Ultimate guide to guys' shoes


You Can Judge a Man by His Shoes

They reveal whether he takes pride in the little things. If he throws on a nice suit and pairs it with cheap, clunky lace-ups, he's not what you'd call a detail man. And if he leaves his pricey wingtips scuffed and unpolished, he may not be the closer you're looking for.

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(Photo: CN Digital Studio)

(Photo: CN Digital Studio)

There are numerous styles of shoes out there, but what's great about being a man is that you can do perfectly well by sticking with just a few. You don't need to maintain some Carrie Bradshaw–esque obsession about the latest and coolest. If you invest in a handful of sensible (and stylish) pairs and take care of them, you'll be set for years. You just need to take that first step.

1. Don't Be So Damn Square

Before we start talking about styles of shoes, let's talk shape. If you're still walking around in square-toe, rubber-soled lace-ups—the kind you buy on the cheap and that make you look like you've got platypus feet—grab them from your closet and toss them.

Seriously. your shoes should be as streamlined as the rest of your wardrobe. That means a slim contour (but not painfully skinny) and a rounded (but not sharp) toe. They'll look stylish, tasteful, and masculine. And that's all you can ask for.

2. Some Basic Advice About the...Basics

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(Photo: Courtesy of colehaan.com)

(Photo: Courtesy of colehaan.com)

The one shoe every man should own is a black lace-up. You can dress it up or dress it down; it'll work with everything from jeans to suits. And that's the thing—don't think of it as special-occasion footwear. Avoid frilly or ornate details and you'll be able to wear the shoes as easily to the office as to the club.

3. Sure, No One Sees the Bottom of Your Feet...

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(Photo: David Rinella)

(Photo: David Rinella)

Shoes take a pounding. And nowhere more than in their soles. You need to think about that and make some decisions. Do you want everlasting soles or more bounce in your step?

4. Leather Soles? We Like 'Em Extra Chunky

Some guys think leather soles mean hard and uncomfortable. Not true. If the shoes are well-made, they'll mold to your feet and serve you just fine. True, they won't be as cushiony as a pair of New Balances, but if you want real dress shoes, you want leather soles. Period. Now you've got two choices: There are those slim, contoured kinds that exude elegance and go great with a luxurious custom suit. And then there are the heftier lace-ups with chunkier soles. They're what we show a ton of in the magazine these days. They go great with skinny jeans or trim-cut suits. And if you take care of them (see number 7), they'll last you a lifetime.

5. Join the Rubber Revolution

Let's say you're insistent on extra padding for your lace-ups. The good news is that there are now plenty of stylish, wonderfully made dress shoes with full rubber soles, or at least rubber inlays. They're great for crappy weather and for comfort. But keep in mind that once full rubber soles wear down, that's it for them. Replacing the heels (or protecting them with taps) isn't a viable option as it is with leather-soled shoes.

6. Save Your Sole
How to guarantee eternal life for your dress shoes

The most worn item in your wardrobe—that pair of quality leather-soled dress shoes you regularly wear to the office—requires the most attention. We asked Joe Rocco, third-generation cobbler and owner of Jim's Shoe Repair on East 59th Street in Manhattan, to talk parts and service.

Taps: Plastic is quieter, metal more durable. Either will prevent the soles (and heels—be sure you remember the heels) from grinding away. Taps typically wear out or fall off after about six months.$3 per pair.

Soles: Walking on warped soles can ruin a good pair of shoes and even cause back trouble. Start checking your soles after a year or so, and be sure new ones are sewn on, never glued. $75 per pair

Heels: New heels every couple of years are a good bet, and the right cobbler can adjust them to fit how you walk. $25 per pair

Heel Pads: Most shoes have shock-absorbing rubber rears to save your soles (and ankles). Have a cobbler replace them before they wear down to the leather soles themselves. $10 per pair

7. Polish One Off

GQ design director Fred Woodward on how to do it yourself (better)

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(Photo: Ditte Isager)

(Photo: Ditte Isager)

There was a shoeshine man who used to make the rounds at 745 Fifth Avenue, the building where I worked my first year in New York. He was fond of saying that a true gentleman didn't feel properly dressed unless his shoes were freshly shined every morning. I always liked the sound of that—even if it did feel more than a little self-serving—but after he borrowed $50 from me (and countless other soft touches throughout the building), never to be seen again, I decided that shining my own shoes once a week was gentleman enough.

I love the ritual: the careful laying out of newspaper, and the round tin of Kiwi polish with the built-in wing-nut-shaped turn-key opener—a damned near perfect piece of industrial design. After enough applications, the old T-shirt that I use becomes a work of art in its own right, a poor man's Matisse. And my dad's horsehair brush (with the Good Housekeeping Seal branded into its hardwood handle) is the very same one he taught me with. First, I brush the shoe well, cleaning it of any dust or dirt. With the rag wrapped tightly around my first two fingers, I apply the polish in small, tight swirls. By the time I'm through applying wax to the second shoe, the first will be dry and ready to brush, and that's all I do.

8. Now Get Your Shine Box!
What you'll need to care for your shoes

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(Photo: Courtesy of kiwicare.com)

(Photo: Courtesy of kiwicare.com)

A. One tin of black wax polish and one tin of neutral. The black for your black leather dress shoes (obviously). And the neutral for your brown—because you essentially want to moisturize the leather, not color it.

B. An old T-shirt or towel will do the trick for applying wax. But if you buff your shoes post-brushing, invest in a nice soft chamois.

C. Don't skimp on the brush—you want a wood handle and horsehair bristles. And for when you're running out the door and just don't have time for a full polish, keep an instant-wax sponge in your kit for a quick touch-up.

9. Kill a Tree, Save Your Shoes

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(Photo: courtesy of allenedmonds.com)

(Photo: courtesy of allenedmonds.com)

Yes, if you want your shoes to last, you need shoe trees. Ones made from cedar. They'll preserve the shape of your shoes, prevent them from developing deep creases, absorb moisture, and even make them smell better. They're a no-brainer.

10. Reboot Your Suit

Wearing boots with a suit achieves two things: It says you understand that uniforms look best when they're messed with, and that when it's raining or snowing, your Ferragamos should be left in the closet.

It needs to be the right suit—slim and stylish, and preferably cut from a durable, wintry fabric.

The boot itself? Leather-soled military-style ones are ideal. They're like dress shoes, only a hell of a lot tougher.

11. Lose the Laces, Gain Some Style

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(Photo: CN Digital Studio)

(Photo: CN Digital Studio)

"The penny loafer's got a fusty reputation, but so many designers these days are doing it in this modern, streamlined shape; instead of making your feet look stubby,a loafer by Bass or Prada will actually make them look longer. And a black penny loafer takes on the character of any outfit—when you're in a business suit, it's formal; when you're in a polo and jeans, it's casual. Consider it the perfect in-between when you don't feel like putting on a pair of sneakers or dressy lace-ups."—Jim Moore, GQ creative director

12. The Sneakers That Suit You

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(Photo: Fairchild Archive)

(Photo: Fairchild Archive)

Pairing sneakers with a suit is a move we love and a smart way to reinvent a suit you already own. But you do need to tread carefully. Consider the following advice:

Unless you are Kanye West, stick with no-frills sneakers in muted colors—black, gray, white, etc. If worn correctly, they'll take off more years than Botox.

This isn't a conventional nine- to-five look. So go with a slim suit (cropped relatively short) or a loose-and-easy one. Just not your basic business suit.

Finally, low-tops, please. High-tops are for ballers and serious fashion junkies.

13. Sock It to 'Em

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(Photo: Courtesy of jcrew.com)

(Photo: Courtesy of jcrew.com)

If you're sitting at your desk reading this, stop for a second and cross your right leg over your left. When your pant leg rides up, exposing some dress sock, ask yourself this: Do you like what you see? You should. Your socks should have as much personality as—if not more than—the rest of your outfit. You've got two ways to go.

Match 'Em Up—The Conservative Way...

When choosing dress socks, the basic rule is to consider the suit instead of the shoe—in other words, if you're wearing a navy suit with black or brown shoes, reach for navy socks.

...or Flash Some Color

You can tell a lot about a guy by glancing at his ankles. Is he a stick-to- the-rules type—the kind who dutifully matches his socks to his pants every morning? Or is he the type who understands that dressing well often means dressing with a rebel streak? We think you can pair a boldly patterned or colored dress sock with pretty much anything—a sharp suit, elegant pants, or, say, a pair of dark jeans. Just look for stripes or colors that complement your look up top (maybe matching your shirt or tie) while contrasting with your pants or shoes. And don't worry if you break a rule or two—that's the point.

Socks this bold work one of two ways: Either they pop against a completely neutral outfit (white shirt, dark suit and tie), or they complement what's going on upstairs. Could be a red tie, could be a yellow oxford.

14. The White Powder That Will Get You Hooked

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(Photo: Courtesy of goldbond.com)

(Photo: Courtesy of goldbond.com)

"I used to think that keeping a bottle of talc around was like reaching for hair tonic or witch hazel—you know, old-guy stuff. But then this magazine—and pretty much every fashion designer and J.Crew mannequin—started telling us that we've got to go sockless in the summer months. Looks cool, feels cool. Except, that is, when your feet are a swampy, sweaty mess. So now, suddenly, I'm one of those guys who use talcum powder obsessively. I give my wingtips or boat shoes a dusting with it every morning before I head to the office. My feet slide right in, and they actually do feel cool. Of course, one dusting doesn't completely keep me from sweating on brutally hot and humid days; the stuff's not magic powder. That's why I keep a stopgap bottle in my desk drawer."—Adam Rapoport, GQ style editor

15. Show Some Ankle

Going sockless is a quick way to invigorate everything from a trim suit to short-cropped khakis. But there's a sensible way to pull it off. Do you really want to walk around all day not wearing socks with nice leather shoes? Thought so. Besides talcum powder, consider loafer socks—they're so low-cut they're essentially invisible. We like the ones from Bananarepublic.com. Buy a bunch and wear them all summer long.

16. The Cheat Sheet:

Your dress shoes should be as contoured as your suits. Say no to square toes.

Black lace-ups are the most dependable and versatile shoes you can own.

Real dress shoes have leather soles...but there are now plenty of quality rubber-soled options available.

Take care of your shoes: taps on the heels and toes, cedar shoe trees when you're not wearing them.

Yes, you can—and should—wear sneakers with a suit. But keep them simple and understated.

More at GQ:

The Best of Jennifer Aniston in GQ

50 Things America Does Better Than Anyone Anywhere Else

The GQ Guide to Shirting

America's Next Super Model: Kate Upton's GQ Photo Shoot

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