The merely well dressed man has his Edward Greens and his John Lobbs (from Paris, of course, not London). The shoe fetishist dons his Berlutis, Gravatis and Lattanzis, and perhaps even his wife’s Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos.
But the dandy wears Belgian Shoes.
At first, this choice may seem odd. Belgian Shoes are ready-to-wear, not bespoke. They do not afford the owner the pleasure of having a unique last carved for the singularity of his feet, or the opportunity to incorporate individually chosen artistic details. The calf is smooth with a high gloss, indicating corrected grain, not choice natural hides with a deep, rich patina, such as an Edward Green, or that are bleached in the moonlight, as with Berluti. They are not even the most expensive: One can pick up three pairs for the price of one of the others.
Yet Belgian Shoes are the dandy’s choice. Why? Belgian Shoes are louche shoes.
Their featherweight construction and signature design — which appears archaic and yet surprisingly fashion forward — guarantee that they will be noticed. True, other makes also have their own distinctive look. Cleverley has its trademark chiseled toe, solid and definitely masculine.
In contrast, the combination of the design, construction and materials renders Belgian Shoes light and exquisite. All Belgian Shoes are handsewn slip-ons. A prolate vamp seemingly floats on the top. The quarters are low-slung. Many styles feature a decorative calf bow. The rubber soles (used on most models) are extremely soft and, because there is no welt (as in the sturdier Goodyear construction), extremely flexible.
Especially if paired with silk or other sheer hose, the shoes look dainty. Tweeds, or even heavier weight wool, overwhelm them. All-in-all, not the shoe for captains of industry. So if a merely well-dressed man owns a pair, he is diffident about wearing them. “Yes, I own a pair,” he may admit, but, he hastens to qualify, “I wear mine around the home with my smoking jacket.” A dandy has the élan to wear his Belgian Shoes out and about.
Wearing them, especially the original style (yclept “Mr. Casual”), outside the home takes commitment to the cause of dandyism. Its sole is so delicate that the shoes should not be worn on the pavements of Manhattan. They would soon be in tatters. Then how does a dandy go out in his Belgian Shoes? There are two ways. The more pedestrian involves wearing the shoes strictly inside one’s manse until the soles are broken-in and slightly scuffed. Then the dandy returns to Belgian Shoes, where, for a slight fee, they will cement a sturdier rubber sole to the existing sole. Why they do not make them this way in the first place I have no idea. The second and more dandiacal, indeed Brummellian, way: The dandy has his men transport him from the door of his dressing chamber to external affairs in a sedan chair (perhaps with all-white satin quilt lining, sheepskin rug and down cushions, like the Beau’s), which can be carried to his destination’s threshold so that his soles never be sullied by the coarse outdoors.
My dandiacal sole needing some revamping, I not long ago departed Poynton House and traveled to Belgian Shoes, located at East 55th Street just off Park Avenue. The store oozes a certain class. Where else does the reading matter include “The Social Register”? Mr. Lifshitz — er, Lauren — the ersatz aristocrat tenanted at the Rhinelander Mansion, can learn a thing or two about noblesse oblige from Belgian Shoes: It remains a store policy never to hold a sale. Instead, Belgian Shoes donates its overstock to charity. Imagine: the homeless treading the streets of Gotham shod in “Mr. Casuals.” Quel dandysme!
Perhaps sensing that there may not be enough dandies out there to make a go of selling only the original design, Belgian Shoes has lately expanded its range of offerings. The shoes are available in various permutations of material (calf, suede, cloth and patent leather), styles (ovals, tassels and penny loafers), and soles (soft, rubber mini-wedged and hard). There is one constant: They are all slip-ons.
The shoes, especially the two “Mr. Casual” models, are like wearing slippers, which is, in fact, what they really are. With these cloud puffs on my feet, I’m ready to cha-cha at my local Fred Astaire Dance Studio to Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Robinson, my sedan!