Black shoes are boring. That’s not the main reason I wear brown shoes more than black, but it’s a small contributory factor. Black shoes don’t have any of the advantages of patina – with brown you can build up a personality in polish over a number of years, creating an individual finish through the addition of layers of black to a chocolate shoe, or brown to a tan. You can’t do that with black.
Over the years people have told me they polish black shoes with red, blue or brown, and it creates a different effect. But I’ve never seen it, even when people point and insist. Staining the leather, as a nice Berluti might do with green or blue hints to a black shoe, is one thing. But not polishing.
The best you can do with black – which I do like as an effect – is to work the toe cap up to an obsessive gleam but leave the rest of the shoe relatively matte. This doesn’t mean that you don’t polish the rest of the shoe. You should still work cream or polish into the leather regularly. But brush it to bring up the polish and don’t bother with a glacé finish. The toe cap can get the full spit-and-polish, building up layers of polish and water until you can literally read your watch in it. The contrast with the rest of the shoe is some kind of consolation for patina.
But a consolation is all it is. With black shoes, I do feel you need greater interest in the styling or material. Crocodile is an option, but that can be a bit flash. Black suede is nice, but really only an option when you have already have two or three pair of black calf already. Better are variations in style like tassel slip-ons, Cleverley slip-ons with the fake laces, or ankle-high boots. My favourite, as shown above, is a combination of suggestions two and five: boots with suede tops. (The pair here are Shannons from Edward Green on the 82 last. The Shannon is an old EG style based on an army boot the Northampton shoemaker used to make.)
A shoe with that sweeping, horizontal line down the length of the shoe is called a balmoral. A balmoral boot is peculiarly well suited to a style with contrasting calf and suede because, of course, the line provides an obvious seam to separate the two materials. It also means that the suede drops just below the bottom of the trouser leg – on a short pair the balmoral seam would skirt the trouser’s hem all the way round; on a normal length it leaves just a inch or so of suede at the front of the shoe. Subtle, but certainly noticeable at close quarters.
I am told that the calf/suede style was created to echo the look of spats. I don’t know the historical truth of this, but the resemblance is undeniable. And it probably accounts for the slightly Edwardian air such boots possess.
Plain ankle boots in all calf are also a nice option in black. I recommend Edward Green’s Comptons in the Top Drawer range. Beautiful models with the sculpted waist of a bespoke shoe. But they do take several months to order. I’ll stick to Shannons for now.