leather timberland boots A good pair of brogues is the sign of a man with soul
We all know, courtesy of Imelda Marcos and Cinderella, the pivotal role shoes play in women wardrobes. Rather less is spoken, however, of men attachment to lace ups.
I presume this is because while women flirt with a harem of heels, boots and flatties, a chap love for his favourite pair of Church forms a deeper, quieter tale of steadfast devotion. The further a shoe carries a man in adult life, the more profound his affection for it. When a woman shoe is worn to pieces like the over waltzed pumps of the 12 dancing princesses they jilted as swiftly as a disappointing suitor. But woe betides the wife who tries to bin her husband ancient Oxfords, or his moth eaten slippers: these are favourite retainers that have taken years to mould to his splayed toes and callouses.
Nowhere is this bond clearer than in the Northampton workshop of Edward Green. I managed to wangle my way into this leather perfumed sanctum courtesy of a documentary on footwear I was researching and presenting for Radio 4. The room is where some of the country handsomest and priciest brogues take shape, guided by the steady hands and beady eyes of a dozen female artisans. None beadier than supervisor Julie. She drew out the files she had compiled of the repairs she made to loyal customers shoes, which often arrived on her worktop with beseeching letters.
Here were men who couldn bear to be parted from gaffer taped brogues for more than a week, and a wife who had had her spouse 30 year old faithfuls rejuvenated for his 60th birthday. A photograph of the glossy chestnut flanks of the finished result seemed miraculous. But, then, miracles are Julie speciality. She showed me the carapaces of shoes so cracked and mummified you wouldn have been surprised to learn they been dug up alongside Richard III.
Julie was particularly tender with the inner show, peeling it aside to reveal how the toes would fill up with animal hairs. can always tell, she said, owns a cat, or a Border Terrier. She also showed me how the owner foot left such a singular imprint on the shoe internal architecture that you could pretty much judge his weight and height and whether he had a limp or moved swiftly. All this painstaking archaeology made sense of the fact that cherished boots can feel like receptacles for the soul, as much as the sole, or that our superstitious forebears often concealed shoes behind loose bricks in fireplaces, or under floorboards, to combat evil spirits.
Most compelling was the pride that Julie took in her forensic work. She believed that a well crafted man lace up was an objet of infinite superiority to a flimsy woman stiletto not just because of the 400 odd procedures involved in the construction of a fine shoe. Mind you, such craftsmanship is now a rarity: in the 1831 Census there were 1,281 shoemakers in Northampton, now just a handful of companies are left.
This is not only a blow to British industry, it a blow to our masculinity. Cheap shoes look slobbish and make men shuffle. Indeed, most females I know readily confess to a hefty degree of prejudice when it comes to men shoes. I know I could never love a man who favours slip ons, while one close friend confesses her bugbear is pointy shoes a spiv in a Graham Greene novel
Only one thing is certain: no man can go wrong with a decent pair of brogues. Prospective fiances and employers alike look upon the properly shod male with a clement eye. No chap should begrudge the outlay; after all, they get decades out of the brutes if they pack off to Julie.