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Ben Dietz (BD) is a longtime friend of WITI and publishes the [SIC] Weekly newsletter. He’s co-founder of Elsewhere, consults with media and consumer brands, and co-hosts the Culture Club Show on Clubhouse on Wednesdays. He’s everywhere @dietznutz.
Ben here. After a recent meeting in Tribeca, I chanced to wander into The Armoury, a men’s clothing store known for its high-end, idiosyncratic men’s suits. Originally from Hong Kong, The Armoury serves a particular kind of man—the type that wants to look proper but also wants to look distinctive, style expressed through tiny details like the shape of his jacket shoulder or the make of his braided belt. (Editor’s note: read Armoury founder’s MMD here)
As I walked in, I was greeted with a compliment on my shoes—a pair of Padmore and Barnes model P404—which is more popularly known as the Clark’s Wallabee boot. Padmore was the original wallabee manufacturer and still makes its P404 style. I am a shoe guy and so the compliment made me smile. And it got us into a conversation about the shoes in the store.
I picked up a pair of interesting-looking loafers; they were made in the style of Belgian Shoes but shod with an outsole very much like the cream-colored rubber unit that luxury brand Loro Piana’s casual footwear is known for. I asked about them and the salesperson went into great detail about the shoes in my hand- made by the UK-based Baudoin & Lange. I told him that they reminded me of the Loro Pianas and he replied “Oh yes, but much cooler.”
(Photo: Baudoin & Lange)
I’m paraphrasing now, but he continued to the effect of, “When anybody walks in with a pair of those on”—“those” meaning the Loro Pianas—“you can tell what level of service he’ll expect, how he wants to be treated, the level of obsequiousness.” The comment was not a compliment.
Why is this interesting?
This exchange made me think about how I judge people: by their shoes. I have always started my assessment of anyone from their feet first. Male or female, old or young, colleague or friend, stranger or icon—it starts with the shoes for me.
The question is, why? Why do so many of us feel compelled to start with the shoes, and judge others by them? According to Lawrence Schlossman, co-host of the menswear podcast Throwing Fits, it’s just logic. Via DM he told me, “Literally and figuratively, footwear ... is the foundational element upon which I’m building every outfit.” He continued, “We have the whole bit where if you go top-down you’re a cop, because going bottom-up is the most logical way to logistically build an outfit that makes you feel great for that day.”
He offered an example. “So maybe it’s Lucchese cowboy boots for me personally, and I know from there I’m going to work my way up to Wrangler cowboy-cut jeans and a vintage western shirt and a rodeo hat. OR maybe it’s Belgian sleds and I’m gonna go with Patagonia baggies and a Kamakura Oxford Cloth Button Down.”
I’m the same, pretty much. Loafers take me almost inevitably to once-cuffed selvedge denim and a cashmere crew-neck sweater or a madras button-down, while my Padmores dictate chinos or fatigues and a chore coat. And so on … brogues, work boots, Birkenstocks (only Bostons, tho). The combinations matter and the shoes are the cornerstone. If you’re dressing top-down, what are you thinking? Seriously, I want to know.
Then again, I couldn’t tell you exactly why I feel like I do, either. I like Lawrence’s claim of logic (which was backed by others I spoke to), but that’s not it entirely. In my case, luck is part of it—I am both sample size (Men’s 9) and have worked in a business with generous friends from Nike, Adidas, Clarks, and many others—which means that I am better catered to than most when it comes to footwear. But I don’t think my career (or my shoe size) really has anything to do with the importance I place on shoes; mine or others. It’s not even my appreciation for the sublime but unfortunately dying art of shoemaking. I’m pretty sure my shoe-first POV comes from growing up a skateboarder in Syracuse, a city known for shitty weather and its basketball team. Skating and slush meant ruined shoes. And the basketball Orange set the Nike-driven footwear agenda for me and every other kid in town each fall. So I was always thinking about what story my next pair might tell. It made me identify with a particular psychographic: those who lavish upon the lowest part of our wardrobe the highest admiration.
This is not to say the shoes are the end-all-be-all. As Swaim Hutson designer and founder at The Academy New York told me, “Nothing is worse than a nice shoe in the bad company of an unattractive sock.” But that’s a whole ‘nother column.* (BD)
*Footnote of the day:
Swaim’s advice: “If you have trouble with a sock it’s best to go no sock at all...nothing screams constant classic style more than a white sock and a loafer. Many may disagree and say I’m keeping bad company. [But] as they say, ‘you’re known by the company you keep.’”
It’s one of my great regrets that I never ordered a pair of Arrow Moccasins when the company was still around; I eyed them for years. These days, the zombie website haunts me. But wow, the products page – seemingly unchanged since 1997 – is fun to visit. (BD)
The Armoury’s sister marque Drake’s does a great job manifesting modern brand marketing with lively playlists, interviews and impromptu lookbooks. Worth a follow (if you like those sorts of things). (BD)
It’s not about shoes per se, but W. David Marx’s book “Ametora” is a must-read for anybody with a style jones. It traces the influence of post-war Japan’s Ivy obsession on basically everything we wear today, in ebullient, highly readable style. (BD)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Ben (BD)
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