It’s On Sale: Footwear at Urban Outfitters

I have a long-standing teenage grudge against Urban Outfitters, but why let integrity and principle get in the way of a 25% discount? All footwear at UO is on sale right now, making a lot of classic casual shoes like Clark’s Wallabees or Red Wing boots one-fourth more affordable, and  unimpeachable summer sneakers like Vans Authentics downright cheap. If you download their app, you also get free shipping.

-Pete

Dealing with Salt Stains
One of the big dangers for shoes in the winter is salt stains. When roads become icy and salt gets put down, the resulting slush can seep into shoes and leave salt at the high-water mark. If this salt isn’t taken out, it can leave a permanent line in the leather, much like how scum is left after a receding tide.
If you do get salt on your shoes, you should let them dry naturally and wipe them down the next day with a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar. When you do, you’ll notice your shoes considerably darken. This is OK, as the leather is just soaking up the solution. Just rub along where the salt has gathered and you’ll be able to take it out before it does any real damage. Afterwards, let them dry naturally again before putting on some leather conditioner and giving them a layer of wax polish. This should give them a minimal amount of protection next time you go out.
Truthfully, as simple as this sounds, this process can become a bit of a chore if you live in an area with long winters. So the other solution is to wear shoes you don’t have to worrying about staining. Work boots are particularly good in this category, such as those made by Red Wing (the Beckman, Iron Ranger, 875, and 877 models are particularly nice), Wolverine (1000 Mile is the standard), and Chippewa (J. Crew has some models on sale right now for 30% off). I also recently picked up some brown “trench boots” from Oak Street Bootmakers. Their model is a bit more expensive, but I find the shape less clunky and the shoes easier to break-in.
Pictured above is the same trench boot model, but in Oak Street’s “natural Chromexcel” leather, which they source from Horween. These were worn through Chicago’s last winter and purposefully put through a bunch of snow and puddles in heavily salted areas. Horween’s Chromexcel is a particularly “oily” material, so it doesn’t get salt stains easily, but even here you can see that what “damage” has been done only makes the boots look better. 
Of course, you can only wear work boots with certain clothes, so if you need to wear a suit everyday for work, you might just have to put a little more time into your shoe care regime. But, if you don’t, wear shoes you don’t have to worry about ruining. Some shoes look better a bit beat up. 

Dealing with Salt Stains

One of the big dangers for shoes in the winter is salt stains. When roads become icy and salt gets put down, the resulting slush can seep into shoes and leave salt at the high-water mark. If this salt isn’t taken out, it can leave a permanent line in the leather, much like how scum is left after a receding tide.

If you do get salt on your shoes, you should let them dry naturally and wipe them down the next day with a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar. When you do, you’ll notice your shoes considerably darken. This is OK, as the leather is just soaking up the solution. Just rub along where the salt has gathered and you’ll be able to take it out before it does any real damage. Afterwards, let them dry naturally again before putting on some leather conditioner and giving them a layer of wax polish. This should give them a minimal amount of protection next time you go out.

Truthfully, as simple as this sounds, this process can become a bit of a chore if you live in an area with long winters. So the other solution is to wear shoes you don’t have to worrying about staining. Work boots are particularly good in this category, such as those made by Red Wing (the Beckman, Iron Ranger, 875, and 877 models are particularly nice), Wolverine (1000 Mile is the standard), and Chippewa (J. Crew has some models on sale right now for 30% off). I also recently picked up some brown “trench boots” from Oak Street Bootmakers. Their model is a bit more expensive, but I find the shape less clunky and the shoes easier to break-in.

Pictured above is the same trench boot model, but in Oak Street’s “natural Chromexcel” leather, which they source from Horween. These were worn through Chicago’s last winter and purposefully put through a bunch of snow and puddles in heavily salted areas. Horween’s Chromexcel is a particularly “oily” material, so it doesn’t get salt stains easily, but even here you can see that what “damage” has been done only makes the boots look better. 

Of course, you can only wear work boots with certain clothes, so if you need to wear a suit everyday for work, you might just have to put a little more time into your shoe care regime. But, if you don’t, wear shoes you don’t have to worry about ruining. Some shoes look better a bit beat up. 

Can you wear suede shoes in the rain? Yes. Namor treated his suede loafers with Red Wing’s silicone spray, and shows us how waterproof they are now. I personally use Allen Edmonds’ Spray Waterproofer, but the effect is the same. Note that Allen Edmonds’ isn’t silicone based. There’s some controversy over whether silicone products can damage your leathers, but I’m not sure there’s any conclusive evidence either way. 

Addendum: I don’t recommend using these waterproofers on any smooth calf, but I’ve done it to all my suede shoes without any harm. 

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.

Q and Answer
Wes writes:
First, thank you very much for your website. I am a 31 year old Assistant Principal at a middle school in Southern California, and your site has helped me “hone” my style to balance professional attire and a little bit of fashion thrown in. I recently bought a 1978 Honda CB750F motorcycle, that I’m in the process of converting into a 1930’s cafe racer. I would like a pair of stylish “vintage” motorcycle boots to wear when I ride, but don’t want the Harley-style black tall boots. I’d like some leather work boots (steel toe optional), but with a distressed look. J Crew has some limited edition Red Wing boots that look great, but are $300. I bought my bike for $500, and would hate to be wearing riding gear that cost more than my bike. Any suggestions on stylish footwear for the gearhead on his bike? Thanks!
You sound like a pretty kick-ass middle school assistant principal.  My middle school principal drove a 1987 Civic hatchback and directed a girl in the lead role of a Kabuki version of Hamlet.
As for your question: good boots aren’t cheap, Wes, which is why those Red Wings come in around $300.  Red Wing does have a less expensive line called Irish Setter that would probably work for your purposes, and some bargain shopping could help you too.  I have a pair of those Red Wings from J. Crew which I bought last fall for about $125 on eBay.
Speaking of eBay, though, I think vintage might be your best bet.  Good boots are expensive - but they also last, so they’re plentiful on the used market.  You’re riding an old bike, and an old beat up pair of boots like these Fryes (pictured above) would be apropos.  Try searching for “engineer boots” or “work boots” and your size on what our pal Jimmy calls The Electronic Bay, and see what you can come up with.  What you buy may need some conditioning and perhaps even a few repairs, but they’ll have character that you can’t buy at J. Crew.

Q and Answer

Wes writes:

First, thank you very much for your website. I am a 31 year old Assistant Principal at a middle school in Southern California, and your site has helped me “hone” my style to balance professional attire and a little bit of fashion thrown in. I recently bought a 1978 Honda CB750F motorcycle, that I’m in the process of converting into a 1930’s cafe racer. I would like a pair of stylish “vintage” motorcycle boots to wear when I ride, but don’t want the Harley-style black tall boots. I’d like some leather work boots (steel toe optional), but with a distressed look. J Crew has some limited edition Red Wing boots that look great, but are $300. I bought my bike for $500, and would hate to be wearing riding gear that cost more than my bike. Any suggestions on stylish footwear for the gearhead on his bike? Thanks!

You sound like a pretty kick-ass middle school assistant principal.  My middle school principal drove a 1987 Civic hatchback and directed a girl in the lead role of a Kabuki version of Hamlet.

As for your question: good boots aren’t cheap, Wes, which is why those Red Wings come in around $300.  Red Wing does have a less expensive line called Irish Setter that would probably work for your purposes, and some bargain shopping could help you too.  I have a pair of those Red Wings from J. Crew which I bought last fall for about $125 on eBay.

Speaking of eBay, though, I think vintage might be your best bet.  Good boots are expensive - but they also last, so they’re plentiful on the used market.  You’re riding an old bike, and an old beat up pair of boots like these Fryes (pictured above) would be apropos.  Try searching for “engineer boots” or “work boots” and your size on what our pal Jimmy calls The Electronic Bay, and see what you can come up with.  What you buy may need some conditioning and perhaps even a few repairs, but they’ll have character that you can’t buy at J. Crew.

All I Want For Christmas: Marc Maron

In our series All I Want For Christmas, we ask men we think are cool what they’d like to get as a gift this year.

Marc Maron is an comic, radio & podcast host and writer.  His hilarious show WTF, is one of the top comedy programs in iTunes, and he’s appeared on Late Nate with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman literally dozens of times.  So what does he want to wear next time he goes on national television?

I commit to shoes and boots. I mean for the long haul. I’ve got some that have outlasted my two marriages. I don’t have a lot of pairs. I have enough to rotate them in and out on a yearly cycle (not unlike wives apparently) so I don’t wear them out (like I did the wives). I just bought a pair of Red Wing Black Cherry Gentleman Traveler boots. I NEED the black ones. NEED. Seriously… NEED. Please buy them for me.
Red Wing Gentleman Traveler

It’s On Sale!
We’ve recommended the Red Wing Gentleman’s Traveler before as an excellent casual boot to pair with jeans and chinos.  A little more refined than the work boot alternatives without being as fussy as wingtip boots or as expensive as, say, Alden Indys.
Amazon’s currently offering the GT at $214, minus a $20 discount, which brings their price under $200.  Given that their retail is just shy of $300 and they’re not often on sale, it’s a great deal.  If you’re looking for a solid casual boot, strike now.

It’s On Sale!

We’ve recommended the Red Wing Gentleman’s Traveler before as an excellent casual boot to pair with jeans and chinos.  A little more refined than the work boot alternatives without being as fussy as wingtip boots or as expensive as, say, Alden Indys.

Amazon’s currently offering the GT at $214, minus a $20 discount, which brings their price under $200.  Given that their retail is just shy of $300 and they’re not often on sale, it’s a great deal.  If you’re looking for a solid casual boot, strike now.

Q&A

Samson writes:

I am currently on the hunt for some stylish boots that could work for both casual and semi-formal occasions. I’ve looked at various Red Wing (white soles- questionable for more formal occasions), Clarks (nice, but I already own a pair and would like to try something different), Frye (kinda butch), etc… but none really do it for me.

I happened upon these by Alden that I really like (even my fiancé loves them)  but they are both sold out and not anywhere in my size… oh and quite expensive (but if everything I’ve read about Alden is true then maybe worth it). Anyway I’d appreciate any suggestions.

It will be difficult to find boots that are both appropriate for casual wear and for semi-formal occaisions.  Boots are generally out of place with any but the most casual suit, casually worn, and most boots aren’t appropriate even with a sportcoat.  That said, you do have options.

You can go with a casual boot.  The Red Wing Gentleman Traveler is a great option here, especially in black cherry.  This boot will smarten up jeans or cotton pants, but you wouldn’t pair it with anything more formal than that.

You could also consider a Chelsea boot.  R.M. Williams is an Australian manufacturer who make whole-cut (meaning the only seam is at the back), elastic-sided boots that in their sleeker (and low-heeled) versions can look equally at home with blue jeans and wool pants.  I’d consider the flat-heeled, chisel-toed models, like the Craftsman pictured above.  Williams have a store in NY, or can be ordered online from Australia — shipping runs about $30, and the boots are a bargain at about $250.

If you’re looking for a dressier boot, you could try one from one of the mid-end traditional English manufacturers, like Tricker’s or Grenson.  Above is the Grenson Sharp, a brogued boot with a larger, more traditional toebox that could certainly be worn with jeans or your favorite country clothes.  I grabbed these shots from the excellent Pediwear.co.uk.  You can also find seconds of some of these mid-level English brands for less on Ebay.

You’re right to consider Aldens, as well.  Alden is America’s finest traditional shoe manufacturer, and they offer a variety of great styles.  There are several retailers that specialize in Aldens, and they have a store in San Francisco.  Leather Soul of Hawaii has a number of lovely exclusive Alden boots.  I’ve included a plaintoe called the Flextoe, version of their iconic “Indy” boot in super-durable shell cordovan and left out some other beautiful shoes.  If I were going to recommend one shoe for this purpose though, it might be the last Alden, a simple chukka.  At $400 or so, it’s no bargain, but with good care it will last you the rest of your life.