ESSENTIALS

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Brown Suede Dress Shoes

Our resident British banker on the appeal of footwear that wears "characteristically."
Photo: Rose Callahan

The author has his beloved chukkas; Tyler Thoreson has his favorite pair of wingtips. Both were bought in 2004, and both are still in service.

Suede is a reassuring, classic material. It’s soft, and relatively thin, and it folds and bends agreeably. As a result it’s highly unfussy, and it wears well—or rather it wears characteristically. Suede doesn’t do that well in rain, and it gets dirty quickly, but that’s all right. It looks best a little bit worn. Because more than any other type of leather, suede takes on the characteristics of its owner with wear.

For the record, I’m not talking about Halston’s ultrasuede from the ’70s—which inspired Whitney Sudler-Smith’s documentary, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, last year—but rather, the real thing, which comes from the underside of a skin or pelt. There’s such thing as too much of the real thing, of course. I’m not a huge fan of fringed suede jackets, for instance. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t carry them off. And unless your name is Willie Nelson, the same is probably true for you.

For me (and by me I mean you), brown suede should largely be limited to boots and shoes (or possibly gloves: the word itself comes from the French “gants de Suède,” which literally means “Swedish gloves”). I bought some great lightweight brown suede boots on Gilt by John Varvatos for Converse last fall. I wish I’d also picked up a pair of Borrelli suede loafers. And then there’s British government minister Ken Clarke Brown, who famously wears brown suede Hush Puppies to Parliament every day. It’s a great gimmick. They are avuncular, non-threatening, comfortable, rakish in only the mildest sense. (Hush Puppies are themselves underrated. It may well be time for the rest of us to reclaim them from the nerds and the hipsters.)

As with the hair of brunette actresses, there is no correct, pre-ordained right shade or color for brown suede. A chocolate, Ali McGraw hue feels best in cold weather. A paler, sandy, Faye Dunaway suede might be more dashing on a tropical voyage. I’m still wearing a pair of dark brown chukkas from 2004. I’ve had them resoled twice. They are the most comfortable shoes—let alone boots—that I have ever worn, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever bring myself to throw them away.

Get yourself a pair and check back with me in seven years to see if you don’t feel the same.

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  1. Matthew says:

    Who makes the shoes pictured here? I’d love to pick up a pair.

  2. Julian says:

    Me too. I really like the shoes in the picture. Can anyone tell me where they are from?

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