Style from the ground up
Aquila dress shoes. Make sure you keep your shoes shined and unscuffed. Photo: Elesa Lee
Deborah Thomas judges a man by his shoes. "On a number of levels, in fact," says the publishing executive. "The design of them, how they're kept, the colour ... you can tell a lot about a man from his shoes."
Public relations director Effie Young believes a man's shoes say "everything about his self esteem and his personality". Marketer Murray Chenery puts a lot of thought into his choice of footwear (and socks) after realising the wisdom of his executive wife's maxim "look first at a man's eyes and then his shoes". Style starts from the ground up.
So too does commonsense and unfortunately this is at the opposite end of the spectrum to fashion, according to podiatrist Alex Adam. Much of his work is devoted to the crippled feet of businessmen who favour dress shoes designed for the slim European foot.
"This is high-fashion Italian styling and looks good with suits but it doesn't suit the foot of 80 per cent of Australian men," says Adam. "There's some amazing shoes out there but if a person's foot doesn't fit the shape or the shoes don't suit the purpose then they're not going to be comfortable."
Fashion feels comfortable for 40-year-old Matthew Anderson, the head of a model agency. "A few years ago it was cool to be really casual but now there's a stricter formality that's really nice. People are dressing better and men are becoming more conscious of how they look," he says. "A friend who's a couple of years older than me was looking really good, really sharp, and I worked out it's because he isn't wearing trainers as day wear, he's wearing boots. Since then I try to only wear trainers when I'm actually training."
It's a major faux pas for women to wear trainers with their business suit - in fact it has been voted the No. 1 most offensive crime against fashion by a panel of stylists, editors and buyers. An online survey on fashion crimes has ranked "trainers with suit" higher than wearing leggings as pants and wearing socks with sandals. Yet 46 per cent of the 370 women polled by Australian footwear brand FRANKiE4 - including 20 industry experts - said they do wear trainers en route to work, swapping them for heels once they are at their desk.
Anderson says he thinks the the most hideous trend for men is "the shoe with no sock thing. It's not comfortable, it's not hygienic, it doesn't even look that great. Crocs? What billabong did they crawl out of? They should go."
Deborah Thomas, a former fashion model, agrees Crocs are unsuitable on anyone over 10 and loathes tyre-tread sandals with the round-the-ankle strap. But what she despises more is the "boring old school shoe" even in business settings. "I like to see some eccentricity in the choice of shoe," she says. "I'm very conscious of shoes - I always look at a man's shoes and his socks. Colourful socks and patterns give an individual touch to the overall look." So too can the length of sock. Murray Chenery says: "If you sit in a boardroom which has a donut in the middle and an open well and stretch your legs, you'll reveal an expanse of hairy calf with a short sock."
After spending and ending years at the helm of Target, Chenery is footwear aware and astute. "There's no point in having the best shoe with frayed or thin socks," he says. "The young ones wear a different colour shoe to the suit - a tan shoe and grey suit - but from my point of view socks must match the colour of the shoes and shoes have got to go with the belt and suit. The length of the trousers in relation to the shoe is also incredibly important. Too long is better than too short."
Absolute cleanliness is essential. "If I scuff the end of the toe on the table I have to actually go and polish my shoes. And I always have a spare pair of laces - they always break at the friction point at the top part of the eyelets and then you've got to madly tie a little bow with an inch-and-a-half at the top. Not a good look at a meeting."
It's all about the look for Effie Young, a Fashion in the Fields judge at the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. Young says it's easy to find a great suit and a snappy tie but they can be "pulled apart" by the wrong shoe.
Spending a lot of money does not guarantee a good shoe or even a comfortable one. "Footwear used to be structured but now it's a fancy-looking slipper," says podiatrist Adam. "The steel shank that provided the structure and set off the alarms at airports is now lacking - in its place is rubbery composite material that doesn't provide the necessary stability and allow the even distribution of weight. Part of the manufacturing was hands-on up until 15 years ago; now few are being handmade."
Alex recommends executives who are on their feet all day should opt for a shoe made on a straight last, such as the high-end Lloyd, or a high-vamp shoe to provide support. Those at their seat in the boardroom could choose a lower-cut shoe. "I send my patients to Singapore. There they can get a handmade shoe for less than the shoes out of Myer or David Jones."