The Style Column

Shoe Addiction

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Got more shoes than is strictly necessary? So you should, says our style columnist Jeremy Langmead. 

I have 48 pairs of shoes and nine pairs of sneakers. This, I think, is quite a lot. So many, in fact, that last week I had a carpenter make me a quote for a shoe cupboard in my apartment.

Sadly, the shoe cupboard is going to have to remain a dream — since I’ve spent so much on shoes, it turns out I can’t afford the wood to build the cupboard. I shall have to spend a few more years enviously eyeing pictures in Hello! magazine of people called Tamara (see Ecclestone, Beckwith and Mellon) who have entire rooms solely to house their shoe collections.

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Obviously, there are only so many pairs a man really needs. This summer, I would say you could get away with just five: one pair of black monk straps (O’Keeffe); one pair of sneakers (Common Projects); a bright pair of deck shoes (Band of Outsiders’ Sperry collaboration); a pair of beach shoes (Rivieras); and one pair of brown suede loafers (John Lobb), see right. This means I have 52 pairs more than is truly necessary. How come? It’s not as if men’s shoes vary enormously in style, unless, of course, you keep up with the more fashion-forward footwear from the likes of Prada and Christian Louboutin. Indeed, peering over the piles of shoes in my possession, I have to stare hard to tell some of them apart. There are 11 pairs of very similar conker-brown brogues, six pairs of almost identical black Oxfords, four pairs of monk straps (some with silver buckles, others with gold), seven pairs of loafers (black and brown, suede and leather), five pairs of boots (some with laces, others not), and so on. Despite this, I have at least five pairs of shoes on my wish list this summer.

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Perhaps I should be a bit ashamed, but I’m not in as small a minority as I feared. Having recently returned from the menswear shows in Milan and Paris, I was astounded at the obsession men currently have with footwear. Sitting and waiting for fashion shows to start — for an average of 25 minutes, eight times a day — you spend an awful lot of time looking at other people’s feet. It’s either that or you stare directly at their faces — not only is that slightly creepy, but since a lot of them are wearing mirrored shades you end up staring at your own reflection. No, the politest way to spend your time waiting for the shows to begin is to gaze at people’s shoes. Fashion editors aren’t, I appreciate, the most reliable barometer of normality, but the array of designs on display was quite extraordinary — everything from artfully aged brogues to leopard-skin winklepickers, wedged shoes that sat two feet off the ground with soles as multi-layered as a My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding cake, fluorescent sneakers that looked as if they were made from disco-dolly lizards and black boots with metal clasps that had clearly escaped from a sex club. In the 10 days of shows I sat through, I rarely saw a man wear the same pair twice. It seems fashion editors change their footwear more frequently than their underwear: the excess baggage charges their respective companies must have to fork out for each season are surely extortionate.

The array of attention-grabbing designs on the catwalks, too, was pretty impressive; the design houses are obviously all too aware of how lucrative the men's shoe business can be. Everyone from Louis Vuitton to YSL showed footwear that was designed to catch the eye: there were numerous shoes that were forged from metal; there were bejeweled golf shoes; and there were boots with patterned rubber soles (camouflage was a popular theme). Meanwhile, a luxury shoe brand like Berluti now has such a loyal following that it can launch an entire clothing collection off the back of its footwear (and very nice it was, too). Last year, the acme of women’s shoes, Jimmy Choo, even launched a men’s line — and that’s become a best-seller.

During the shows, I posted the odd picture or two on Instagram — I know, how down with the kids am I? — and it’s always revealing to see which pictures get the most “likes”. A shot of Tinie Tempah looking pretty damn sharp at the Lanvin show, for example, received a respectable 203 likes. And yet a rain-soaked shot of a guy’s feet in a pair of brogues on a grey Milanese pavement received a whopping 624. Crazy.

But it’s not just the fashion bunnies who are talking with their feet; normal guys are too. It has become almost as acceptable to ask another bloke about his choice of footwear as it is his wristwatch. As Paolo Nutini chirpily sang: “Hey, I put some new shoes on. And suddenly everything is right.” Clearly, a lot of us agree.

Jeremy Langmead is the editor-in-chief of mrporter.com