Read an Excerpt
Off the Cuff
By Carson Kressley
Plume BooksCopyright © 2005 Carson Kressley
All right reserved.
Bad Shoes, You Lose, or A Brief History of the Clog
When it comes to shoes, it's pretty simple: Bad shoes, you lose. And we're talking more than self-esteem, people! We're talking jobs, girlfriends, respect. What you have on your feet can make or break any look ... and break your toes. Spend some money and get the best shoes you can afford. And for Gucci's sake, make sure that they're comfortable. Because as much as I love sassy shoes, bunions are a real bee-atch, people. Ending up in the podiatric emergency room can ruin Kwanzaa for everyone.
With shoes, it's all about quality, quality, quality. It's better to have two or three pairs of good shoes that will last a long time than to have twenty-five pairs of generic-looking bargain brands. That's especially true of your dress shoes, but you can slide a little on casual shoes and sneakers.
Why does quality matter? Because your shoes are the first thing that women look at, and women (and gay men) know good footwear. You might be wearing the most amazing suit in the universe, but if you're wearing bad shoes, you might as well be wearing a sticker on your forehead that says "LOSER."
High-quality shoes are all about construction, and there are a few basic things to look for. Your shoes should be made of real leather andhave leather soles as well. If you buy quality leather shoes, they can be refurbished a number of times and will last forever, which is ultimately going to be less expensive than having to replace crappy, poorly made shoes every few months. For those of you animal lovers out there who won't wear leather, I admire your principles, I just don't admire your shoes. Vegetarian leather is like nonfat ice cream. Why bother?
The soles of well-made shoes will be stitched, not glued, to the bottom of the shoe. Also, the lining in better shoes is made of high-quality calfskin or natural leather, not synthetic materials. Finally, check out the stitching. It should be neat and should be barely noticeable.
Okay, so now that you know what quality shoes look like, I bet you want to know what styles of shoes you should have. The good news is that there really aren't too many options. (Yes, occasionally that can be a good thing.) For women, shoes are more of an accessory, like jewelry, that comes in 95 million different shapes, colors, varieties, and textures. But good-looking, stylish, conservative shoes are an absolute necessity for any man's wardrobe, and there are really just a few basic options for you to choose from.
Shoes are an acquired taste. I'm just going to walk you through the basics (so all you good little straight bunnies need not get overwhelmed on me), because if I unravel the whole world of shoes, you could become obsessive-compulsively addicted to shoe shopping. And the next thing you know you'll be hanging out with "gender illusionists" and collecting Cher memorabilia.
I'm not going to bother getting into specifics about the vast sea of casual shoes out there-from monk strap shoes and Chukka Boots to the whole slew of slip-ons. All I can say is keep it simple, sassy. You can really get in trouble with "fashion" shoes for men.
So here is my list of the ten pairs of shoes that I promise you will take to your grave. (Notice I said that you will take them, not that they will send you to your grave. Important distinction, people!)
1. The Black Oxford Lace-up, aka the blucher. This is the classic lace-up dress shoe (' la Beatles). And while we're at it, there is no such thing as a dress shoe that is not a lace-up. The black oxford is the perfect complement to all of your dark suits. Just don't wear them with a black suit, because you'll look like a lost Mormon missionary or a Bible salesman. Black bluchers with jeans are not bad as long as the shoe's not too fancy. I hate to see someone with an overdone dress shoe and a pair of jeans. It just looks stupid.
2. The Brown Wing Tip. The brown wing tip-also sometimes called a "brogue"-is the ultimate classic shoe. It's a lot like an oxford, except wing tips have little holes punched into the leather in a pattern. Doesn't sound familiar? Think of the opening of My Three Sons. Those snappy little tapping toes were wearing wing tips, kids. The brown wing tip looks great with a gray pinstripe suit, as it does with a pair of jeans and an oxford shirt. And who doesn't love versatility?
3. The Loafer. As the Judds sang in their country chart topper, love can build a bridge. And a nice brown loafer (penny or tassel-your choice) builds the bridge from sportswear to more dressy clothes. You can wear loafers with a sports coat (but not with a suit) or with casual sportswear-even jeans-and they still look cool and sophisticated in that Marlon Brando kind of way. Do I have to say more than Marlon and Brando? I don't think so. Loafers are also very Italian. In Milan, even the cabdrivers are cool. Why? Because they've got great loafers. And cute little Mercedes-Benz cabs! Who knew?
A word of caution about loafers: Beware the low vamp. No, this is not a trashy woman. The vamp refers to how far the shoe comes up the top of your foot. I hate to see shoes with a low vamp. They are trhs cheesy and they show way too much of your sock. Leave them in the GoodFellas wardrobe trailer, where they belong.
4. The Flip-Flop. For five dollars, flip-flops are more fun than an Asian hooker-at half the cost! They're a must have. Get them in black and brown. Then again, they're so inexpensive, why not get them in every color available? I'm not talking about Tevas here or any other nylon "tech sandal." A technical sandal is about as stupid-looking as it sounds. I'm talking about a plain old flip-flop from J. Crew, Old Navy, or the little Brazilian beauty known as the Havaiana.
In the summer, flip-flops are chic with absolutely everything-shorts and a linen shirt, denim and a blue blazer, khakis and a white cotton oxford. But feel free to wear them right into the fall, as long as snow has not yet fallen and the temperature is still mild. I once wore a brown Jil Sander suit (that's a fancy lady designer from my homeland) with brown Old Navy flip-flops. But this look is not for amateurs. I'll admit that flip-flops are hard to wear in the city and hard to drive in (see Driving Moccasins, below, for those occasions), but that's part of the cachet.
5. The Cowboy Boot. The cowboy boot is a classic American icon, right up there with baseball, apple pie, and show tunes. Okay, maybe not so much the show tunes for you. But cowboy boots made America great, and they'll look great on your feet, trust me. Go out and get a pair or I'll kick your ass. Wear them everywhere: in your living room, to a game, to the Emmys, to the opera. They can go everywhere except weddings or funerals, unless a rodeo clown is getting married or has died. Then you're in luck!
6. The Chelsea Boot. They're called Chelsea boots because everyone in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, where nearly everyone is gay, owns a pair, and gay men know shoes, people. Chelsea boots are compact boots with a side gore, which is a stretchy little elastic panel that allows the boot to fit snugly even though it doesn't have laces. I prefer them in black, but brown suede is yummy, too. Chelsea boots are classics that go well with absolutely everything-they're sexy and a little more rugged than your average dress shoe. And because they were invented for riding, they add just a little equestrian flair to your wardrobe. Trust me, horse people know clothes. It's never a bad idea to copy them.
7. The Classic Tennis Shoe. I'm not talking about white Reeboks here. And I'm not talking about all these exotic colored sneakers that make you look like a refugee from the Namibian national soccer team. I'm talking about black, navy or natural cotton Converse Chuck Taylors, which look great with jeans or a suit. They're always timeless and cool. Think James Dean. If Chucks don't tickle your fancy, try the classic black-and-white Adidas sambas or a chic pair of suede Pumas.
8. The Athletic Sneaker. The athletic shoe is where you can knock yourself out. This shoe can be as ugly as you want it to be. (I can't believe I just said that!) It just needs to provide support and protect against bunions and corns. Good times, good times.
It pains me to have to remind you that athletic shoes are for the gym and for the gym only. We're in the midst of a raging sneaker epidemic in this great nation of ours, which has been propagated by the freakishly huge-and growing!-selection of sneakers available. I fear that the number of sneaker styles out there will soon exceed the national population. True athletic shoes, meaning any sneaker that is predominantly white, should be saved for the gym. You can't even wear them to get coffee in the morning. And one thing I really hate to see is men on their morning commute wearing sneakers with a suit. That's a one-way ticket to Tragikestan. It saddens me more than global deforestation. Don't ever, ever do that or, Prada help me, I will personally come and rip those shoes off your feet.
9. The Driving Moccasin. A moccasin made for exactly what it says: driving your car. And even if you don't build your wardrobe around driving, you should still have a pair of these, because they're comfortable, they're just plain cool, and they look great with everything. They're especially yummy in chocolate brown and, for the more daring, baby blue. Okay, I confess that driving mocs may not be for amateurs or the average Joe, but who wants to be average?
10. The Tuxedo Shoe. If you've made it this far, consider yourself among the lucky. If you already own tuxedo shoes, you probably own a tuxedo. Good for you! I'm beginning to like you already. If you don't, keep it simple on this one and go with a black patent leather lace-up, which is always timeless and classic.
For those who are firmly in touch with their masculine side, most men's fashion books will tell you that the dark velvet slipper is appropriate with a tuxedo. I personally love the formal slipper embroidered with your monogram (or Gucci's or Ralph Lauren's,) a family crest, or a sartorial nod to a favorite hobby-perhaps martini glasses or a skull and crossbones. (Corporate logos do not count.) Just keep the vamp high so as not to look like an out-of-work ballet dancer.
A word of caution: The velvet slipper is for real pros. In all honesty, I think velvet slippers can be far too gay sometimes, even for me. That's saying a lot, people. Let's just leave it there and move on.
10a. I know, I know, I said ten, but if you live someplace where inclement weather is a factor, you might want some snow boots. Unless you live in Alaska, you're not going to wear them every day, so you can invest in a pair that will last for a number of years. Make sure they look good and they do their job.
Snow boots are necessary because there is no better way to ruin your leather shoes than to walk around in the snow. The salt on the sidewalk will migrate up to the sole of your shoe and cause it to detach. Salt also causes white crystallization on your shoes that you'll have to work hard to get out. (Should you find yourself in that unfortunate situation, try a soft cloth and a shoe cream with mink oil.) If it's snowy out, wear boots kind when you get to the office or wherever you're going, then change into your dress shoes. Mind you, this is the one and only time I will allow you to change your shoes for your commute. Otherwise, it's ridiculous.
Taking Care of Your Friends, Your Shoes
So now that you've amassed this great library of shoes, how are you going to take care of them? It really doesn't take much. You can just literally spit shine them with a soft cloth every once and a while, in between occasional polishings, which need to be done with real, live shoe polish. You don't want to be a slave to your shoes and feel like you have to spit shine and polish them every day. This isn't the Army, people or An Officer and a Gentleman. Oh, don't get me started on Richard Gere. Dreamsville! Sigh.
Your shoes should be kept clean and dry. It's also a good idea not to wear the same pair of shoes every day. Just give them a day to breathe in between wearings and they'll stay with you a long, long time. I'm also a big fan of the shoe tree. Shoe trees are good; plastic ficus trees are bad. If you buy an expensive pair of shoes, I'm going to be very upset if you don't also invest in a pair of $8 shoe trees. When you're not wearing your shoes, trees help them keep their shape and stay fresh and dry.
Keeping shoes in the boxes is always the wrong answer. Your shoes are like trophies. Keep them out so you can see them. I know it's fun to hold on to the memory of that glorious day of shoe shopping, when they all came in their fresh little boxes, but keeping them cooped up doesn't allow circulation, which is really important. Everything in your closet should be able to get some air, as all natural fibers and materials need. I recommend you invest in a canvas shoe holder that just slips over your closet door. That way you can keep all of your shoes out where you can see them. If they are in the boxes, you wind up forgetting what you have and not wearing some. And that would make us both sad clowns.
Fairy Carson Explains All About Taps
Please, my straight friends, do not put taps on your shoes. They're devised to prevent wear and tear on the toe and the heel, but it's really not that expensive to have shoes resoled, and most leather will wear more evenly without them. Not to mention that you're going to sound like some out of work chorus line member from 42nd Street. I only like taps on Liza.
SIDEBARS FOR ANYWHERE IN THIS CHAPTER:
The Fashion Intervention
If you've bought this book for a significant other who thinks he looks fabulous, but his fashion sense is actually stuck in the Miami Vice era, you might be nervous about broaching the subject. I subscribe to the Mary Poppins theory: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Doing a fashion intervention is a matter of tough love, and as long as you make clear that you come with good intentions, you should be okay. (If that fails, try slipping him a Roofie.)
And if you are that guy who thinks you look super cool in parachute pants and Members Only jackets, you need to listen to what your spouse or best friend is trying to tell you. They care about you and love you, and they want to help. You need to be willing to accept their honesty and candor in the kind, loving way it's being offered. Sometimes you think you look great, but you just don't, and only someone else can tell you that for sure. You need a second opinion. Even I, on rare occasion, think something I'm wearing is amazing and then some good Samaritan-or evil arch enemy-will show me a picture of myself and I'll say, "Oh, dear!"
What Color Shoes with Suits?
I wouldn't be so worried about rules. It's case by case and you just have to see what looks good. I love a navy suit with a brown shoe. It's very rich and very, very English.
Excerpted from Off the Cuff by Carson Kressley Copyright © 2005 by Carson Kressley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.