Starting at the Bottom
Buying your first suit is a bewildering experience. In my reoccurring segment, “Suiting Up,” devoted affectionately to Barney Stinson, I’ll break down every element of putting together an exceptional classic men’s professional wardrobe for those of us on a budget.
My first installment of Suiting Up won’t be about suits at all – rather, shoes. After all, shoes are one of the most frequently neglected elements of a man’s professional wardrobe, but also the most easily corrected. You’d be surprised how many guys will spend nearly a thousand dollars on a new suit and also think it’s perfectly acceptable to pair it with those dusty, black clodhoppers that have been kicking around in the back of their closet since Senior Prom. This ruins the entire ensemble and, of course, the Gentleman will have no part of such nonsense.
The men’s dress shoe is far too complicated to be addressed in any single post. Instead, in this installment, I want to simply address the topic of color.Certainly the most common color for a first dress shoe is black. It’s probably the same color dress shoe you bought in high school. Buying a black shoe is not the wrong choice for a first dress shoe and will sometimes be absolutely required. It’s a must have, but it isn’t the “be all and end all” of men’s shoe colors. In fact, it is often not the best choice. You can see below a black Cole Haan wingtip with a gray trouser and a navy trouser. The black pairs nicely with gray, but there’s something off about pairing black with a navy suit.
Instead of black, the Gentleman recommends cordovan, sometimes called burgundy or oxblood, as the most versatile shoe color. Cordovan is a reddish-brown. You can see an extremely handsome cordovan dress shoe below. Cordovan is a highly distinguished color that perfectly matches the two most common suit colors: charcoal gray and navy. You can see here a cordovan Johnston & Murphy shoe paired with both a navy suit trouser and a charcoal suit trouser. Notice how the cordovan shoes give a touch of warmth to a dark suit without being gaudy. In my opinion, a good cordovan dress shoe should be every man’s first or second shoe purchase.
After cordovan, brown is probably the next most versatile shoe color. Brown can be trickier because there are several wildly different shades of brown. You’ll see everything from an orangey-cognac to a deep maple brown. Brown shoes pair extremely well with a navy suit and almost equally as well with charcoal.The Gentleman is nothing if not helpful. So, to assist in making your first shoe purchase, I’m going to give you a couple excellent picks for your first dress shoe:
Johnston & Murphy – Burgundy “Melton” cap-toe Oxford. This is an excellent first dress shoe. It retails for $165 at their retail store, but Johnston & Murphy shoes can frequently be found marked down to $100 or less at Macy’s and other department stores. I can’t recommend all of their shoes (some are simply dreadful), but I own this particular shoe (the cordovan one pictured above); it looks great and has held up well. It’s a great beginner’s dress shoe.
Another great option is Cole Haan, a line found at department stores and their own retail store. The black wing-tipped shoe pictured earlier is Cole Haan and I got it for a bit under $100.