By Scott Jacobs

If you ever go shoe shopping with men, here’s a tip. Don’t plan on staying long.

For a man, there are really only two questions: black or brown, ties or loafers. And while you are contemplating those deep issues, you are really asking yourself: now why can’t I just wear my gym shoes?

Power Feet

I have a friend who is fond of the expression “shoes make the man.” He claims he can tell where the power in the room lies simply by looking at people’s feet. Anyone can wear a suit, he says. Even the store clerks at Men’s Wearhouse have a pretty sophisticated eye toward what cut best fits a man. But for most of us, shoes are an afterthought (if a thought at all). The man who takes the time to match shoes to clothing has thought through the presentation process. He’s a man on the go.

A sharply shined dress shoe is ultimate mark of distinction, according to my friend. Although he prefers the modest anonymity of black or brown, my friend has been seen on rare occasions “sporting” beige moccasins with his casual wear, or white patent leather shoes with a white suit. Either one, he admits, is a blatant call for attention. Gym shoes, by contrast, often deemed an act of rebellion, are more likely a sign the guy is clueless about his own appearance.

My friend gives extra points to a gentleman who makes sure his shoes are shined before leaving the house. I have to believe that attitude is a holdover from his days as a traveling salesman when there wasn’t much else to do in his motel room.  I haven’t noticed any great run on the shoe polish shelf at the grocery store lately (Do they still carry shoe polish?) and I’d be hard pressed to even find a tin around the house.

When I see someone with a shine on their shoes, I figure it’s part of the waterproofing solvent they put on the shoe at the factory.

One Pair Fits All

No, I’ll never be mistaken for the power in the room. My approach to footwear is to buy one pair  of “good shoes” and wear them for all occasions. (Except in the summer when I try to get away with sandals and no socks.) I know, everyday use can be hard on a shoe––especially in the winter if you tromp through the snow without boots.  But I figure that as long as they keep out the water and the holes don’t show on top, I’ll wear those shoes til I drop.

And how do you know a shoe is worn out? When you wake up one morning and say, “Honey, where are my shoes?” And she replies, “I threw them out.”

A Visit to Payless

I don’t have a problem going to a Payless shoe store. (I grew up next door to the Paylesses, and they always seemed like very nice people.) The one nearest my home sits in a mall between a Petsmart and an appliance store, its windows plastered over with sale posters. The day I went, the bargain of the day was 50 percent off on sandals.

What you immediately notice on entering a Payless is they know their customer. There are seven aisles of shoes on display – six of them devoted to women’s and children’s sizes. The men’s department is a single aisle where shoes are displayed in open boxes by size. In my size (10 ½), the selection consists of two kinds of sandals, three dress shoes (two black, one brown) and a small assortment of moccasins and hiking boots. I picked out my dress shoes (black, no laces) in less than a minute. While we were there, my wife suggested that I also get a pair of sandals. I picked my favorite and was ready to go.

“Aren’t you going to try them on?” she asked. I set the boxes down, slipped on the sandals and walked the full 20 feet up and down the aisle. “Like wading in mud,” I proclaimed. “Let’s go.” I took my two purchases to the cash register. The clerk tallied the bill: $60. The whole experience took about eight minutes.

“You call that a shopping experience?” my wife sniffed. “You need choices to go shopping. We could have done that on the Internet.”

Nothing is Forever

I have no doubt my new shoes were lovingly crafted in China, although Payless goes to some lengths to disguise it. The dress shoes are sold under the “State Street” brand and the sandals carry an unreadable logo of initials easily mistaken for “REI.” Both are a testament to how far form-fitted rubber molding has come in the last few years.

Upon close inspection, my new dress shoes consist of three pieces of leather (or a leather-like synthetic) attached to a hard rubber platform otherwise known as the sole. Indentations along the edges imply that the casing of the shoe has been stitched to the sole, but they are just that––indentations pressed into the rubber at the factory to resemble a stitch line.

These are not shoes you are going to wear for a couple years, then take back to the cobbler to be re-soled with a fresh heel or leather sole. Over time, the rubber will just wear down around the edges. The adhesive holding the leather to the sole will crack. The factory shine will wear off. And one day you’ll wake in the morning saying, “Honey, where are my shoes?”

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