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The Winter Survival Guide to Dress Shoes

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Note: This story was originally published in January of 2013, but winter comes back strong every year. The same cannot be said for that pair of killer shoes you scrimped and saved for because “damn they’re nice!” unless you take good care of them and have a plan to get through the winter months. But take heart. Keep reading and we’ll show you how to stay well shod even when you have to trudge through the ice and snow.

Things we love about the winter: outerwear, layering and holiday party open bars. Things we hate about the winter: cold, wind chill, more wind chill and stepping into a dirty pile of snow/slush/dirt/salt with our nice leather oxfords on.

In life, there are some poor decisions you can get away with, and then there are those that will haunt you for years to come. Ruining a beautiful pair of brogues because you shrugged off the blizzard forecast easily falls into the latter category.

So before stepping out into that wintry mix, get prepped with our three-part winter footwear guide.

Strategy #1: Abstinence 

You’ve heard this one before. The best form of prevention is abstinence. So how can you prevent Mother Winter from impregnating your favorite pair of cognac double monks with dirty slush and salt? Easy, keep them nestled in your closet, far away from the mean streets.

Of course, the problem here is that you love your double monks. And if you’re going to bench them until you get to the office, you want a stand-in that damn well looks good. So we put together a line-up of more winter battle-ready options that won’t mitigate your fresh factor:
Grenson Fred Brogue Boots – A nice pair of brogue dress boots will not only be Black Lapel suit-friendly, the thicker soles will help you to confidently man all those winter sidewalk shenanigans. Form? Check. Function? Check.

Iron Ranger Leather Boots – Well, they are called Iron Ranger for a reason. Originally made for miners, these boots were designed for dudes who were doing serious manual labor. As manly as you might be, you’re not mining anything except phone numbers at a bar. These will go great with a pair of denim or cords.

L.L. Bean Waterproof Boots – Every man needs a pair of these because there are few things worse than wet and cold feet. Not only will these L.L. Bean Waterproof boots keep your feet dry, they will give you traction so you don’t have an embarrassing wipe out. Wearing these won’t land you on the cover of GQ, but they’re your best bet for taking on the worst of the winter.

Strategy #2: Use Protection

You know what they say about protection – don’t get caught without it. For the days when you must absolutely rock your favorite cap toes, blizzard or no blizzard, protection comes in the form of “galoshes” or overshoes (aka rubber covers or as we like to call them, “shoe condoms”). Like these Swims.

The galosh is meant to be worn over your dress shoes and should cover about ¾ of your shoe. It’s a good option for those days where the snow or sleet has yet to come, but is on the way. Keep a spare at your office or in your gym bag so you can throw on or off as needed.

Strategy #3: “Morning After” Damage Control

Sometimes, for lack of better judgment or unforeseen circumstances, we find ourselves in damage control mode. We’ve all had those days when we find ourselves cursing the idiot weatherman while trudging through 6 inches of street-grimed snow in our favorite shoes. Here are some last resort rescue tactics:

  1. Dry – If you find your once-handsome leather dress shoes drenched after a storm, avoid the inclination to use a blow dryer on them. Using a heat source will cause the water to leave the leather too quickly, cracking the leather and causing permanent damage. Instead, take your time with the drying. Pat dry it with towel then insert a dry towel on the inside of the shoe to pull the moisture from the inside. Leave for a day or so in this manner to dry slowly in room temp.
  2. Clean – Once they’re dry, use a horsehair brush and/or a damp cloth and clean off dirt and residue. Exposure to salts / acids can permanently damage leather if not cleaned promptly and properly. If salt residue is pervasive, dip your damp cloth in a solution of 1/3 white vinegar 2/3 water and rub away at the stains in an outward circular motion.
  3. Condition – Once they’re clean, condition the shoes with a leather cream/conditioner such as Saphir’s Renovateur to moisturize the leather. Leather is animal skin, and thus is susceptible to drying and cracking if not given the proper nutrients. A cleaner conditioner such as Allen Edmonds Condition/Cleaner will also help remove surface area residue while moisturizing the leather.
  4. Polish – Once steps 1-3 are complete, you can polish your shoes and get that healthy shine back while adding a light layer of moisture protection.

So next time you decide to go frolic in the snow, remember to use protection or better yet, practice abstinence. And if do you get caught up in some unforeseeable wet mess and it looks like you’ve ruined another pair of your favorite shoes, follow our 4 step damage control guide to get them looking new again.

Got any questions or other tips for getting your leather dress shoes through the winter? Share them in the comments below! 

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22 thoughts on “The Winter Survival Guide to Dress Shoes”

  1. So many of these sorts of articles seem to be written by people who’ve never experienced a real winter. Sprinkling, and 50 degrees in southern CA is not a winter, that is fall at best in a lot of places.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Not sure where “Sprinkling, and 50 degrees in Southern CA” came from, but we agree, that’s not much of a concern for your shoes. The above is intended to provide guidance for those who want to dress in style and save their shoes even on cold snowy days like we get here in New York.

  2. That sounds good but almost 1/2 the cost of my boots. They look durable. Thanks.

    1. True, they’re not cheap, but if they extend the life of your boots, they’ll be worth it. Plus, how much is your time worth? Think of the time you’ll save NOT scraping caked in mud out of the lugs of your boots.

  3. Looking for something to cover a steel toe boot so I don’t have to wash mud out of all the tread. Will these work?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’re assuming you’re talking about the Swims, Ray, correct? If so, then we wouldn’t recommend them for any hard labor in the mud. They’re more for protecting dress shoes from the slush. To cover up a pair of work boots, try something more substantial, like these boot covers from Lacrosse. They’re not winning any beauty contests, but it sounds like you’re more interested in function than form.

  4. Are there many good “custom shoe” companies online? I know there are plenty of places to get a suit, here for example, Indochino, itailor, it goes on… But what about well made personalized dress shoes, any thoughts?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Avi, we don’t believe there are any good online solutions for custom shoes. We’ve looked into this in the past and there are indeed a couple of options in Europe, however, they are expensive and the designs are limited. Here’s one that’s made its way to the US but you need to visit one of their showrooms to get scanned: http://www.aandhmag.com/technology-meets-menswear-at-the-left-shoe-company/ Like with all purchases (including buying a custom suit) do your research on product quality, customer satisfaction, etc. before making your purchase! Hope that helps!

  5. I love those brogue boots, but does anyone have any recommendations for a well-made and similarly-styled boot for those of us who can’t afford to drop $500 on a single pair of footwear?

    1. Brandon, check these out: http://www.dsw.com/shoe/aston+grey+cable+boot?prodId=264194&category=cat20303&activeCats=cat20192,cat20303

      We’ve never tried Aston Grey ourselves but the reviews online seem to be consistently solid.

  6. Jack watters says:

    Not be be a nitpicker (like I am with my shoe cleaning regimen), but the cotton pants with waling on them are cords, not chords. Music a an exlir for the soul, but you can’t wear it! =)

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Tingley’s rock, by the way! I ruined a pair of double monk Ferragamos long ago…and vowed never to let it happen again!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hah, duly noted and corrected! :)

  7. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I thought standard procedure was to remove one’s overshoes once indoors? That’s what I’ve been doing when it snows.

    1. Good point Jovan! Comment edited.

  8. I can attest to Tingley’s quality vs. price. I love mine. I may take a look at the Executive or 10 inch workboot overshoes.

    Avoid Totes at all costs though. They’re priced as much as Tingley yet lower quality. Some people even report the rubber leaving marks on their shoes!

    1. Good to know about Totes overshoes!

    2. Sadly I have experience with this, with a nice $400 pair of Allen Edmonds. I have an email out to them right now, we’ll see what they come back with. What a shame that Totes sells a product that leaves indelible marks far worse than the slush they’re trying to protect from!

      1. Black Lapel says:

        That sucks. Here’s hoping for good results for your AE’s!

  9. Going by this my solution seems a bit extreme, but I live in a place where a snowfall that’s actually worth mentioning is going to drop 4-6 inches on the ground if not more (2 years and 2 days ago I had 31 inches fall in my yard over a 24 hour period, not even counting blowing and drifting)

    I went for a Tingley 10 inch workboot overshoe — it’s wide enough to handle my size 10.5-11.5 EEE shoes, flexible enough to tuck in my pant legs, and it has a button latch that I can use to pull it tight and prevent much from slipping over the top. And at 10 inches tall it’s only going to cause me a problem in way more snow or muck than I’d ever consider wearing dressy shoes in. the only problem is I can’t for the life of me latch them if they’re on the feet they’re marked for — I have to reverse them (they don’t seem to be right/left fitted beyond the R/L tag on the sole) or I can’t get the latch closed without a lot of hassle.

    They also make a more elegant version for people with narrower feet. (The Executive)

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Thanks for sharing JC, good find!

    2. I live in such a place as well. We also have temperatures below 0 deg F. So besides getting dirty with snow/slush/dirt/salt, dress shoes don’t keep warm anymore.

      Solution? Well, I have a pair of dress shoes at the office. I simply wear warm weatherproof boots when I leave the house, then swap when I get in and take of my coat.

      1. Abstinence. It works. 😉

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