A Little History On the Casualness of Shell Cordovan

Shell cordovan is sometimes thought of as a “dressy leather,” presumably because of how expensive it is, but it’s actually something historically considered to be quite casual. Indigo Shrimp has some neat advertisements from the shoe company Wolverine, originally printed in 1910, showing one of shell cordovan’s original applications as a workboot material.

Shell cordovan, as many readers will know, refers to leather drawn from the rears of horses. The word cordovan comes from the city of Cordoba in Spain, which was once renowned for its prowess in tanning. In the 16th and 17th centuries, skilled workers there would tan horse skins so they could be used to decorate wall hangings, armor, and trunks.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the term “cordovan” began to refer to the shell of horse butts (hence the name “shell cordovan”). Much of shell cordovan production at this time was in Germany, where it was sold under the name “Spigelware,” which translates to “mirror goods.” It’s a name we can safely presume comes from shell cordovan’s natural shiny finish.

In a letter written in 1934, Horween (a famous Chicago tannery) claims that the original German versions of shell cordovan were too thick and stiff to be used for shoes, and that it wasn’t until shell cordovan tanning came to the US (via German and Dutch tanners), did the process become perfected for footwear. Whether that’s just company marketing propaganda, or actual history, it’s hard to say.

In any case, when you see the term “cordovan” nowadays, it’s often just referring to a specific color – something that’s a bit reddish brown, and slightly darker than burgundy. It’s very close to what Horween markets as their “#8.” It’s really only when you see the full term “shell cordovan” that you can trust it’s the thick horse leather that so many people covet. Today, the material is mostly used for the making of casual boots, country shoes, and loafers (particularly the tasseled kind). You’ll occasionally see it in a “dressier” shoe, but the material is really something that should be considered quite casual. And, when you wear it, the rest of your outfit should be equally casual as well. Workwear jackets and work shirts with shell cordovan boots; chinos and Shetland sweaters with shell tassel loafers; or button down shirts and tweed sport coats with almost any kind of shell shoes.

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.

The Charm of Tassel Loafers
I really like tassel loafers. I’m wearing a shell cordovan pair now with brown sharkskin trousers, a dark green v-neck sweater, light blue oxford cloth button-down shirt, navy over-the-calf socks, and a dark reddish-brown alligator belt. With clothes that are a bit too fully cut, tassel loafers can look a little fuddy duddy; with clothes that are too tight, they can look overly hip. Somewhere in the middle, I think, is where they look best.
Tassel loafers came into being in the post-war period of the 1940s, right when tweed jackets, Shetland sweaters, and penny loafers dominated prep schools and Ivy League campuses. As college students graduated, they wanted something as comfortable as their slip-ons, but were a bit dressier and more sophisticated for their new life in the business world. It was around this time that an actor named Paul Lukas came back from Europe with a pair of oxfords. They had little tassels at the end of their laces, which Lukas thought made them look more lively. So he took them to a couple of New York shoemakers to see if they could make something similar, and they in turn took the job to Alden. The company’s president at the time, Arthur Tarlow, came up with tasseled loafers and they were an instant success. That makes Alden’s model the original, and Paul Lukas the first man to wear this style of footwear. You can read more about this wonderful history in this article by Bruce Boyer.
Tassel loafers come in a variety of colors and leathers. The most common is brown calfskin, but the ne plus ultra is the reddish-brown shell cordovan that comes from Chicago’s Horween Tannery. Shell cordovan has the particularly good quality of holding the color burgundy well. In calf, burgundy can sometimes look cheap, but in horsehide leather, it absolutely glows. 
As for where to get them, there are probably a dozens of versions on the market. I’ll only cover a few. As mentioned, Alden’s is the original and its history as the classic makes it hard to beat. They also make a similar model for Brooks Brothers. The main deviation is the piece of leather that’s added to the heel cup. From England, we have Crockett & Jones’ Cavendish and Edward Green’s Belgravia. Crockett & Jones also makes a shell cordovan version for Ralph Lauren called the the Marlow, and it has a slightly more unique shade of shell cordovan brown.
My own pair is Allen Edmonds’ Grayson. It’s quite similar to Alden’s, but it has a higher vamp, which is the part the shoe that covers the top part of your foot. I thought it looked slightly better this way, so I bought a pair in shell cordovan. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase and recommend them highly.
If you’d like more affordable options, consider Loake’s Lincoln and Meermin’s 101381. Both come in around $175, but Meermin has the added advantage of being able to do special orders. If you’d like to get a pair in shell cordovan or suede, or made from a different last or sole, they’d be happy to make you a pair for a small surcharge. I have a pair of their made-to-order shoes and couldn’t be more impressed with their value. To order, read this buyer’s guide and then go to Meermin’s website. My only comment on that guide is that you should ask Meermin for sizing advice; don’t just assume. 
Tassel loafers aren’t anything I’d call “an essential,” but they’re certainly very enjoyable to wear. If you work in an environment that lets you get away with more casual footwear, try wearing a pair of these with a wool sweater and corduroys, or maybe a checkered tweed and flannel wool trousers. Both will carry a great sense of American style that’s both casual and sophisticated. 

The Charm of Tassel Loafers

I really like tassel loafers. I’m wearing a shell cordovan pair now with brown sharkskin trousers, a dark green v-neck sweater, light blue oxford cloth button-down shirt, navy over-the-calf socks, and a dark reddish-brown alligator belt. With clothes that are a bit too fully cut, tassel loafers can look a little fuddy duddy; with clothes that are too tight, they can look overly hip. Somewhere in the middle, I think, is where they look best.

Tassel loafers came into being in the post-war period of the 1940s, right when tweed jackets, Shetland sweaters, and penny loafers dominated prep schools and Ivy League campuses. As college students graduated, they wanted something as comfortable as their slip-ons, but were a bit dressier and more sophisticated for their new life in the business world. It was around this time that an actor named Paul Lukas came back from Europe with a pair of oxfords. They had little tassels at the end of their laces, which Lukas thought made them look more lively. So he took them to a couple of New York shoemakers to see if they could make something similar, and they in turn took the job to Alden. The company’s president at the time, Arthur Tarlow, came up with tasseled loafers and they were an instant success. That makes Alden’s model the original, and Paul Lukas the first man to wear this style of footwear. You can read more about this wonderful history in this article by Bruce Boyer.

Tassel loafers come in a variety of colors and leathers. The most common is brown calfskin, but the ne plus ultra is the reddish-brown shell cordovan that comes from Chicago’s Horween Tannery. Shell cordovan has the particularly good quality of holding the color burgundy well. In calf, burgundy can sometimes look cheap, but in horsehide leather, it absolutely glows. 

As for where to get them, there are probably a dozens of versions on the market. I’ll only cover a few. As mentioned, Alden’s is the original and its history as the classic makes it hard to beat. They also make a similar model for Brooks Brothers. The main deviation is the piece of leather that’s added to the heel cup. From England, we have Crockett & Jones’ Cavendish and Edward Green’s Belgravia. Crockett & Jones also makes a shell cordovan version for Ralph Lauren called the the Marlow, and it has a slightly more unique shade of shell cordovan brown.

My own pair is Allen Edmonds’ Grayson. It’s quite similar to Alden’s, but it has a higher vamp, which is the part the shoe that covers the top part of your foot. I thought it looked slightly better this way, so I bought a pair in shell cordovan. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase and recommend them highly.

If you’d like more affordable options, consider Loake’s Lincoln and Meermin’s 101381. Both come in around $175, but Meermin has the added advantage of being able to do special orders. If you’d like to get a pair in shell cordovan or suede, or made from a different last or sole, they’d be happy to make you a pair for a small surcharge. I have a pair of their made-to-order shoes and couldn’t be more impressed with their value. To order, read this buyer’s guide and then go to Meermin’s website. My only comment on that guide is that you should ask Meermin for sizing advice; don’t just assume. 

Tassel loafers aren’t anything I’d call “an essential,” but they’re certainly very enjoyable to wear. If you work in an environment that lets you get away with more casual footwear, try wearing a pair of these with a wool sweater and corduroys, or maybe a checkered tweed and flannel wool trousers. Both will carry a great sense of American style that’s both casual and sophisticated. 

Ron Rider gives some simple tips on how to clean up and restore shell cordovan shoes. Above is a pair of black boots he worked on. The right shoe is what the restored one on the left used to look like. If you want to purchase the various products he mentions in his post, you can buy them from his store. 
I love photos like this. It reminds me that if you invest in quality shoes, you can get as much, if not more, from taking care of your shoes as you can from buying new ones. 
Also, note that in the comments section, Ron explains what causes those welts on shell cordovan shoes once they’ve gotten wet. 

Ron Rider gives some simple tips on how to clean up and restore shell cordovan shoes. Above is a pair of black boots he worked on. The right shoe is what the restored one on the left used to look like. If you want to purchase the various products he mentions in his post, you can buy them from his store

I love photos like this. It reminds me that if you invest in quality shoes, you can get as much, if not more, from taking care of your shoes as you can from buying new ones. 

Also, note that in the comments section, Ron explains what causes those welts on shell cordovan shoes once they’ve gotten wet. 

Shell Cordovan for Foul Weather Boots
Pictured above is a beautiful pair of cognac shell cordovan boots, custom made by Carmina for Ethan Desu. As Ethan notes, these are his go-to wet weather boots, and they’ve taken quite a beating in their time. 
Shell cordovan is also my material of choice for rainy day footwear. Some men worry that harsh elements will ruin their “precious” shell cordovans, but it’s important to remember that one of the material’s main advantages is its toughness. You can walk through hail, rain, sleet, or snow in these things and your feet will stay bone dry. Yes, this may cause the leather to rise a bit in some places, but you can smoothen it out by rubbing it with a deer bone (or simply the curved side of a metal spoon), and giving it a vigorous brushing. If you wish, you can also help protect the leather by applying a bit of wax polish once or twice a year (any more and shell cordovan won’t shine up well). 
Just take a look at the gleaming pair of shoes above. Although Ethan uses these as his rain boots, and has put in a lot of wear, he’s taken a stiff brush and a little bit of water, and made them look better than most people’s pampered dress shoes. 
Don’t be afraid to use your things. 

Shell Cordovan for Foul Weather Boots

Pictured above is a beautiful pair of cognac shell cordovan boots, custom made by Carmina for Ethan Desu. As Ethan notes, these are his go-to wet weather boots, and they’ve taken quite a beating in their time. 

Shell cordovan is also my material of choice for rainy day footwear. Some men worry that harsh elements will ruin their “precious” shell cordovans, but it’s important to remember that one of the material’s main advantages is its toughness. You can walk through hail, rain, sleet, or snow in these things and your feet will stay bone dry. Yes, this may cause the leather to rise a bit in some places, but you can smoothen it out by rubbing it with a deer bone (or simply the curved side of a metal spoon), and giving it a vigorous brushing. If you wish, you can also help protect the leather by applying a bit of wax polish once or twice a year (any more and shell cordovan won’t shine up well). 

Just take a look at the gleaming pair of shoes above. Although Ethan uses these as his rain boots, and has put in a lot of wear, he’s taken a stiff brush and a little bit of water, and made them look better than most people’s pampered dress shoes. 

Don’t be afraid to use your things. 

Boning Up on Shells
My go to shoes for rainy days are these shell cordovan boots by Brooks Brothers. Shell cordovan is wonderful at keeping your feet dry. The leather is thick and naturally water resistant, so it won’t soak through even in the most torrential of downpours. When you couple them with studded Dainite soles, they can make for the perfect pair of rain shoes. 
To wear shell cordovan in the rain, you only need to remember to give it a wax polishing every month or two. Unwaxed shell will still keep your feet dry, but the harsher elements can damage the leather. Which is what I found happened to mine after I wore them last week unprotected. I went out for three hours in the rain, and when I came home, I noticed small welts all over the vamps and sides. This happens every once in a while to a pair of calf chukkas I wear in the snow, and I usually fix them by polishing over the welts with the curved side of a metal spoon.
This time, however, I thought I’d try using this deer bone I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. I brushed off the dirt with a horsehair brush, wiped the shoes down with Allen Edmonds leather conditioner, and then rubbed the bone over the leather in circular motions. To my pleasant surprise, with a bit of work, the welts came down and a few minor scuffs were even taken out. According to this video, the bone is also infused with essential oils that help restore the leather. To be honest, mine seems perfectly dry, and it were oily, I’m not sure I would keep it around the house. Nonetheless, while I’m not sure any oils were imparted, it did its job of smoothing the uppers. 
Now, I usually say shoe care supplies are things every man should own, but a deer bone isn’t one of those essentials. If you’re just trying to take care of welts or minor scuffs, you can probably achieve the same results using a spoon, horsehair brush, some leather conditioner, and a bit of wax polish. If you enjoy polishing, however, a deer bone is nice in that it allows you to do things the old fashioned way. Sometimes, these things are just as much about the process as they are about the results. 

Boning Up on Shells

My go to shoes for rainy days are these shell cordovan boots by Brooks Brothers. Shell cordovan is wonderful at keeping your feet dry. The leather is thick and naturally water resistant, so it won’t soak through even in the most torrential of downpours. When you couple them with studded Dainite soles, they can make for the perfect pair of rain shoes. 

To wear shell cordovan in the rain, you only need to remember to give it a wax polishing every month or two. Unwaxed shell will still keep your feet dry, but the harsher elements can damage the leather. Which is what I found happened to mine after I wore them last week unprotected. I went out for three hours in the rain, and when I came home, I noticed small welts all over the vamps and sides. This happens every once in a while to a pair of calf chukkas I wear in the snow, and I usually fix them by polishing over the welts with the curved side of a metal spoon.

This time, however, I thought I’d try using this deer bone I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. I brushed off the dirt with a horsehair brush, wiped the shoes down with Allen Edmonds leather conditioner, and then rubbed the bone over the leather in circular motions. To my pleasant surprise, with a bit of work, the welts came down and a few minor scuffs were even taken out. According to this video, the bone is also infused with essential oils that help restore the leather. To be honest, mine seems perfectly dry, and it were oily, I’m not sure I would keep it around the house. Nonetheless, while I’m not sure any oils were imparted, it did its job of smoothing the uppers. 

Now, I usually say shoe care supplies are things every man should own, but a deer bone isn’t one of those essentials. If you’re just trying to take care of welts or minor scuffs, you can probably achieve the same results using a spoon, horsehair brush, some leather conditioner, and a bit of wax polish. If you enjoy polishing, however, a deer bone is nice in that it allows you to do things the old fashioned way. Sometimes, these things are just as much about the process as they are about the results. 

We Got It For Free: Chester Mox Wallets

Chester Mox recently got in some very interesting leathers. They asked me to review some of them, so I selected a couple of designs to be made out of their new materials. 

The first is Japanese shell cordovan. There is a very small supply of this leather in the world and only a few tanneries are able to get it. The most famous is Horween out of Chicago, but there are tanneries in Japan and Argentina as well. The difference is in the liquors they use and how thick their skins are. Japanese shells, for example, come in black and a natural tone that slowly darkens over time. They’re also slightly thinner than the Horweens I’ve handled, which means they’re a bit more pliable. Aside from that, compared alongside my Horween shell wallets, I saw no difference in quality (at least for the purposes of a wallet). Perhaps most exciting of all, Japanese shell is cheaper, which means shell cordovan products like these will be more affordable for the final consumer. 

The second new leather, called Essex, is from Horween. It’s a cowhide that has been tanned in the liquor Horween uses for shell cordovan. They’ve been developing this technique for about two or three years, and the results are pretty marvelous. The full-grained leather is very rich to the touch and has a beautiful, slightly variegated, color to it. The color was hard to capture with my camera, but it’s definitely now one of my favorite leathers from Horween.

You can get any of Chester Mox’s wallets made in these new materials. Just contact them for a price quote (shell will obviously be more expensive than calf). I should also note that I’ve found the stitching on these to be even better than before. They’re now using a slightly thinner thread, which I think makes for a cleaner appearance. And as always, they can also customize any wallet with an engraving. I usually request a simple monogram of my initials in the same font they use for their logo. 

Q and Answer: What Color Shoes Should I Wear With a Navy Suit?
Peter writes: I was recently given a fantastic vintage navy blue suit from the ’70s by my father. The  only thing stopping me from wearing it every opportunity I have is the  fact that I do not know what shoes to wear with it. I have seen images  of men wearing brown and black oxfords and derbys and I really have no  idea what is correct. Also, how does the choice of shoe alter which sock  is appropriate?
What color shoes to wear with a navy suit is a matter of perpetual debate. The general answer is that it depends on the circumstances and personal preference. The specific answer? Well, let’s run it down.
Brown: Once, wearing brown shoes with navy was heresy unless you were a Boston Brahmin or a particularly wild Italian. However, brown is the default choice for daytime wear today. The color makes a comfortable partner for navy blue, particularly in darker hues like chocolate. Whether brown shoes are appropriate in the workplace is up to you; there are traditional gentlemen in London who still think brown shoes are inappropriate at a business no matter what color your suit is.
Black: This is the traditional choice, particularly in the English tradition. Black shoes are more suitable for business and the evening, and while I don’t go to a lot of suit-wearing business meetings, when I wear a navy suit at night, I reach for the sharper, more formal black footwear. 
Burgundy: Burgundy or cordovan shoes are the wild card here. (Note that “cordovan” is a color, “shell cordovan” a material.) They pair well with navy and are suitable for day or night wear. They’re certainly a somewhat bolder choice than chocolate brown or black, but I think they acquit themselves well. When I wear a navy suit during the day, I find myself pulling out my burgundy shell cordovan Florsheim longwings.
As far as socks are concerned, your default should be to match your trousers - that means navy socks. This applies no matter what color shoes you’re wearing. In fact, you can pretty much wear navy socks with anything other than shorts. If you don’t choose navy, you’ll want something with some contrast, and that contrast should compliment the rest of your outfit. It can pull a color from your accessories, for example. It can also be a wildcard - once in a while, with a white square, blue shirt, blue tie and blue suit, I’ll wear red socks.
(By the way: while this guy looks good, I don’t recommended fitting a suit like this.)

Q and Answer: What Color Shoes Should I Wear With a Navy Suit?

Peter writes: I was recently given a fantastic vintage navy blue suit from the ’70s by my father. The only thing stopping me from wearing it every opportunity I have is the fact that I do not know what shoes to wear with it. I have seen images of men wearing brown and black oxfords and derbys and I really have no idea what is correct. Also, how does the choice of shoe alter which sock is appropriate?

What color shoes to wear with a navy suit is a matter of perpetual debate. The general answer is that it depends on the circumstances and personal preference. The specific answer? Well, let’s run it down.

  • Brown: Once, wearing brown shoes with navy was heresy unless you were a Boston Brahmin or a particularly wild Italian. However, brown is the default choice for daytime wear today. The color makes a comfortable partner for navy blue, particularly in darker hues like chocolate. Whether brown shoes are appropriate in the workplace is up to you; there are traditional gentlemen in London who still think brown shoes are inappropriate at a business no matter what color your suit is.
  • Black: This is the traditional choice, particularly in the English tradition. Black shoes are more suitable for business and the evening, and while I don’t go to a lot of suit-wearing business meetings, when I wear a navy suit at night, I reach for the sharper, more formal black footwear. 
  • Burgundy: Burgundy or cordovan shoes are the wild card here. (Note that “cordovan” is a color, “shell cordovan” a material.) They pair well with navy and are suitable for day or night wear. They’re certainly a somewhat bolder choice than chocolate brown or black, but I think they acquit themselves well. When I wear a navy suit during the day, I find myself pulling out my burgundy shell cordovan Florsheim longwings.

As far as socks are concerned, your default should be to match your trousers - that means navy socks. This applies no matter what color shoes you’re wearing. In fact, you can pretty much wear navy socks with anything other than shorts. If you don’t choose navy, you’ll want something with some contrast, and that contrast should compliment the rest of your outfit. It can pull a color from your accessories, for example. It can also be a wildcard - once in a while, with a white square, blue shirt, blue tie and blue suit, I’ll wear red socks.

(By the way: while this guy looks good, I don’t recommended fitting a suit like this.)

How Leathers are Made

A good friend, GW, sent me this wonderful video about shell cordovan. The film reminded me of another video I’ve seen about how calf leather is made. Both are worth a watch. 

As a note, if you’ve never handled shell cordovan shoes before, your priority for the next week should be to get your hands on some immediately. Reading about shell cordovan on the internet is no substitute. There is a reason why so many menswear enthusiasts go crazy over the stuff. 

Will from A Suitable Wardrobe just posted a wonderful video on how to polish shell cordovan shoes. The video features KeaLani Lada from A Shine & Co., who has been a guest on Will’s podcast and clearly knows her way around shoes. 

KeaLani demonstrates the importance of preparing the surface of your shoes before you apply any leather treatment. Many men forget to give their shoes a good buffing before they start working on their shoes. As a result, they can rub in dirt and dust as they condition and polish, which ends up scratching the leather. She also shows the importance of buffing in between each kind of treatment, which helps smooth out each layer and helps prevent build-up. Without such care, you risk creating spots where material has caked up, which will later create unsightly flakes or creases. 

There’s also a part about deer bone, which I had previously not known about. I find it curious, to be honest, since shell cordovan is so dense that I wonder how any of those oils can penetrate it. I talked to Nate Humble once and he told me that shell only needs a good layer or two of wax every few months. Who knows who is right, but I’ll tell you this - if I had shell cordovan boots as nice as Will’s, I’d pour kitten blood on it if I believed it would help maintain them. Those are some damn nice shoes.