Shoemakers will rejoice at today’s revelation that British men have outpaced women when it comes to spending money on footwear – but this is a milestone that many have seen coming.
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Across the world, Britain included, sales of menswear and accessories have been increasing at a greater rate than women’s’ items since 2011. A decade after the now-terribly dated-looking Sex And The City turned the world’s women onto the high-end luxury shoes of Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik, men are having a similar moment.
During the 1990s sportswear companies – chiefly Germany’s adidas and the U.S. company Nike – retooled what were putatively athletics shoes into fashion items to be collected and fetishised. Confirmed ‘sneaker-freaks’, rather strangely, still take particular pride in keeping their rarest acquisitions unworn and ‘boxfresh’. Now, as today’s figures suggest, young men habitually buy multiple pairs of trainers.
This is a habit that has trickled upwards into the more rarefied arenas of high fashion and traditional shoemaking. Where men tend to stick to a pretty dull uniform – often based on either a suit or a pair of jeans – they can display their flair in their footwear.
England has the world’s greatest men’s shoemaking tradition, centred around Northampton, and the companies that nearly expired in those trainers-obsessed 1990s are now seeing business boom. Some have even been snapped up by foreign luxury conglomerates; Church’s belongs to Prada (the Church family now runs Cheaney), while John Lobb belongs to Hermès.
Odessa Onyx Patent slippers, £555 by John Lobb from Mr Porter
The other centre of shoemaking excellence is Italy; Louis Vuitton, Oliver Sweeney and most major quality brands produce their shoes in the Marche region.
The amount of variety now on offer for men in search of ‘proper’ shoes now easily rivals the choice displayed in Niketown.
Tod’s and Car Shoe both make rubber-button soled £300 leather driving shoes, while Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin specialise in studded men’s slipper-shoes.
Prada likes to mix old styles and new, attaching trainer-style air-soles to brogues, while the French company Berluti sells a style of hand-buffed loafer it created for Andy Warhol for over £1,000 a pair.
More manageably priced are Swims, a Norwegian firm, that makes good looking loafers and trainers in rubber so you can paddle in them – a sort of high class Crocs – and Maians, a Spanish company that produces fetching €70 desert boot/espadrille hybrids.
The best value of all, though, is probably provided by those old English firms – because a good pair of veldtschoen, brogues or Oxfords will last you for life and bear near-infinite resoling. Which, even for men who think its effete to think overly of their feet, should be reason enough to go shoe shopping.