I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth. For trainers. (My general mirth is still relatively intact, I’m happy to report.) It’s seasonal, perhaps. On a recent trip to Paris, I packed two pairs of shoes: technical hiking trainers – better suited to Continental foothills than the cobbles of Montmartre – and a pair of calf leather boots with a cleated sole. I wore the former on the first day and regretted it instantly. All day, in the wet and wind of as Gallic January, I scolded myself for opting for style over substance. My ankles chilly, my toes a little damp, my pride sodden.
I wore the boots for the next two days, but the mistrust that harrowing experience instilled has lingered. I might never wear trainers again. Now, of a morning, I leer at the once-loved polyester and plastic forms on the shoe rack before casting my eyes to an ever-expanding collection of black, bench-made numbers. The aforementioned boots are there, as are some chunky penny loafers I can’t stop wearing at the moment. There’s a pair of leather moccasins, a pair of suede moccasins, some apron-topped ‘Norwegian’ field shoes and a pair of Crockett & Jones’ Tay double monk straps in Black Rough-Out Suede, among others. I wear them with selvedge jeans and grey socks and leave the house feeling natty and quietly stylish.
Trainers just aren’t cutting it right now. Even the hiking ones – which I love for what they evoke - with all the Gore-Tex and straps and flashes of neon. I want to wear loafers, lace-ups; shoes made with muscle.
Luckily, I’m not alone. Thanks to the backward gaze of the fashion industry, preppy, mid-Century, American style is having something of a moment (as part of a wider, imminent return to general sartorial elegance) in menswear. There’s a picture of Muhammad Ali running through London’s Piccadilly Circus early one morning, presumably in training for an upcoming fight. He’s wearing jersey joggers and a hoody and, incongruously, heavy army boots. That typifies the vibe I’m getting at: a casual mixture of soft clothes and hard footwear. Form that materialises as a result of function. Alternatively, Taking Ivy, Teruyoshi Hayashida’s book of photos of American college students in the Sixties is jammed with leather loafers, with barely a sneaker in sight.
That ‘Ivy’ style is being championed by a series of clothes makers and outlets, such as Aimé Leon Dore, a New York brand that fuses sports and formal wear with one eye on the past and one on the now. Joggers and hoodies are styled with wool Melton overcoats, white socks and leather loafers, for example. The vibe is hungover team captain, and I dig it.
Trainers have their place and their unique appeal, and no doubt my love will bloom once again, but for now, I and my feet are relishing leather, hand-stitching and character that comes with extended wear and tear. Even if that involves wet afternoons tramping around Paris.