Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

A Firm Footing in Smart Casual.

As hinted at yesterday, I’ve embarked on a new journey. Actually I’ve more sort of turned down a tributary of the river elegance. Up until now, I’ve concentrated on the impact of the classic age of menswear on the way that I dress. I love a good suit and I wish that more men would buy and wear them regularly. Sure we’ve seen some pattern mixing, there was the debate over denim, and I’ve even tried to sort out some classic looks for women (hoping to do more of that as this latest foray colours my thinking.)

Wisco’s prescient and nicely put comment on yesterday’s post really summed it up for me. He wrote:

Should we give up and just focus on smart casual? It all depends on your goal: If you wish to gain a larger audience that might learn something… anything about elegance, the answer is yes. This won’t please the purists, but frankly may cause us to rethink the basic question, “What is elegance?” Your recent guest post on 10 Essentials was one to cause people to think… why not smart casual.

Now, I’ll never give up wearing suits and ties, shining my shoes, trying to carry off a hat or hoping that the last square-toed shoe has gone the way of the Dodo, but I do see the need for more casual wardrobe choices in today’s world. So, I’ve begun to troll the internet, sift through the magazines, comb through the books, look around at my surroundings and dream about what could be if we all really cared about personal presentation.

I thought I’d start at bottom to give us a bit of grounding. Besides, I have shoes to shine today, so I might as well take some before photos…

If there is one belief that still holds water among the people I know, it is that shoes make a difference. Why, then, do so very many of us schlep around in running shoes, clumsy moccasins and …. flip-flops? (In their defence, the majority of women of my acquaintance get this right. With the exception of Uggs, which to me look like Clydesdale hooves, Dansko clogs and flip-flops.)

Is it comfort? Is it cost? Is it indifference? Who knows. But here goes.

The smart casual shoe is one that is dressy enough to be worn with a coat and tie and casual enough to be worn with jeans, corduroys and khakis. In my book, that means leather or suede. But it needn’t mean laces.

A great pair of slip-on’s — loafers, moccasins, call them what you will — will take you far. I find that the higher the apron and tongue, the dressier the look under a suit. A plain toe is always a good option, or opt for something spectacular like ADG’s slip-ons.

Regular readers know my penchant for monkstraps. They look great with blazers and grey flannels. And with cords. Especially when highly polished. they take som getting used to for some. But take a stroll through the shots from Pitti. The Italians wear a lot of monks. Especially the double monk. Me? I’m saving up for a pair of Oundles. Except that ADG’s slip ons keep softly calling my name.

All the hipsters seem intent on the revival of loggers boots. Boots are useful, when it’s cold. The ones I favour will do little to warm you up or to keep you too insulated from the vagaries of the winter weather. But you’ll look good after removing your galoshes. Paddock boots, chukkas, and the brilliant Chelsea boot all get high marks for style no matter what is going on above the ankle. Keep them sleek and not too chunky is my rule of thumb. They were good enough for our Mr. Steed, after all.

I’m off to make mine gleam.

14 thoughts on “A Firm Footing in Smart Casual.

  1. As to the question of women vs. men as to footwear, I’d say that I see more women getting it wrong. They wear athletic shoes and cotton socks for their commute (riding the commuter train and walking from the station to their office) and then change into shoes at the office. Some men do that too, of course, but not so many, and it’s not so obvious since they aren’t wearing skirts. I don’t know why people can’t find footwear that would look OK all day long, for the commute and for the office.

  2. i don’t think you’ve turned down a tributary of the river elegance so much as looking at the other river bank.

    The problem now encountered with shoes to be worn with jeans is the bad fit of so many jeans.

  3. As a long time reader I like this post. I often wear jeans and pair them with some of the shoes in this post. I also tend to wear some Paul Smith socks when wearing jeans and dress shoes. It shows your stylish intent, even while wearing jeans

  4. In response to John: 95% or more of women’s shoes are not fit for a commute. Paper thin soles, high heels and pale leather or other construction materials which won’t stand up to rain or snow. Most women’s shoes, especially those thought to look best with skirts and dresses are really indoor only shoes.

  5. Honored to be quoted in your blog sir… especially as I am luddite without my own blog/tumbler.

    I think that @David V hit it on the head with his statement that the problem with most business casual is that has become an excuse to sloppily dressed… the antithesis of elegance. It’s not about jeans, chinos or some designer wool trousers… it’s about fit. If the vast majority of business casual men just went to a tailor and had their sleeve length and leg length altered to fit, elegance would again be the norm. Let’s all hope Chris can spread this simple elegance tenet. We can get more advanced from there 🙂

  6. @ DocP: yes, but there are lots of loafers, and even boat shoes, that women could wear that would look better with a skirt and business attire than athletic shoes with white cotton socks. Of course I understand that they have no interest in looking good for the commute.

  7. Thanks Turling. I kept the original floors where ever possible. These would be ca. 1907. Square headed nails and all.
    newswolf, so glad for your comment and your readership. Thank you! What brand of jeans do you favour?
    DocP, no kidding! I’ve been pleased to see some movement in the area of comfortable and stylish women’s shoes. Mrs. E. has several pair of Cole Haan/Nike and Aerosoles (very few pair that are actually attractive) that do the job. But she is disinclined to wear heels at any rate, Especially since we are of essentially the same height. Personally, I don’t mind when she towers above me. Her personality does so already!

  8. Here is a sample of a Catholic elementary school’s dress code:
    For the dress uniform the girls have to wear oxfords, loafers, or Mary Janes, no athletic shoes.

    30 or 40 years ago women managed to get to and from work without athletic shoes, & girls didn’t wear athletic shoes to school outside of gym class.

  9. Speaking for myself, if I were to have to take a commute each day, I would carry my expensive calf pumps in a nice felt shoe bag, tuck it inside of a handsome tote (think Tod’s classic leather tote in black or brown), and choose one of the following for ‘travel’ or driving shoes: Tod’s driving mocs in suede or calf; leather paddock boots (with trousers only); Hunter, LeChameu (sp?), or even Bean boots with socks under if it were raining; dark brown or black suede/shearling mid-calf boots when it is 10 below and snowing; or, the best solution, one of the many Bjorn ‘walking shoes’ styles found at department stores–in brown or black. Super comfortable, great for travel, very inexpensive.

  10. I have never worn athletic shoes for a commute myself, so I’m not totally sure of the dynamic. My commute involves a few steps to my car, then a few steps to the office door. I suspect the very good suggestions made by other posters look too plausable as the shoes chosen for the day. If a woman wearing a skirt suit wears loafers, driving shoes or another sensible shoe, she is seen as a frumpy dresser. If she is wearing white athletic shoes with the same suit, these are obviiously for the commute and it is assumed there is a pair of killer heels in her bag.

  11. Doc makes a good point, proving once again women have unfair challenges in life, and it is nearly impossible for us to look great and wear functional shoes at the same time. Ladies’ dress shoes are simply not functional in the way that men’s sturdy shoes are. Gravel-filled parking lots, wet weather, snow and salt all ruin fragile pumps. Ladies simply can’t dash around the city, train, or airport terminal wearing lovely heels–they will be ruined. Only on television.

  12. Sadly, bunions, balance issues, and diabetes limit the stylish choices for some of us.

  13. Paula, DocP and A.G., I’m on the case. Mrs. E, for example, doesn’t wear heels (if she does, they are square cut and about 1″.) I know there is a middle ground to be found. One of my favourite memories of France is seeing an older woman on crutches…. and at least 3″ heels … navigating the cobblestones. Unreal!

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