Footwear for the Common Man
by Jeff Lewis

Young men commonly have a fascination with athletic shoes, particularly those worn by charismatic athletes and musicians. Millions of dollars exchange hands in the exploitation of this principle, but this shoe fixation often subsides in the mid-twenties and generally is long gone by the time the music of your youth makes it onto VH1.

For many, the desire for shoes doesn't disappear entirely, but in popular culture, shoe collections are a female realm. Men who bump their collection into double digits have to expect modifiers like "fetishist" or "tranny" to come their way. Fie! If you own thirty pairs, you're expressing your appreciation of modern design, for a finely made shoe is a perfect example of form following function.

Firmly, I state: Men, it is OK to have a mammoth shoe collection.

The Author As a Young Man

At age twelve, when I got my first Sports Illustrated subscription, I became obsessed with athletic shoes. Without a doubt, I was influenced heavily by advertisements and commercials, including endorsements by athletes, but there was more to it. I'd pour over the pages, examining each athlete's footwear, making mental notes of the design.

Scouting Report

Reebok - When my first and only set of Reeboks fell apart after a week, I permanently soured on the brand and never saw another pair that I liked.

Nike - Consistently strong across the sports, except when they got too fancy and adorned their shoes with extra bubbles, flaps and luminescence that—in my father's words—belonged on the set of Logan's Run.

Converse - Solid but unspectacular, it looked best in Celtic green and white, but gaudy in Laker purple and gold. Their best entries—Chuck Taylors and the low-top One Stars—were classics because they were unobtrusive.

Pony - I always wanted to like Pony, but I found their shoes clunky. The Pony "V" looks good in the logo on the box, and is very similar to the Nike swoosh, but sadly, it lacks the swoosh's dynamism. There is no feeling of forward motion; the Pony V is merely a poorly formed checkmark, which makes the feet appear leaden. Perhaps this was the company's solution to the conundrum: how do we sell boys on ponies? I reckon that poorly formed checkmarks are anything but girlie.

Adidas - Excelled at low top court shoes, but their high tops were consistently top heavy, with no visual interplay between the ankle support and the three stripes.

Puma - My favorite athletic shoes? Always Puma. Never could get enough of the flowing stripe and the pouncing puma logo.

Brown Shoes

When I reached college, I found the "brown shoe," the generic term for a non-athletic casual shoe, and the scourge of the athletic shoe industry. In a vain attempt to seem more urbane, my default shoe for everyday casual wear swapped from the basketball high top to a brown work boot or a black military dress shoe. As with my dress in general, my intentions were good, but suffered from frugality: I shopped nearly exclusively at Mervyn's or thrift shops, topping out at $40 a pair, before taxes.

I appreciated expensive shoes, but could never justify paying more than the Mervyn's rate, particularly when I passed out of the workforce in my mid-twenties and into graduate school. One of the great shocks of the nineties, shortly after meeting my future wife, came when she bought me a pair of brown Kenneth Cole dress shoes for my birthday. Part of the surprise came from the lovely gift, but I also marveled at how happy I was to own a beautiful pair of shoes. It didn't happen overnight, but she'd created a monster.

Seven years later, my shoe collection exceeds hers and I now operate under the delusion that my overflowing shoe rack makes me a shoe expert, able to dispense valid advice. Therefore, I will be bold enough to suggest ten non-athletic shoes that you need in your closet.

Black Dress

If your best suit or dress slacks are crisp and clean, don't ruin it by skimping on your black dress shoes. Don't worry about comfort*—just focus on delivering a load of slick.**

Above all, if you can't imagine a world famous German architect wearing your dress blacks, you need a new pair.

*If you have a trick toe, you should worry about comfort, somewhat.
**Speaking of slick, do not overextend yourself on the dance floor until you've scuffed up the bottoms.

Should Say: "I am the operator of a pocket calculator."

Leather Flip Flops

Leather flip flops show that the weather is good and you plan to take advantage of it. They improve any cargo short or casual pant and can even make a droopy moustache palatable.

Should Say: "I am a handsome man."

Brown Casual

If you wear brown tennies about town instead of athletic shoes, you show that you care about what is on your feet. Look for shoes with decorative stitching, particularly if you have a decoratively stitched brown jacket of the same hue. The pair above also provides a great deal of flexibility in regards to sock wear. Brown, black and tan all look sharp.

Should Say: "I am casually stylish and cute." If you are conspicuously dimpled, tone down the cute-factor or they will say, "I'm a cutie pie pie."

Euro Shower

Although most Americans cringe at the thought, Germans know that shower shoes can be worn with sweats and white socks. They are at their best when worn to keep yourself from slipping in the moat of chemical water at the door of the Schwimmbad's locker room.

Should Say: "I play for Bayern München."

If You Aren't Careful Will Say: "I've worn a speedo to the beach."

Brown Dress

Picture in your mind a two-story private library in the south of France—the type with ladders and 12th century manuscripts. Now imagine that Johnny Depp owns it. Your dress browns should match the color and style of that mental picture. Alternatively, you can use a mental picture of George Hamilton's skin.

Should Say: "An Italian in a three-piece suit toiled over these."

Black Casual

Search out a shoe with a bold toe and breathable leather. Don't skimp on comfort here—you want to be able to walk for miles in these.

Should Say: "My running shoes are for running."

Business Casual High Tops

The dressy high top is two shoes in one. With the pant breaking across the top, they look like a dress shoe. Upon sitting down, when you expose the ankles, they give you a less-stuffy air.

Should Say: "I have more than one pair of nice brown shoes."

Man Mules

Man mules, like their female counterparts, show off the calves and ankles, so if you have a bulky lower leg where the calf runs into the ankle—a.k.a. Cankles—wear these with long pants only.

As with most things, look for man mules with contrasting stitching. If you have claw toes, purchase mm's with minimal toe exposure or skip to the next shoe in this list.

Should Say: "This is a slipper for the outdoors."

Tan Suede Casual

The light tone draws the eye down the pant to the shoe, making it nearly impossible for people to avoid checking out your bottom half, so make sure you have your stuff in order, pants-wise. A light suede shoe also shows that you are unafraid of stains.

Should Say: "I know my summer shoes from my winter shoes. Also, I don't have a toddler who drinks grape juice."


Chaco flat out makes the best athletic sandal. They are washable and have no seams, so they don't hide bacteria and get gamy. Highly adjustable, great treads, comfortable and easy to slip on and off. They are a legitimate five tool performer.

Should Say: "If I decided to, I could walk the breadth of Africa. Right now."

Flashy, Clown-Like Dress Shoes

This is an advanced shoe purchase because if you wear them, you need to own them. Avoid wearing them with flamboyantly patterned shirts or pants and for goodness sakes, do not buy these if you look like a clown.

Should Say: "I am a risk-taker."

Should Not Say: "My wife bought these for me because she thinks I lack panache."

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2005. Images copyright Lynn Lewis, 2005.