Where The Men Talk About Shoes

 

 

 

The Financial Times’ Richard Torregrossa tries to understand why men, unlike women, don’t talk more about something many love and collect. Shoes.

Andy Gilchrist, author of The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes and founder of the popular web site Ask Andy About Clothes, agrees. “Men can’t really talk about shoes to anyone,” he says. “I think that’s why the Ask Andy Forum is so popular: [it’s] a place where we can talk to other men about the shoes and the clothing that really matters to us.”

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February 16, 2008 2:00 am

When men choose shoes

If American presidential election law was different, and non-US born citizens were able to run for the highest office in the land, it is possible to imagine a scenario wherein California Governor and former A-list action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger would take his place among the Republican frontrunners (indeed, Republicans themselves often imagine this). However, if he did so, a certain statement he made a few years ago might come back to haunt him: specifically, the admission that he is “a major shoe queen”.

On the other hand, it might be less of a problem than one might expect. Increasingly, when it comes to men and shoes, it seems Schwarzenegger is not alone.

“Shoes are very important to a man’s wardrobe,” says Wayne Kaleck, general manager of Gene Hiller in Sausalito, California, one of the best men’s speciality stores in the US. “Customers used to say, ‘You know, I have my old lace-ups that I bought three or four years ago,’ and they’re tattered. But now guys are putting, say, a beautiful satin-striped suit with an alligator shoe. If they pick out a casual sport coat, we’re pairing it with a nice woven loafer, tassel or no tassel. Men are investing money in their shoes because they know it’s a finishing feature. They also know that now people are noticing.”

Women chat freely about shoes but somehow when men celebrate the joys of footwear it can seem unmanly. “Men are more low-key,” says Stephen Lachter of the Savile Row tailors Stephens & Co, makers of garments to Ava Gardner, Clint Eastwood, and Ralph Fiennes. “Women are more into fashion and have a different objective – the latest Jimmy Choos.”

Andy Gilchrist, author of The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes and founder of the popular web site Ask Andy About Clothes, agrees. “Men can’t really talk about shoes to anyone,” he says. “I think that’s why the Ask Andy Forum is so popular: [it’s] a place where we can talk to other men about the shoes and the clothing that really matters to us.”

Still, the stigma is lessening. George Hamilton was on his way to Italy for the filming of The Godfather: Part III when he was stopped by a customs official suspicious of his two steamer trunks containing a vast shoe collection. Hamilton stood by silently as the customs official, who did not recognise the actor, said, “Oh, you’re a shoe salesman,” and waved him through. As it happens, Hamilton patronises GJ Cleverley & Co, the London bespoke shoemaker favoured by Humphrey Bogart.


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According to King Alfonso XIII of Spain, grandfather of the current king, “There are two wonders in Rome: the Sistine Chapel and Gatto shoes,” Gatto, like GJ Cleverley, being one of the few companies that still hand-makes shoes on its premises.

Of course, not all celebrities have expensive tastes. For the filming of Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) George Clooney wore brown leather Rockports and a pair of Chester black wingtips by Allen Edmonds. “To be honest,” says the moderator of the website Clooney Studio, “I don’t think shoes are high on George’s list of priorities. He’s been pictured a lot over the years wearing what looks like the same pair of beaten-up brown shoes.”

On the other hand, Clooney is likely to know a thing or two about footwear: before he became famous he worked in a shoeshop in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.

Jay Stein, founder of the retail clothing chain Stein Mart, can also afford to buy the most expensive shoes available, but instead prefers the reasonably priced Zelli. “Jay tracked me down at a trade show,” says Tom Mantzell, Zelli’s founder. “He pointed to me and said, ‘That’s the guy!’ and then ordered shoes for his entire staff.”

For, unlike women, most men seem to stick with a brand they like. As do their film characters. In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) Pierce Brosnan as James Bond wore Church’s Presley model when he thwarted a crazed media mogul’s plan to start a third world war. Two years later, in The World is not Enough , he performed a similar feat – in the same shoes.

“While women’s collections are are all different, men’s shoes are more about comfort than the whims of fashion,” says Stephen Lachter. And he should know. As a tailor with more than 35 years’ experience working in and around Savile Row, he’s seen his share of customers who were just as mad about shoes as they were about the best bespoke suits and shirts money could buy.

“One of my customers was an American interior designer and aging Lothario,” Lachter recalls. “He had a little flat in Rome with a butler. When the money got short, he hanged himself. His flat was full of clothes – and about 200 pairs of shoes. That’s all he spent his money on.”

Then there’s Lachter’s colleague Patrick Grant, the 36-year-old managing director of Norton & Sons, who shares a showroom with Lachter at 16 Savile Row, and keeps a shoe collection at work where he often changes clothes during the day and before he goes out at night. “I’ve probably got about ten pairs sitting in the shop,” Grant says, “mainly because I like to make sure shoes and belts are matched.” At home, his shoe collection is even larger.

“I would probably buy half a dozen pairs of nice leather shoes a year: loafers, formal and informal lace-ups, and boots,” he says,

“You can wear the best suit in the world, slap on a dreadful pair of shoes and it’s all completely worthless. I’ve always been a big shoe fan. People who obsess about clothes also obsess about shoes, particularly men.”

Richard Torregrossa is the author of ‘Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style’