My first pair of Alden shoes…the Cordovan Wing Tip Bal Oxford
Little known fact….my first entrepreneurial business venture was in the high-end men’s shoe business. I was a corporate honcho at the time, but had strong entrepreneurial urges. One of my closest friends in those days was straight out of GQ; a very snazzy dresser with a fetish for hand-crafted shoes and clothing. He introduced me to Alden shoes of Massachusetts, which was at that time one of the premiere makers of traditional “Goodyear welted” shoes for men. In the mid-’80’s there were three or four (Johnston & Murphy, Allen Edmonds, and maybe one more). Today, only Alden remains. Fortunately, by staying close to its traditional values it has survived and flourished as the finest maker of men’s shoes in America and one of the best in the world (the other brands still exist but they are all “offshore” and leverage their “brand”).
My friend convinced me to start a sideline business together, selling bespoke custom-made shirts, ties, and shoes under our own brand. Our “shtick” was to sell these to like-minded individuals in their own homes, in the evening (after our own business hours, of course) or on week-ends. We had one Helluva chutzpah in those days, actually convincing some of the greatest names in men’s clothing and shoes to make private label stuff for us (and for most of them, we were their only private label account ever. How’s that for balls?).
A couple of funny stories. I occasionally used to pick up my 6 year-old daughter from school. I drove a new Alfa Romeo sedan and was impeccably dressed with tailor-made suits, shirts, and absolutely gorgeous shoes. My daughter would see me receive shoe inventory at home, and would observe me sorting the orders and loading them into my car for delivery in the evening. One day at her school, each of the children was asked to stand up and tell the class what their father did for a living. My daughter’s answer: “My Dad is a shoemaker”. I’m sure the teachers must have had a dramatically different view of shoe-making as a profession after that!
The second story. I used to travel extensively to Europe and the Far East in those days….probably six times a year. I had never been stopped in an airport by anyone before I started wearing those Aldens….but no joke….a couple of strangers would routinely stop me on every trip and excitedly ask: “Are those Aldens?”. How weird is that? But Aldens were a cult shoe in those days (perhaps even more so today with the demise of most of the world’s great shoemakers).
Anyway, I’ve never been more comfortable than when wearing a fine pair of hand-crafted shoes that fit properly. My partner used to say: “A man should invest the most money in the two things in which he will spend the greatest time…his mattress and his shoes”. And he was right. Great shoes are a terrific investment. I have every pair of Alden, Church, and Dack’s shoes that I ever bought and they are all in excellent condition. Over time they have come to fit like a glove and are supremely comfortable. They also look great. They have paid for themselves many times over. There are three simple rules to making great shoes last for generations:
1. Never wear them two days in a row.
2. Always keep them in cedar shoe-trees so they can dry properly in their original shape.
3. Occasionally give them a good polishing (I hate doing it so usually reserve that for a professional shine at the airport).
Most people are astonished when I mention what a good pair of shoes should cost: $300-$500. They are used to $59 specials from Payless, and the Timberland knock-offs from the outlet stores that have become the benchmark for men’s shoes. Some comment that they don’t want their shoes to last a long time as they prefer to always be in style. Others are convinced that traditional men’s shoes are no longer in style. I disagree. Visit GQ’s web site and go to the Style section. Type in “Shoes”. You will see that traditional leather brogues, wing-tips, and loafers are still the benchmark shoes for men of style (as opposed to fashion).
If you ever have a chance to buy a pair of Alden shoes……don’t hesitate. Treat yourself to a life-altering experience of comfort and an appreciation for what hand-crafted tradition stands for.
Sadly, back surgery three years ago (three ruptured disks as a result of many sports injuries) now force me to wear heavily padded shoes that take the weight off my spine. Even there however, there are some great quality choices. Ecco, Mephisto, and others make excellent “modern” shoes…they still cost $200-$400 though. But I still try to wear my Aldens as often as I can when my back feels good (most of the time these days fortunately). And hopefully, I will add a new pair ro my collection shortly:
Object of desire – the Chukka boot – a shell cordovan (horsehide) version of the iconic ’60’s desert boot