Floppy Shoes
I love floppy shoes, particularly for wearing on warm weather days. By floppy, I mean what’s usually referred to as unlined - a term that’s kind of a misnomer since few shoes are truly made without any lining. Like with neckties, when a company describes their shoes as unlined, what they usually mean is that they’re partially or lightly lined, as some lining is often still used to give the shoes some structure. 
To explain, a well-made pair of leather shoes will usually have a full leather sock liner built in. That means two pieces of leather are joined together to form the upper. There’s the leather that faces the outside world, and the leather that touches your feet. By joining these two pieces together, you get something that has a bit more structure and will holds its shape better. Without the lining, however, you get a softer, more comfortable shoe. Whereas most leather shoes need a break-in period, unlined shoes will feel like slippers on first wear. 
My own floppy unlined shoes are by Alden. I have two pairs of their suede chukkas – one in snuff suede and the other in tan. The bottom is built on Alden’s flex welt sole, which is a thin, water-locked, oiled leather. It’s exceptionally flexible and complements the shoes’ unlined construction well. The combination of the two makes for a lightweight, comfortable boot that looks as great with jeans and chinos as they do with grey wool trousers.
They’re expensive at full retail, but sometimes you can find them for about half off on eBay. Allen Edmonds has a similar model called the Amok. The shape is slightly sleeker, and it comes in at $250. Nordstorm describes it as having a leather lining, but you can see this isn’t true when you zoom in on the photos.
Alden also makes unlined derbys and loafers, which you can find through Harrison, Unionmade, Leffot, and Shoemart. The unlined loafers also come in shell cordovan (most notably in the well-beloved Horween #8, which has a beautiful reddish-brown color). That one is sold exclusively through Brooks Brothers, who has them on discount today as part of their Corporate Card event (30% off for anyone who holds a Brooks corporate card). For something a bit more affordable – but no less well made – consider Rancourt. They have a made-to-order system that can allow you to order any of their shoes unlined. I’m personally thinking of getting some snuff suede unlined penny loafers from them in the next month or so. 
(Photo credit: Unionmade)

Floppy Shoes

I love floppy shoes, particularly for wearing on warm weather days. By floppy, I mean what’s usually referred to as unlined - a term that’s kind of a misnomer since few shoes are truly made without any lining. Like with neckties, when a company describes their shoes as unlined, what they usually mean is that they’re partially or lightly lined, as some lining is often still used to give the shoes some structure. 

To explain, a well-made pair of leather shoes will usually have a full leather sock liner built in. That means two pieces of leather are joined together to form the upper. There’s the leather that faces the outside world, and the leather that touches your feet. By joining these two pieces together, you get something that has a bit more structure and will holds its shape better. Without the lining, however, you get a softer, more comfortable shoe. Whereas most leather shoes need a break-in period, unlined shoes will feel like slippers on first wear. 

My own floppy unlined shoes are by Alden. I have two pairs of their suede chukkas – one in snuff suede and the other in tan. The bottom is built on Alden’s flex welt sole, which is a thin, water-locked, oiled leather. It’s exceptionally flexible and complements the shoes’ unlined construction well. The combination of the two makes for a lightweight, comfortable boot that looks as great with jeans and chinos as they do with grey wool trousers.

They’re expensive at full retail, but sometimes you can find them for about half off on eBay. Allen Edmonds has a similar model called the Amok. The shape is slightly sleeker, and it comes in at $250. Nordstorm describes it as having a leather lining, but you can see this isn’t true when you zoom in on the photos.

Alden also makes unlined derbys and loafers, which you can find through Harrison, Unionmade, Leffot, and Shoemart. The unlined loafers also come in shell cordovan (most notably in the well-beloved Horween #8, which has a beautiful reddish-brown color). That one is sold exclusively through Brooks Brothers, who has them on discount today as part of their Corporate Card event (30% off for anyone who holds a Brooks corporate card). For something a bit more affordable – but no less well made – consider Rancourt. They have a made-to-order system that can allow you to order any of their shoes unlined. I’m personally thinking of getting some snuff suede unlined penny loafers from them in the next month or so. 

(Photo credit: Unionmade)

Chukkas for Fall

Fall for me is about boots. Brass-buckled tan jodhpurs worn with olive moleskins; shell cordovan balmoral boots, in that perfect tone of reddish brown, worn with grey flannel trousers; and handsewn, chunky moc-toe boots worn with dark blue jeans. There are dozens of styles, but the most versatile and easy-to-wear of them all is the chukka. Brought over from India by the British Raj, these were named “chukkas” after the playing period in polo. They were quite popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and today can still be worn with a wide range of ensembles – anything from chinos to jeans to wool trousers, put together with something as dressy as a sport coat or as casual a four-pocket field jacket. They can even be worn with suits, although it’s advisable to stick with more “casual” varieties, such as ones made from flannel, linen, or tweed, rather than smooth, lightweight worsted wools.

There are number of good options to consider. For those on a budget, I recommend Loake or Meermin. Loake has two models: the Kempton, which is built on the round toe 026 last, and the Pimlico, which is built on the slightly sleeker, soft-square toe Capital. These are also available rebranded as the Harwood at Charles Trywhitt, as well as the Gosforth and Barrow from Herring. Meermin, on the other hand, has two suede models on their Rui last, which is a round toe design you can more closely inspect here. If you happen to not like the Rui, Meermin can also custom build you a chukka with any last, leather, and sole you wish for a small surcharge. Just drop them a note through their website to order. Their quality is just as good, if not considerably better once you go made-to-order, as Loake’s. 

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, there’s a wider range of options. Allen Edmonds, for example, has their Malvern on sale for about $250. For a few hundred dollars more, there’s a number of designs at Crockett and Jones, which you can peruse by doing a search on their website for “chukkas.” My favorite from them is probably the Brecon, a country calf leather boot built on a Dainite sole. It’s a very rustic shoe that can be successfully paired with corduroys, moleskins, and jeans. For something sleeker, check out Kent Wang, who has something similar to the Crockett and Jones’ Tetbury for about $350. Additionally, there’s this handsome shell cordovan version from Alden. If you want one, but can’t afford the price, you can have something similar made through Meermin, custom ordered, for about half the cost.

Of course, those just scratch the surface of the most basic models available. There’s also crepe rubber soled chukkas, which are an incredible pleasure to walk on. Like other well made shoes, these can last years and years if properly taken care of and given regular resolings. Simple, basic designs include Clark’s Desert Boots, Church’s Sahara, Loake’s Campden, and A Suitable Wardrobe’s Easy Fitting Chukka. For something lighter and more breathable, try ones that are unlined. Unlined chukkas lack structure around the uppers, so they feel more like slippers. Models here include Allen Edmonds’ Amok and Alden’s 1494. The Amok is noticeably sleeker, but I find more charm in Alden’s wider 1494 version. Crockett and Jones also has unlined models called the Milton and Hartland, as well as one simply named the “Chukka.” All of those are available for view on their website and for purchase through their New York City store.

Whatever you choose, I encourage you to pick up a pair (if you don’t already own some) and try wearing them this fall with jeans and tweeds, corduroys and Shetland sweaters, and wool trousers and waxed cotton coats. In a smooth brown calfskin or russet shade of suede, these can be some of the most versatile shoes you will ever own. 

Q and Answer: Ten In-Between Shoes

Matt asks: I need a new pair of shoes!  What I have right now is either too casual (a sneaker) or too formal (a fancy dress shoe), but I’m trying to figure out something in between. Any suggestions?

This is a question we get a lot. For men who want to wear something a little more put-together than their beat-up Nikes, but aren’t yet ready for a full-on sportcoat-trousers-dress-shoes ensemble, is there anything in between?

The simple answer is: yes. Here are ten choices for casual footwear that will keep you a head above the dirty sneaker crowd. (It’s a little tougher in the summer, so I’ll start there - the pictures run left to right and top to bottom.)

  1. Refined sneakers. When choosing sneakers, look for simplicity. White’s a great color for spring and summer, black and brown will do you well in the cooler months. You want as few details as possible here, and if you’re going to try and dress them up, they should be clean and sharp. I’ve got some Common Projects, the gold standard for this kind of thing, pictured above, but if you can find similarly simple leather sneakers from a brand that doesn’t cost a bajillion dollars, go for it.
  2. Boat shoes. While their ubiquity the past few years or their inherent preppiness might be a turn-off, boat shoes remain the default casual summer shoe (non-sneaker category). Wear them without socks in pretty much any casual situation during the hot-weather months. Then put them away.
  3. Espadrilles. These are the classic European vacation shoe - what Cary Grant might wear to the French Riviera. They’re cheap, comfortable and refined. Just don’t try to wear them outside of summer vacation, and for goodness’ sake don’t wear those awful Toms.
  4. Crepe-soled Chukkas. Desert boots are a comfortable, good-looking mostly-casual shoe for nine months of the year. Like boat shoes, they’re starting to overwhelm with their ubiquity, but if you try an alternative style like the calf version above, you can get a little more refinement and a little less “been there, done that.” (I can’t believe I just typed “been there, done that.”)
  5. Leather-soled Chukkas. Chukkas with leather or dainite soles like the brown suede pair above are one of the most versatile shoes you can own. They’re great with jeans, and in a pinch they could even be worn with a suit (though maybe not in suede). 
  6. Camp Mocs. Camp mocs are the cool-weather equivalent of the boat shoe. Inexpensive, casual, preppy and a little more refined than sneakers. The LL Bean Blucher Moc is the standard here, though the quality isn’t as high on them as it once was. Works great with jeans or chinos, but not so much with a more formal look.
  7. Plain-Toe Bluchers. This is the classic casual shoe. My own pair is an old double-soled pair of Florsheims in shell cordovan. I wear them with everything short of a suit. Black looks like security guard shoes, so avoid it. Brown is a touch more casual than burgundy, and crepe soles a touch more casual than leather.
  8. Country Brogues. Grenson is the classic maker of real country brogues, so that’s what you see above. The leather in shoes was originally perforated by folks who lived in marshy, wet conditions and wanted shoes that shed water. It’s purely decorative now, but still casual relative to other oxfords. If you want to wear brogues casually, look for prominent broguing, a stout shape and heavy soles. These are too casual for most suits (save country suits like corduroy or tweed), but if they’re clunky enough, they can stand up to blue jeans well. The boot equivalent of these shoes is even more casual. Note, also, that crepe soles or (especially) suede can turn down the formality of most dress shoes.
  9. Work and Outdoor Boots. There are a broad range of work-style boots. I’ve pictured something in the middle, the Red Wing Gentleman Traveler. On the casual end are hunting and hiking boots (like Danners) and real work boots (like traditional Red Wings, with lug soles and moc toes). I love my Alden Indy Boots, which are moc-toed, but otherwise quite refined - I wear them with chinos or jeans and a casual blazer all the time. Also in this category are military-inspired boots, like Polo Rangers.
  10. The Chelsea Boot. I’ve pictured a pair by the Australian maker R.M. Williams. A hefty, chunky Chelsea like these is more casual. A more refined model can even be worn with a suit. In fact, the Chelsea is probably the shoe that most comfortably goes from casual to formal.

Remember: city is more formal than country. Leather soles more formal than rubber (and lug soles the least formal of all). Smooth leather is more formal than textured, which is more formal than suede, which in turn is more formal than unpolished. Shoes are more formal than boots. Shapely is more formal than clunky.

And always, always stay away from hybrids. Nothing good can come of two shoes mating.

Finding a level of formality that’s between slovenliness and traditional business dress is vital for anyone who isn’t a slob or a traditional businessman. Hopefully this will set you on your way.