There are a few ways to judge a man; his clothes, timepiece, the choice of footwear, scent and grooming. Then the first 12 spoken words. These make or break every encounter.
‘‘For a man, a shoe sums you up. The minute you walk into a room, it is the shoe, the belt and the messenger bag that tells it all,’’ says Aziz Fazal, director of Little Red, a Nairobi shop that stocks a series of luxury footwear brands.
Women are self-confessed shoe lovers. They will be forgiven for buying dozens of pairs, many of which they will never get to experience. Men on the other hand are more cautious spenders and will have fewer pairs depending on their pockets and lifestyle.
But a new breed of Kenyan men are bothering to dress well—stocking up to 100 pairs of bespoke shoes in their wardrobes and matching them with different outfits.
Mr Fazal says he owns about 40 to 50 pairs of shoes. ‘‘I love Zegna, Ferragamo as well as Santoni and Brioni.’’
Mutahi Kagwe, a former politician, says ‘‘if you do not dress the part you will not get the part.’’ Never attend a meeting inappropriately dressed, especially if you are being hosted.
Mr Kagwe says that no self-respecting man will ignore how he looks and attend a formal boardroom meeting in jeans, a wrinkled untucked shirt and sandals, even if they are from the creative industry.
For shoes, he prefers Bally, a Swiss luxury shoe brand followed only by Italian shoes.
Mike Okwiri, the vice president corporate communications of Airtel Africa, spares nothing when it comes to his look. He confessed that he has a vast shoe collection that rivals the fairer sex. Brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada blended in effortlessly in the shoe conversation. Whether he is casual or formally dressed, his shoes stand out. Both men do not hesitate spending Sh100,000 and above on a pair of good shoes. They are among the few Africans who source for bespoke shoes from overseas luxury shops that have a royal following or a select few outlets that are located in Africa.
George Glasgow, the chief executive of George Cleverley, a bespoke London shoemaker that has designed and built shoes for royalty for over 100 years said ‘‘the desire for well-crafted shoes is growing around the world despite their high cost.’’
And as demand for bespoke shoes grows, the trend is shifting to sneakers that are worn with suits, jeans or smart casual wear.
‘‘Sneakers are extremely big now. Classic shoes are slowly being phased out. It is where the world is moving to. But you can’t do without the very formal shoes such as Oxfords or Brogues. For instance, in the Kenyan market, Zegnas continue attracting the discreet businessman and Santonis that are beautifully handcrafted appeal to the young upcoming businessman who’s made it,’’ Mr Fazal said, adding that Little Red plans to add shoes by Billionaire and Phillip Plein, a German high-end footwear brand in the next few weeks. They will range from Sh80,800 to Sh151,500.
At bare minimum, have a Chelsea boot, couple of loafers, driving shoes, Oxfords, leather sneakers, a Derby or two, a Monk double strap and a full brogue in your shoe collection. Always match your shoe and belt, if possible wear the same brand. You can also have a pair or two of exotic-skin shoes. These cost upwards of Sh400,000 and you can choose alligator, crocodile, stingray or python skin. To get your shoe game up to speed, these are the three top formal and semi-formal shoes styles that should feature in your wardrobe.
The Monk Strap
These are less formal than Oxfords and you can have a single or double monk straps (buckle) and in the case of boots even a triple strap. Ideally worn with single-breasted jackets, this shoe sends the message that you are stylish and more adventurous. If you like warmer colours in tweed checked suits, you will like monk straps. Don’t wear monk straps at a formal event, with three piece suit or black tie events. It works well in brown, cognac, chestnut.
It is ideal for people with wide feet. The shoe has an open lacing and the flaps open wide at both ends, making it easy to put on. They are less formal and will feature full brogueing. You can opt for brands like Barker, Crockett & Jones from England.
These are the most formal shoes worn by men of taste. The defining feature of an Oxford is the closed lacing, the flaps are closed at the end. It is simple in design and works well with formal suits. It can also come with brogueing ideal for less formal events. It can be worn to board meetings as well as business presentations. You can have it with a leather or rubber sole depending on your working style.
My favourite Oxfords are the ‘whole cut’ design because they have a clean uncluttered look. You can have your whole cut Oxford with a medallion on the tip for effect. Alternatively, you could consider the cap toe Oxford. You must have a black pair at the very least. For Oxfords, consider Church’s, Santoni and Carmina.
This style comes in many shoe designs and you can opt for a full brogue (wingtip), U-shaped, long wing or semi/half brogue. Full brogues will have the punching on the wing tip and the heel. Half brogues will only have minimal perforations on the cap toe as opposed to the wingtip design. Brogue designs are less formal dependant on colour.
Avoid full brogues at black-tie events. They are best worn with broken suits, sports jackets and casual wear. Rule of thumb; the more broguing, the less formal the shoe is. Quarter brogues with punches only on the toe will go well with a formal outfit. You can also consider Church’s, Barker and Italian brands like Carmina and Santoni.