If you’re working hard to impress someone – a potential employer or the possible love of your life – don’t let your shoes be the deal-breaker.
Yes, yes, yes, it’s incredibly shallow to make snap decisions based on the quality of a man’s wardrobe, but we all do it. And for many reasons, people are especially judgmental about shoes!
How Shoes Reveal Our Secrets
Research has shown that footwear reveals more about us than we realize. "Shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about their wearers, Shoes serve a practical purpose, and also serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages,” wrote the authors of a University of Kansas study2
“People tend to pay attention to the shoes they and others wear. Expensive shoes belonged to high earners, flashy and colorful footwear belonged to extroverts and shoes that were not new but appeared to be spotless belonged to conscientious types,” the authors noted. "Shoes have a great variety of styles, brands, looks, and functions. Because of this variety, shoes can carry individual difference information, but do they?
“We suggest that the answer is yes.”
So, guys, invest (and that is the right word)…INVEST…in one or more nice pairs of dress shoes (and then a quality pair of boots) and you’ll be set for years and years. You’ve got to spend a little more, but you’ll get a lot in return—quality, performance, and, who knows, love.
Over the long-term you’ll even save money as your friends toss their ravaged discount shoes and buy new ones every year, while your quality footwear marches on, looking better than ever with care and occasional re-soling.
Even if you’re on a tight budget, we recommend saving up to buy one great pair of dress shoes, preferably a deep brown or tan, which coordinates with just about any suit or casual work outfit.
Pricing the Goods,
Crunching the Numbers
From fashion experts to financial planners, smart shoppers know it's wiser to spend more for quality. The Adult Man style blog3 emphasizes that “Not all leather is created equal. This is especially true for men’s footwear. More formal dress shoes will use fine leathers such as calfskin, scotch grain, or authentic patent leather. Fine leathers need more care than full-grain leather, but the payoff comes from their quality,” it recommends, adding, “Avoid footwear brands that don’t disclose the kind of upper material used.”
Frequently, discount shoe/boot brands will even invent terms like “bonded leather,” or “corrected leather,” which usually means it’s blended with plastic and other chemicals. Cheap or faux leather may look sharp for a few weeks, but it quickly discolors, peels and creases.
A New York Times piece4 by financial planner Carl Richards titled “Spend the Money for the Good Boots, and Wear Them Forever” offers a number of logical points from the author’s experience, including the decision to buy $300 ski pants 17 years earlier rather than a much cheaper alternative, even though he was a student on a tight budget.
“Whenever I go skiing, that’s what I wear. And guess what? They still work. Just as good as the day I bought them. And I can almost guarantee you, if I had bought the $50 pants…, they would have been gone before the end of the first season,” Richards writes.
Plus, he’s whipped out the calculator and done the math. Quality IS cheaper. “I would have had to buy those $50 pants at least 17 more times over the years, spending more than $800, to get as much use out of them as I have from my (well-made) Moonstone pants. Not only would I have had the cognitive, emotional and logistical drain of perpetually having to replace the old pants…but I would have spent more than twice as much money in the long run.”
The Professor Recommends…
So, now that you know what to shop for and why quality equals value, who makes superior shoes and boots? There are a range of options available for buying high-quality, American-made dress shoes and boots. Two respected manufacturers with proven track records are Alden and Allen Edmonds, both of which are readily available online and have a number of brick-and-mortar stores.
The Alden Shoe Company was founded in 1884 by Charles H. Alden in Middleborough, Mass., and is now the only original New England shoe and bootmaker remaining of the hundreds that began in the late 19th Century. “Every Alden New England shoe has a full leather lining chosen from our special stock of supple glove linings and smooth, glazed kip linings,” their website reads.
We recommend their Men's 975 - Long Wing Blucher, with a rich Color 8 Shell Cordovan ($790). Alden’s website also features leather care options to keep your dress shoes looking new for years.
If Alden is beyond the high-end of your price range, consider Wisconsin-based Allen Edmonds. Coming up on its Centennial, they rose to prominence supplying shoes to the Army and Navy during World War II, creating lifetime fans among The Greatest Generation.
We like this simple, all-purpose, lace-up Park Avenue Cap-Toe Oxford ($395) available in coffee, oxblood, walnut, and dark chili shades of brown, as well as black. For elegant boots, consider this Hamilton Cap-Toe Oxford Dress Boot ($425). To quote an online review, “They’re dressy enough to fit a business casual work environment, and casual enough to wear with a pair of jeans.”
As the review says, the beauty of quality footwear like this is that it goes with almost anything, lasts forever, enhances the look of a well-tailored suit and even helps camouflage the questionable quality of a less expensive pair of khakis or jeans.
Buy Better...Be Better
Finally, without getting into details, spending more on good shoes and other essential clothing items is ethically sound and better for the environment. You’re much less likely to learn that your tailored suit was made by children in a Turkish sweatshop or your boots crafted by workers making less than minimum wage.
Why are quality goods better for the environment? Lots of reasons, but here’s an obvious one—They almost never get thrown away and end up in a landfill!
1Krupnick, Ellie & Adams, Rebecca, “Guys, Women Are Judging Your Shoes – Here Are Five Footwear Tips You Need to Know,” The Huffington Post, December 7, 2017
2Gillath, Omri, “Shoes as a source of first impressions,” The Journal of Research in Personality/Science Direct, 2012
3Cotter, Paul. “4 Easy Ways To Identify Good vs Bad Quality Footwear,” The Adult Man. March 22, 2020.4Richards, Carl, “Spend the Money for the Good Boots, and Wear Them Forever,” The New York Times, February 1, 2016.