A simple guide to not putting your foot in it

Does it matter what shoes you wear like it used to? Picture: Archant

Does it matter what shoes you wear like it used to? Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant Library

David Henshall isn’t sure anyone bothers to look at your shoes any more

Stanley Holloway (R) with Alec Guiness was very particular about shoes

Stanley Holloway (R) with Alec Guiness was very particular about shoes - Credit: Archant

There’s nothing quite like a pair of shoes your feet slip into like butter spreading on hot toast. I’m all of a piece with John Selden, the 17th century jurist and historian who wrote: “Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes; they were easiest for his feet.”

With only one or two mistakes, I have always gone for comfort rather than style and followed great uncle Mark’s advice offered to me as a youngster: “Always buy good shoes, clean them carefully after every use and they’ll last a lifetime.” None of mine has lasted quite that long but several pairs have given me long yeoman service. Good leather is marvellous stuff if you treat it right. It moulds itself to the shape of your foot and can lend a snug luxury to walking.

Just once or twice I have fallen foul of foot fashion and quickly regretted it. When I left school, I fancied myself in light brown suede and bought a pair with thick crepe rubber soles. They put a spring in my step but, I now suspect, made me look all feet.

They were certainly noticeable because when I visited my Aunt Irene at her Associated Press office in my smart sports jacket and flannels, an attractive woman colleague of hers raised a big laugh (with everybody except me) by fixing her gaze on my feet and saying, “You’ve got a fine pair of brothel creepers there young fellow.”

I got it wrong again when the mods and rockers brought a different splash of colour to the mid-Sixties. I didn’t see myself in one of their tight-legged red, green or puce suits but I did buy a pair of winklepicker shoes.

It was a mad waste of money because, quite apart from the fact that the pointed style made the shoes extra long and quite lethal going up and down stairs, the wasted sharp front bit where the toes didn’t reach had a habit of curling up like Aladdin’s slippers in an Arabian Nights drawing and soon looked silly.

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What I have always wanted is a pair of two-tone shoes, the sort of thing neat moustached cads always wore in Thirties movies. They feature in the dictionary as co-respondent shoes – a co-respondent being someone cited in a divorce – and I was tempted to buy a black and white pair to wear with my dinner jacket while window shopping in Covent Garden some years back. But then I remembered that all the trendies were then wearing white trainers with their DJs and resisted the purchase.

These footwear foibles popped back into mind when I read a lively exchange of letters in the Daily Telegraph prompted by a story in which a legal company had instructed its staff that it was not done to wear brown shoes with a dark business suit. The correspondence brought some amusing quotes: “One should not wear brown shoes south of Perth.” “Never brown around town, never black at the track.” “Dark suit, brown shoes – almost a gentleman.”

Another reader said that things had never been the same since Armani dressed the England World Cup Squad in blue suits and brown shoes in 2006. Personally, I think that dark suits and brown shoes tend to look wrong but an elegant suede shoe will go with practically anything.

Interestingly, this is a subject that goes back a long way. Years ago the short amusing or dramatic monologue was a popular part of music hall and a leading exponent was Stanley Holloway, who played Eliza Doolittle’s dad in the film My Fair Lady. One of his famous pieces was called Brown Boots, all about a chap who scandalised a funeral by wearing brown boots “when all the rest wore decent black and mourning suits.”

I don’t think it matters much any more. People will wear what they feel comfortable in and so they should.

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