Loake, Tricker’s and John Lobb.
For The 9-5 And Beyond: Derby Shoes
The Derby shoe is the Oxford’s chunkier cousin. It’s an ‘in-between’ shoe, and the ultimate in smart casual footwear. They can sharpen up raw denim as well as they loosen up a suit and are practically standard issue for flat white-carrying creatives.
The technical difference with an Oxford is in the construction; the tongue is part of the vamp (not stitched on separately) and the quarters are stitched to a tab point either side of the vamp – this is known as ‘open lacing’.
The sole is another key component with the Derby: these can be leather or rubber for extra grip and durability. Either way, these are often Goodyear welted. American Charles Goodyear patented his welt technique in 1871, whereby the upper is stitched to the leather strip known as the welt, which is then stitched to the insole of the shoe. This game changing method made shoes waterproof and today, Grenson is a go-to brand for its triple welted Derby.
For those reasons, Derbies are practical shoes that look good with pretty much everything. The simpler the model (without brogue details, single welt) the more versatile the shoe will be. On a practical note, the shape of the Derby is also more forgiving to wider feet with a higher in-step.
For The Dinner Date: Leather Slip Ons
This type of shoe covers a range of styles including the penny and tassel loafer. The slip on has American heritage and is synonymous with the preppy ‘Ivy League’ look and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk. George Henry Bass, maker of the original penny loafer, founded G.H Bass & Co. in Maine in the United States in 1876. His famous ‘Weejuns’ are still the most notable style today and were based on the Norwegian farm shoe.
Going with the preppy vibe, loafers and chinos are a classic combination. If it feels too stuffy, it’s acceptable to wear loafers with and without socks – here’s an opportunity to experiment with different prints, patterns, colours – with a rolled-up cuff. It’s an easy, versatile shoe, hence its adoption by everyone from bankers to outdoor sports enthusiasts to punks and Ivy League frat boys. Today, under Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s horsebit loafer has regained the top spot as the most desirable slip on.
GH Bass & Co
For The Weekend: Work Boots
Northampton is the capital of the British shoe industry and much of its centuries old success is down to outfitting British armies and workers. Infantry needed boots on a mass scale, as did the thousands of workers toiling in factories during the industrial revolution. Most British shoe brands originate from this English county – the village of Wollaston, for example, is the original home of Dr Marten’s.
And for anywhere with inclement weather, work boots remain an essential type of shoe for tricky terrain and wet conditions, the smarter equivalent to wellingtons. The laced Derby work boot is a double-lined extension of the shoe version, and a smarter relation to the hiking boot. It looks excellent with heavy weight fabrics such as wool or tweed trousers, cropped above the ankle. Incidentally, Daniel Craig, as James Bond, wore Crockett & Jones’ Radnor boot for scenes in SPECTRE so you can be sure that in a Derby boot, you’re ready for anything.