Monday, December 6, 2010

men and clogs - the war and peace edition

As I mentioned in my previous post, Lindsey from Every Clog Has Its Day asked me some questions as part of poll on what men would like to see in clogs. Here's my complete answers to the questions.

What do you make of the idea being that standard clogs might be a little too femme in a lot of guys' minds?

I don't know if the issue is so much that men find clogs to be a little too femme as opposed to men reflecting broader cultural attitudes. Clogs in general tend to be the black sheep of the shoe family, even among women. Lagerfeld's use of clogs in his Chanel collection went a long away to changing how people view clogs, but like any trend there are supporters and critics so it remains to be seen how long the love affair with clogs last. Men, I suspect, won't generally be influenced by the ebb and flow of trends, which brings me to t
he more critical second attitude: as a whole, society "fetishizes" women's feet. It's not simply that there is a dizzying number of means with which women can adorn their feet: - shoes, jewelry, nail polish - and men's options tend to stay close to the simple and practical with a few refined designs here and there. It's that women have more fashionable and socially acceptable opportunities to "show off" their feet (and what they put on them) than men do. Whether at the beach or on the red carpet, on the street or in the office, women can bare or conceal their feet as they see fit. Men, however, are limited by societal norms that associate sandals with casual relaxation. A man exposing his feet simply doesn't fit into cultural notions of formal, even elegant menswear.

When it comes to a shoe as unique as clogs, then - especially open-back clogs - I think part of the problem is that there can't be a fashion space for men to wear clogs if there isn't much of a fashion space for men to wear sandals in anything but casual situations. The question becomes less about whether clogs are too femme" but, in what situations can men wear clogs and still have their wardrobe create the impression they want, or are expected, to create?

(guayabera shirt, Dickies pants, sanita clogs)

I'm fortunate in that I work in an office with a relaxed dress code. I've become known for my preference for sandals, to the point that I've occasionally unsettled people by wearing shoes. With a good amount of freedom, I've been able to wear just about what I want to wear, which means I've been able to experiment with taking business casual off the well-trodden path. When the weather is just cool enough to make sandals impractical but not so cold as to require shoes, that's when I wear clogs most often. With the right kind of clothes, I've made it possible to achieve a certain professional look without compromising on my own personal preferences.

My advice to men who might be interested in wearing clogs but are wary of looking "femme" is to consider that how one looks doesn't typically depend on a single accessory like footwear or jewelry. It's the overall look that counts, along with a good posture and a good dose of confidence. So if a man wears clogs with a dress, then yes, he'll look like a cross-dresser even though the clog design itself is gender-neutral. But if he wears clogs with, for example, jeans and a shirt, then he'll just look like a guy wearing clogs, although a particularly "feminine" pair of clogs (i.e. with heels, flowery patterns, or other features that we strongly identify with women) might create an anomaly in the overall look. Context is everything, in other words, and I think guys should be just as fearless in experimenting with fashion as women are.

Do you favor open heel or closed back design?

Personally, I prefer open heels. I like the way the clogs look and feel, of course, and the slip-on ease is wonderful (given my habit of sitting cross-legged, being able to take off my shoes easily is always a plus). But I also think open heels present fashionable possibilities to men that would otherwise be ignored. Open heel clogs can always be worn barefoot, of course, but there's also the option to wear socks and have some fun with that. Instead of the usual black or white socks, there's a cornucopia of socks in different patterns and colours, not to forget departures from the usual sausage casings like toe socks, with which to add some pizazz to an ensemble.

Having said that, there certainly is room for closed-back designs for those situations or ensembles in which open heels don't achieve the right look.

Do you prefer wooden midsoles that are light or dark...or stained black?

My preference really depends on the whole shoe. Since my personal colour palette starts and ends with black, with either grey or sanguinary colours in between, I lean towards dark woods and stains. However, I have seen clogs with light-coloured alder wood footbeds that I would gladly wear because the uppers look great and the alder wood provides a nice contrast.

Which of these upper materials would you prefer: Leather? Suede? Nubuck? Canvas? Denim?

As an approximate vegan, I am wary of animal products and the exploitation/cruelty that comes with them. However, when it comes to footwear I am often compelled to make an exception because synthetic "leathers" and plastics just don't breathe or stretch the way leather does, and many involved highly toxic processes. Still, canvas shoes offer comfort without the need for leather. Materials like denim and hemp also strike me as good alternatives. So while I'm not closed to the idea of leather, I'd love to see clogs made from non-animal, non-plastic materials - it's just better for the environment all-around.

Are there any special design additions that turn you off? Strap over the instep? Strap and buckle? Cap toe? Two tone colors? Harness (such as on a traditional Dingo boot)? Fur trim? Faux laces?

Are there any that you would enjoy?

There's a fine line between the ornamental and the baroque, and while womenswear designers have no fear about skirting that line, let alone utterly obliterating it, menswear seems afraid to get within sight of it. Without crossing into the baroque, I would love to see designers have more fun with ornamentation. Straps, buckles, harnesses, laces, zippers, cap toes, buttons...bring em' on, I say. How about clogs inspired by tanker boots? Clogs with lace-up features inspired by the footwear of choice for Roman soldiers, the ever-popular gladiator sandal?

Insofar as colours are concerned, I think a palette of rich, dark colours would be appealing in addition to the usual black, white, and grey - burgundies, forest greens, burnt oranges, and so on - along with a select few "shock" colours like the gabber blue Ford uses with their Mustangs. Patterns inspired by leaves and vines (as opposed to flowers), provided they are not too florid, would also be tempting.

About the only addition that would turn me off from the get-go are fur trims and animal print designs. I can't see them fitting into my wardrobe either aesthetically or practically.

Would you like a clog boot design more than a clog?

My own definition of clogs steers close to the traditional Swedish design, not so much in terms of material but in terms of form and how we wear them. To that end, while I greatly admire the boots that come from blending clogs and boots into a single design, I feel like the boot element tends to completely the clog aspect. Without the ease that comes with wearing clogs, and with too much of a visual departure for my tastes from the clog look, I take the view that when I want a boot, I'll stick with my Corcoran field boots, and when I want a clog, then I'll stick with the shoe style.

How would you feel about clogs with lug soles?

I like them. Tessa Clogs offers "mountain clogs" with lug soles and illustrate how well the idea works. The rugged look plays into our conventional interpretation of the masculine aesthetic - and they allow for more heavy-duty walking.

What would make a clog something you'd feel more likely to purchase and wear as a man?

Considering that I already own a pair of Sanitas, I obviously don't have any issues with purchasing and wearing traditional clogs as a man. However, I do feel that the barrier for men owning/wearing clogs is pretty high given that the choice starkly boils down to that traditional design in black or brown...or nothing at all. Since the traditional design only pairs well with certain kinds of clothes, it becomes limiting in trying to achieve a more interesting style. And for men who don't find the traditional design appealing or workable in their wardrobe, well, there aren't really many options. Tessa Clogs, at least, offers metallic colours, and Troentorp has robust, classic designs with impeccably good detailing that I find most appealing among all the clog brands I've seen so far.

If I were to sketch out a future direction for men's clog design, I would have to say that I would be most interested in clogs that are imaginative without flamboyance - clogs with architectural and industrial design influences that are manufactured with consideration for the environment using fair labour practices. The rest is marketing and showing men how clogs can work with their wardrobes and personal style.

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