Which boots are best for snow?
With most of the United States seeing some early flakeage this year, it’s time to break out the sleet-kickers. Some things to consider if you’re considering new winter boots, whether you need dress boots or something less sleek:
Traction
For minimum slippage on snow and ice, you want an outsole that is relatively soft with maximum tread. Ralph Fabricius of Russell Moccasin told me that you don’t want “a real hard sole for ice—that’s two hard surfaces up against one another. Some Vibram [brand] soles have more forgiveness to them.” So a dress leather sole is right out—adding a Topy rubber sole probably helps a little. The title of grippiest, according to Ralph, goes to Vibram’s Fire and Ice or Olympia soles. My Danner boots (pictured above) use a light but deeply lugged Vibram Kletterlift outsole that suited me well on a trip to Quebec last January. The white Christy wedge sole that looks so darn good with so many boots is not a great choice for snow—too flat and too hard.
For dress boots you’ll find Dainite studded rubber or Ridgeway (also a Dainite product) soles are handy and widely available on better British shoes, especially country boots like those from Crockett and Jones. Likewise Commando lugged soles. On icy sidewalks, though, there’s not much you can do but be cautious.
Water resistance
In cold temperatures, you can often get away with outerwear that’s not 100% waterproof—it will take a lot longer for snow to soak through the shoulders of a heavy wool coat than steady rain. Water from melting snow can start getting into shoes rather quickly, though. Leather is hide, and by definition porous, so you have two options: treat your leather boots with a waterproofing compound like mink oil or Obenauf’s LP, which can darken leather and will need re-proofing over time, or add a layer of synthetic material, like Gore-Tex. Hiking boots—I’m partial to classically styled models like Danners or Merrells—are the most likely to feature a synthetic liner; I don’t know of any true dress boots that do so. Of note is that the highest-end hiking boots, like Limmers, do not use synthetic midlayers, but rather recommend waterproofing treatments.
For dress boots, you’re best off avoiding serious snow and slush if you can, and treating your leather boots well, both before and after you go out in winter conditions. So, rub them down with a quality, natural leather protectant regularly, and once you get out of the snow, wipe them clean, use shoe trees, and let them dry away from heat to avoid cracking or overdrying the leather. Crockett and Jones’s Snowdon model is one of the few dress boots that claim to be waterproof, with a waxy leather upper and Norwegian/Veldtshoen construction that is less likely to let water seep in between the sole and the upper than most shoes. If I had a pair of Snowdons, though, I’d still shovel the walk in something I wouldn’t feel I had to fuss over.
Warmth
Few boots are significantly insulated by themselves. Viberg hikers use a layer of Thinsulate, and you can always wear down booties, I guess. Bean Boots, a classic choice for long New England winters, are really quite cold, although L.L. does offer shearling/Thinsulate lined models. For dress boots, Paul at Leffot recommends Edward Green Galway boots, which can be made to order with a shearling lined shaft. Woah. Let’s see those again. Nice. Like Eddie Green Uggs.
Of course, warm socks provide insulation when boots don’t. Cotton socks are poor insulators when dry and miserable to wear when wet. I’m a big believer in SmartWool’s widely available wool-blend socks. Are they dress socks? No; but if you’re wearing a boot with a high shaft anyway, the dress-appropriateness of your sock becomes less of an issue. If you’re desperate for a little more warmth without resorting to all-out ultra-thick hiking socks, you can add a sock liner, which you wear as sort of a baselayer for your feet. Sock liners (also called liner socks) are usually made from synthetics or silk—quite comfortable and not too thick. One last tip for warm feet: add a layer to your legs. Long underwear under your trousers is too warm for most offices, but if you know you’ll be out in the elements a while, they’re worth it: warmer legs will make your feet feel warmer, too.
-Pete

Which boots are best for snow?

With most of the United States seeing some early flakeage this year, it’s time to break out the sleet-kickers. Some things to consider if you’re considering new winter boots, whether you need dress boots or something less sleek:

Traction

For minimum slippage on snow and ice, you want an outsole that is relatively soft with maximum tread. Ralph Fabricius of Russell Moccasin told me that you don’t want “a real hard sole for ice—that’s two hard surfaces up against one another. Some Vibram [brand] soles have more forgiveness to them.” So a dress leather sole is right out—adding a Topy rubber sole probably helps a little. The title of grippiest, according to Ralph, goes to Vibram’s Fire and Ice or Olympia soles. My Danner boots (pictured above) use a light but deeply lugged Vibram Kletterlift outsole that suited me well on a trip to Quebec last January. The white Christy wedge sole that looks so darn good with so many boots is not a great choice for snow—too flat and too hard.

For dress boots you’ll find Dainite studded rubber or Ridgeway (also a Dainite product) soles are handy and widely available on better British shoes, especially country boots like those from Crockett and Jones. Likewise Commando lugged soles. On icy sidewalks, though, there’s not much you can do but be cautious.

Water resistance

In cold temperatures, you can often get away with outerwear that’s not 100% waterproof—it will take a lot longer for snow to soak through the shoulders of a heavy wool coat than steady rain. Water from melting snow can start getting into shoes rather quickly, though. Leather is hide, and by definition porous, so you have two options: treat your leather boots with a waterproofing compound like mink oil or Obenauf’s LP, which can darken leather and will need re-proofing over time, or add a layer of synthetic material, like Gore-Tex. Hiking boots—I’m partial to classically styled models like Danners or Merrells—are the most likely to feature a synthetic liner; I don’t know of any true dress boots that do so. Of note is that the highest-end hiking boots, like Limmers, do not use synthetic midlayers, but rather recommend waterproofing treatments.

For dress boots, you’re best off avoiding serious snow and slush if you can, and treating your leather boots well, both before and after you go out in winter conditions. So, rub them down with a quality, natural leather protectant regularly, and once you get out of the snow, wipe them clean, use shoe trees, and let them dry away from heat to avoid cracking or overdrying the leather. Crockett and Jones’s Snowdon model is one of the few dress boots that claim to be waterproof, with a waxy leather upper and Norwegian/Veldtshoen construction that is less likely to let water seep in between the sole and the upper than most shoes. If I had a pair of Snowdons, though, I’d still shovel the walk in something I wouldn’t feel I had to fuss over.

Warmth

Few boots are significantly insulated by themselves. Viberg hikers use a layer of Thinsulate, and you can always wear down booties, I guess. Bean Boots, a classic choice for long New England winters, are really quite cold, although L.L. does offer shearling/Thinsulate lined models. For dress boots, Paul at Leffot recommends Edward Green Galway boots, which can be made to order with a shearling lined shaft. Woah. Let’s see those again. Nice. Like Eddie Green Uggs.

Of course, warm socks provide insulation when boots don’t. Cotton socks are poor insulators when dry and miserable to wear when wet. I’m a big believer in SmartWool’s widely available wool-blend socks. Are they dress socks? No; but if you’re wearing a boot with a high shaft anyway, the dress-appropriateness of your sock becomes less of an issue. If you’re desperate for a little more warmth without resorting to all-out ultra-thick hiking socks, you can add a sock liner, which you wear as sort of a baselayer for your feet. Sock liners (also called liner socks) are usually made from synthetics or silk—quite comfortable and not too thick. One last tip for warm feet: add a layer to your legs. Long underwear under your trousers is too warm for most offices, but if you know you’ll be out in the elements a while, they’re worth it: warmer legs will make your feet feel warmer, too.

-Pete

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)

Make Your Own Rain Boots
With spring showers only a month away, it’s worth thinking about what kind of footwear one might need when the weather gets wet. My rainy day shoes of choice are shell cordovan boots. Shell cordovan, which is a leather taken from a horse’s rump, is so dense that it can effectively perform like rubber. I’ve trudged for miles on wet days without any snow or rain seeping in, and with a quick brushing once I get home, my shell boots look even better than the day they came. The only problem is that shell cordovan boots are quite expensive. Even on sale or on eBay, you’re looking at a neighborhood starting price of $500.
The alternative is to pick up a pair of SWIMS galoshes or LL Bean Boots. The upside to SWIMs is that they can be slipped over your normal dress shoes. The downside is that, frankly, sometimes you don’t want to bother with the hassle. LL Bean Boots are less fussy, but they can’t be worn with dressier garments such as suits and sport coats.
A happy medium is learn how to weatherproof the shoes you already own. For suede shoes, I recommend a waterproofing spray, such as this one from Allen Edmonds. Allen Edmonds’ version doesn’t contain any silicone, which is said by some to potentially damage to shoes. Each canister costs about seven bucks and can weatherproof something like five to seven pairs of shoes. I usually give my suede boots two coats before taking them out into the rain 24 hours later. Just be sure to only use this spray on suede shoes, as you can clog up the pores on calf, which would be bad.
For rugged boots, such as hiking boots or workboots, I recommend Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP or Montana Pitch Blend. I wrote a post last year about how to apply Obenauf’s, which readers might find useful. This thick, greasy cream both nourishes leather and helps keep moisture out. Don’t use it on anything besides rugged boots though. On a pair of dressy calf or shell cordovan shoes, this stuff can ruin your ability to ever get a proper shine.
For regular calf or shell, Steven Taffel at Leffot recommends Alden’s Leather Defender. It performs better than the minimal protection one might be able to give with a wax polish, and it won’t ruin your ability to give your shoes a proper shine. From a quick perusal of the online forums, some even say that it helps prevent the dreaded spotting shell cordovan can develop once it gets wet. That spotting goes away with a quick brushing, but it admittedly can be a bit of a hassle. I’m thinking of picking up some Leather Defender next month and trying it out on my shell boots. You can purchase it by calling Leffot and having them ship a bottle to you, or by going through J Crew’s online shop.
For $7 to $15, these all seem like great options, especially when compared to spending $500+ for shell boots, or even ~$100 for some SWIMs or LL Beans. Just have realistic expectations. Your shoes will be water resistant, but they won’t be waterproof. You can’t jump in any puddles or anything, but with some good preventive care, you can happily take your regular shoes out into the rain.
* Big thanks to Steven for help with this article. His store Leffot, by the way, is my favorite shoe shop in the US. Everyone ought to check out their store in NYC, if not at least their webshop.

Make Your Own Rain Boots

With spring showers only a month away, it’s worth thinking about what kind of footwear one might need when the weather gets wet. My rainy day shoes of choice are shell cordovan boots. Shell cordovan, which is a leather taken from a horse’s rump, is so dense that it can effectively perform like rubber. I’ve trudged for miles on wet days without any snow or rain seeping in, and with a quick brushing once I get home, my shell boots look even better than the day they came. The only problem is that shell cordovan boots are quite expensive. Even on sale or on eBay, you’re looking at a neighborhood starting price of $500.

The alternative is to pick up a pair of SWIMS galoshes or LL Bean Boots. The upside to SWIMs is that they can be slipped over your normal dress shoes. The downside is that, frankly, sometimes you don’t want to bother with the hassle. LL Bean Boots are less fussy, but they can’t be worn with dressier garments such as suits and sport coats.

A happy medium is learn how to weatherproof the shoes you already own. For suede shoes, I recommend a waterproofing spray, such as this one from Allen Edmonds. Allen Edmonds’ version doesn’t contain any silicone, which is said by some to potentially damage to shoes. Each canister costs about seven bucks and can weatherproof something like five to seven pairs of shoes. I usually give my suede boots two coats before taking them out into the rain 24 hours later. Just be sure to only use this spray on suede shoes, as you can clog up the pores on calf, which would be bad.

For rugged boots, such as hiking boots or workboots, I recommend Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP or Montana Pitch Blend. I wrote a post last year about how to apply Obenauf’s, which readers might find useful. This thick, greasy cream both nourishes leather and helps keep moisture out. Don’t use it on anything besides rugged boots though. On a pair of dressy calf or shell cordovan shoes, this stuff can ruin your ability to ever get a proper shine.

For regular calf or shell, Steven Taffel at Leffot recommends Alden’s Leather Defender. It performs better than the minimal protection one might be able to give with a wax polish, and it won’t ruin your ability to give your shoes a proper shine. From a quick perusal of the online forums, some even say that it helps prevent the dreaded spotting shell cordovan can develop once it gets wet. That spotting goes away with a quick brushing, but it admittedly can be a bit of a hassle. I’m thinking of picking up some Leather Defender next month and trying it out on my shell boots. You can purchase it by calling Leffot and having them ship a bottle to you, or by going through J Crew’s online shop.

For $7 to $15, these all seem like great options, especially when compared to spending $500+ for shell boots, or even ~$100 for some SWIMs or LL Beans. Just have realistic expectations. Your shoes will be water resistant, but they won’t be waterproof. You can’t jump in any puddles or anything, but with some good preventive care, you can happily take your regular shoes out into the rain.

* Big thanks to Steven for help with this article. His store Leffot, by the way, is my favorite shoe shop in the US. Everyone ought to check out their store in NYC, if not at least their webshop.

Leffot Summer Sale

Leffot’s summer sale is in its final stretch, and there are a number of items by Alden, Alfred Sargent, Borsalino, Edward Green, Quoddy, and Rider Boot Co. These house label cola suede chukkas, for example, are $290, and their milkshake suede derbys are $275. I would reserve both for summer, which is almost over, but you know - it’ll come again. 

Suede Shoes

I’m a huge fan of suede shoes and wear them more or less year-round. The word “suede” comes from the French word “Suède,” which simply means Sweden. At one point, Swedish suede gloves were the most common form of luxury, and the French word for Sweden ended up being used for the leather itself.

Suede can be made from almost any leather. You often find it made from lambskin, goatskin, and calfskin. In Germany they make it from stag and in Louisiana, there’s a producer that makes alligator suede. To get the texture, the animal’s skin is buffed with an abrasive. This can be done to the grain side of the leather, which will give you a finer, more velvety texture, or on the flesh side, which will give you a slightly coarser feel. Each animal will produce a slightly different feel to the suede, however, so the variation isn’t just through top vs. flesh side usage.

I personally prefer finer, velvety suede. To examine the quality, I examine to see if the fibers of the nap are uniform in length and packed tightly together. If the nap is firm, dense, and compact, the suede will be a bit more resilient. I eschew suedes with longer naps, as I find that they get a bit ragged and develop bald spots over time. I also avoid any suede that feels a bit greasy.

Since it’s fall, I suggest that you try suede shoes with wool flannel, corduroy, and moleskin trousers. Those tend to have “softer” looking textures, and I think they look quite well next to suede. The above are just some of the options - oxfords, Norwegian split toe bluchers, chukka boots, field boots, double monks, and tassel loafers. I myself just ordered a pair of Crockett & Jones Belgraves in Polo suede from Pediwear and plan to wear it often on weekends. In being an oxford, this shoe is a bit dressy; in being made from suede, however, it’s also a bit casual. They’re the perfect way to look sharp in a non-business, casual setting, I think.

(Pictures above by MostExerent, Ethan Desu, Leffot, and Run of the Mill)

One of the great things about summer is that you get to wear suede shoes more often. Here then is a video you should keep on hand. Leffot shows us how to wash suede shoes, which many men aren’t aware is possible. It’s pretty simple, really. Just put it under cold, running water and scrub it gently with a soft brush. Afterwards, stuff it with some newspapers and leave it out to dry. Now you’ll have much newer looking suede shoes!