Dapper District: Lacing Up

How to make a basic suit count with the right pair of shoes

Click to buy, clockwise from top left: Ecco Atlanta cap toe tie, $165; Johnston & Murphy Atchison cap toe blucher, $99; Ecco Atlanta cap toe tie, $165; Bostonian Andover, $110; Florsheim Afton Oxford, $130; Florsheim Edgar, $100

Washington’s average suit is a solid dark color: gray or black. It’s made out of an untextured wool that seems to absorb light. It might have a pinstripe. Its jacket is single-breasted and has two buttons. Its lapels are about 2½ inches at their widest point. It has one vent. It’s darted. There’s some padding in the shoulders. Its waist is generous.

Underneath is a white cotton or cotton/polyester (I’m looking at you, Van Heusen) button-down shirt with barrel cuffs and a point collar. There’s a necktie. It’s usually made of a thin, faded, textureless material. It’s patterned with diagonal stripes, horizontal lines, or diamonds. Regardless of how the tie is tied, the knot is never larger than the width of my index and middle fingertips combined, and it never reaches below the collar’s points.

The pants have pleats, no more than two, and a cuff with a full break. They have what you might generously call a billowing fit. A black belt supports them. Black cotton socks accompany the suit. The socks have fallen down the wearer’s calves and collected in ankle puddles, which are visible—along with shin flesh—whenever the wearer crosses his legs. To cap it all off, black shoes made out of matte leather with thick laces—if there are laces!—a rubber sole, and square toes. They often vaguely resemble Steve Madden-style tennis shoes.

I’ve made myself depressed just describing it. Did you see how I had to use passive voice up there? Except that my favorite suit is gray, pleated, cuffed, two-button, darted, single-vented, wool, normally lapeled.

The difference is the details. Herringbone-patterned, sumptuous wool. Waist suppression on jacket and trousers. A thoughtful break to the pant leg. High-quality cotton shirt from a retailer that sells shirts in sleeve increments of an inch rather than 32-33 or 34-35. Thick, textured silk necktie. Over-the-calf socks.

And the right shoes. My first piece of concrete advice: a pair of shiny black lace-up cap-toe dress shoes. Pay no more than $80 but no less than $60. These shoes will last you three years or more. You should be able to pay $60 to $80 at Filene’s Basement, Syms, DSW, or any standard department store such as Macy’s, especially if it’s having a sale. Online also works, if that’s your thing, but I prefer to try on just about everything in person unless I already know how it fits. Bostonian is a good brand. Nunn Bush is a good brand. Don’t be tempted by variations on a theme. Cap-toe. Shiny. Black. Lace-up. Full leather sole, if possible.

You paid $80 for a pair of shoes that will last you three years or more, and you can wear them with a gray suit, gray slacks, and a blazer—or even dark, dressy jeans. What a steal.

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