Kent Wang just announced a new shoe, a black plain toe balmoral (pictured to the left, above). In keeping with Kent’s commitment to basics (he started making white pocket squares and double-sided cufflinks from vintage buttons), the shoe is a simple as can be.
(The balmoral, in American usage anyway, refers to a shoe with closed lacing – you can see in the photos above that the bit of leather with the lacing holes is sewn into the body of the shoe, rather than left open, as in a blucher. This makes for a dressier aesthetic.)
Kent says he made a plain-toe bal because it’s the simplest black dress shoe there is. It’s appropriate for any formal occasion, from wearing with a suit all the way up to black tie. That’s a convincing argument, if you ask me.
Shoes are one of the biggest problems for men who want to have their own black tie rig rather than renting. Tuxedos are available at a variety of price points, especially if you’re willing to go vintage. Shoes are tougher.
Patent leather looks like a cheap rental to my eyes no matter how high-quality the shoe. Cheap rentals look fantastically awful. Evening slippers (also called opera pumps), the most elegant option, can be prohibitively expensive – the Brooks Brothers version, while handsome, costs a hefty $448, and they’re tough to find used. Five hundred bucks is a lot for most folks to spend on shoes they’ll wear once a year.
Many men simply wear black wingtips with their tuxedo, or worse, black loafers. Frankly, you might as well wear sneakers – only you don’t get any rebel points for wearing loafers. Black cap toes are marginally better, but still look out of place, particularly if they feature any broguing. They simply read as, “I was doing great until I got to the shoes, then I gave up.”
A plain-toe black shoe, with closed lacing, highly shined, is a very reasonable alternative to evening shoes with black tie. You avoid the cheap, plasticky look of patent leather, and you get a shoe that can actually be worn for more than just black tie events. That’s a very solid investment, if you ask me.
Kent’s version, which is made in Vietnam (albeit to a high standard), is $350. The Alden version, with a more American shape, is about a hundred dollars more. Crockett & Jones Wembley model, available made-to-order from Pediwear, runs at about $390, plus shipping. Brooks Brothers’ offering, made in England (quite possibly by C&J) is $448.