In the first of a new series, men’s style writer and photographer Lee Osborne extols the virtues of the brown suede shoe in its many different guises and suggests what to wear with each style.
What is it about suede shoes? We know Elvis was a fan. And why do us menswear aficionados love them so much? Personally speaking, I’ve been an advocate of suede all of my adult life. I can’t really explain it, but given the choice between suede or leather, I’d go suede every time. The name suede is a derivative of the French phrase ‘gants de Suede’ or ‘gloves from Sweden’ - used to refer to specific types of super-soft gloves our gallic cousins once imported from Sweden. Thus, any leather material with a napped finish was hitherto labelled ‘Suede’.
Every piece of leather has a finished side and a suede side. The finished side is the exterior of the animal hide which has a visible grain running through it; the suede side uses the interior of the same hide and has a fuzzy, napped more suede-like appearance to which we are accustomed. Most guides advise not to wear suede shoes in the rain - however, this is not strictly true and something fellow suede lover The Shoe Snob speaks about frequently on his blog and IGTV. In fact, Justin Fitzpatrick positively encourages it, but with the caveat that it has shoes crafted from premium-quality suede, such as the more durable hides created by tanneries such as Leeds-based Charles F. Stead. They tend to be more substantial than some of their European counterparts which mean they are more durable. He advises against using any protective chemical sprays - instead preferring to insert shoe trees and allowing them to dry overnight, positioned on their sides. A quick bristle brush in the morning will soon have them right as rain (no pun intended). I find a great way to bring suede back to life is holding each shoe over a steaming kettle, giving them a gentle once over with a fine toothbrush.
The key styles and what to pair them with:
Shoes maketh a man of course, but are the sum of many parts of an outfit:
Crepe sole Chukka boot
An Ivy League favourite and icon of the mid-twentieth century, the crepe-soled Sanders Playboy Chukka boot gained notoriety when film star Steve McQueen famously sported them both on and off-screen in the late 60s and early 70s. McQueen was one of the rarified few who could pull off a 3-piece suit as well as nail the more casual elements of his wardrobe. In Bullit McQueen pairs them with a navy polo neck and navy flannels, while a Harrington jacket, blue t-shirt and beige chinos were his go-tos in the marvellously lavish The Thomas Crown Affair. Despite the suede desert boot often getting the plaudits, particularly with Drake’s who’ve pretty much made the style their own in recent times - and pull them off to great aplomb - I’ve often deemed them a bit too casual for my liking, preferring the smarter silhouette of the Playboy which are still handmade in the Sanders & Sanders factory in Rushden, Northamptonshire. It is such a timeless classic that it looks as cool today as it did 40-odd years ago. To prove the point, Daniel Craig who seems to have inherited McQueen’s sense of style, is pictured wearing Playboys in the final scenes of 007s Spectre, illustrating the timeless appeal of the style. Both are kings of the screen and there really could not be a greater endorsement of the shoe. Although the Italian sartorial magnate Gianni Agnelli was a Tod’s man, you could easily picture him in these.
Wear with: Smart: Sports jacket and grey flannels Casual: Belstaff Roadmaster, denim Gurkhas, cashmere roll neck, patterned scarf
Brown suede brogues
There are many different styles of Brogues of course, but I tend to steer towards the more minimally-perforated versions such as The Adam by George Cleverley as pictured inset, with a streamlined silhouette of an Oxford. A shoe with a rich Celtic heritage, the term brogue entered the English language in the late sixteenth-century, derived from the Gaelic term bróg - its formative years saw it viewed very much as a shoe for outdoor and country pursuits. Nowadays it is one of the most worn styles in menswear - so versatile they straddle the business/casual divide with aplomb. Brogues are most commonly found in one of four toe cap styles: full or "wingtip", semi-, quarter and longwing, and four closure styles: Oxford, Derby, ghillie, and monk). When worn right, I cannot think of a more elegant shoe for any aged man, it simply oozes elegance.
Pair with: Smart: Grey flannel suit, silk tie Casual: Cashmere sweater, spread-collar shirt, chinos, dark denim
Accesorise with: Handprinted silk fishing tie - red by Amidé Hadelin, €125.01; Cashmere glen check scarf - cream/dark brown by Amidé Hadelin, €220.00; Stout whangee foldable umbrella - green/burgundy by Amidé Hadelin , €524.99
Brown suede Belgian tassel loafers
The loafer takes its name from that popular pastime of ‘loafing around’. King George VI appointed London shoemaker Wildsmith to create a bespoke shoe he could slip into while at his country hideaways back in 1926- and is credited with commissioning the first modern loafer. This spawned the trend for more chunkier RTW versions of the model to be put into production by Britain’s leading cordwainers. Meanwhile, a Scandinavian cousin was hot on its heels: in the early 30s Norwegian brand Aurland, named after the small town in the Norwegian Fjords, founded by footwear fanatic Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger utilising the skills he had learned whilst at University in the States, created a loafer which became popularised all over Europe. One which would also find favour among American tourists who took them home back across the pond, eventually inspiring New England firm GH Bass to launch its own variant of the style, the Weejun.
The loafer, similarly to the brogue has a multitude of variants, but the Sagan tassel Belgian loafer by London-based Baudoin & Lange is the most comfortable and stylish - and those two words don’t often go hand-in-hand. They are my go-to shoes for travelling. Named for their sophisticated deep and smoky cigar-coloured hue, these handcrafted Sagan loafers in Lusitanias dark brown Asterian suede, are equally at home with or without socks.
Buy from: Sagan tassel Baudoin & Lange, £325
Pair with: Patch pocket travel blazer, button-down shirt, pocket square tied as a neckerchief, grey flannels, patterned socks
Accesorise with: Johannes Vermeer silk pocket square - 'The Milkmaid', €85.00 by Amidé Hadelin; Knee-high socks cotton houndstooth - olive/light blue by Bresciani; amidehadelin.com, €22.00
Brown suede monk straps
The Monk Strap was first popularised on a grand scale in Europe during the Middle Ages (c.1000-1350 BC) by Monks, believe it or not (although totally unaware I’m sure they would go on to inspire future generations of menswear connoisseurs) who needed something more substantial than the open sandals they were accustomed to wearing during their daily working lives. The monk strap provided more protection and was more comfortable to work in than sandals, while the buckle or buckles were a nod to their traditionally worn sandals. Believe it or not, I didn’t encounter the Monk strap until my mid-twenties: I had a stint working as a freelance designer on Tatler magazine. Publisher Geordie Greig, later to go on and edit the London Evening Standard sported them in black with a navy suit - I haven’t yet forgiven him for not wearing brown suede versions - but suffice to say I was an immediate convert. The cap toe double monk by Mallorcan shoemaker Carmina is a particular favourite of mine, featuring a leather sole in a refined Goodyear welt-construction with calf lining - which epitomises the style.
Pair with: Smart: Navy chalk stripe suit Casual: Cashmere shawl-neck cardigan, Cream cords
Accesorise with: Handprinted ancient madder tie - green by Amidé Hadelin; €125.01; Abraham Moon wool/linen braces - beige/blue by Amidé Hadelin, €144.99
Lee Osborne spent 10 years working on luxury travel and lifestyle magazine Condé Nast Traveller where he was Creative Director before establishing his own luxury content studio, Osborne Creative. A frequent traveller, he is founding editor of men's style blog Sartorialee: dressing the globe-trotting man, and regular contributor to The Rake, Plaza Uomo, The Daily Telegraph and Harrods magazine.
Follow Lee Osborne on Instagram @sartorialee and explore https://sartorialee.wordpress.com for more travel and style inspiration.