by frédérik sisa
I quite like ballet flats as an item in women’s fashion. As the image below shows, there’s something cute, relaxed, and playful about flats – and, yes dance-like because the quality of dance is never far away for obvious reasons.
Of course, whenever I see something I like in women’s fashion, the critical design region of my cerebellum gets to work. While I don’t really have an opinion on the notion of ballet flats for men –personally, I’m not sure how many men could pull it off, but I won’t rule it out on a theoretical level – the function of a ballet flat led me to think about an equivalent kind of shoe for men. And what is that function? An easy to wear shoe that can be slipped on and off with ease, socks need not apply. A flat that is as unfussy as a flip-flop, but classier and more versatile. It’s about as minimal a shoe as you can get without veering into sandal territory, open enough to be cool during the summer but with enough coverage to keep feet warm in crisper weather.
For a long brain-dead while, I wondered about what men could wear until I finally remembered what the men’s flat counterpart is: the loafer. Unfortunately, whenever I think of loafers I think of this ghastly style:
(Loafers: Cole Haan Pinch Tassel)
I can’t express how absolutely horrifying these tasseled loafers are to me, but I’ll try without reaching for the metaphorical equivalent of a barf bag. Then again, I suppose I just expressed myself sufficiently for you to get the point. To be more articulate about it, I don’t like the wishy-washy shape, the lack of structural form, and the use of ornamentation better suited to draperies.
Fortunately, these aren’t the only loafers out there. There are moccasins, but we don’t need to go there. There's also the rough-around-the-edges style that scream “potato sack” and “handmade by people who can’t sew straight.” Just like these Santa Cruz Crocs:
Rustic works well for cabins. For shoes? I like a clean, polished design. So: next!
These dressy items don’t quite qualify as “loafers”; there’s nothing lazy or too laid-back about these shoes. These fellahs don’t loaf about, but actually make the effort to style themselves up…
…but that’s also why they’re not quite the equivalent of ballet flats, whose essential form is both simple and refined without being a slip-on version of another kind of shoe. These examples are nice, but they still look like fancy dress shoes you don’t have to lace up.
(Slip-ons: Stacy Adams Jamison)
(Slip-ons: Fratelli 2320)
(Slip-ons: Aldo Dunesta)
That leaves boat shoes. Despite most people not owning a boat or regularly commuting on boats, these are a perennial style that never goes out of fashion. While there are some nice styles, like the following three, there’s something about the shape of the toe box that doesn’t quite persuade me. I’m not saying I don’t like it, but I don’t know if I like it either.
(Slip-ons: Sebago Docksides)
(Boat Shoes: Banana Blues Starboard)
As I’m discovering these days, it falls to Asian fashion to offer more adventurous options. This shoe from South Korean brand Purplow (a portmanteau of Purple and Cow) demonstrates the influence of Italian design and the refined craftsmanship of work done by hand. The price, at $235, also reflects the influence of Italian design and work done by hand.
Then there’s this handsome and vastly more affordable design from Murati/Yin, with an intriguing back closure and a leather panel on the upper.
Finally, there are these canvas slip-ons from Reeno, with eye-catching asymmetrical lacing.
But again, as awesome as these are they don’t quite achieve that simplicity of a ballet flat.
So, that’s it. If I had to pick a direction to explore, keeping in line with answering the question as to what a ballet flat looks like without the ballet instead of simply considering design quality, I suppose the boat shoes would have be the direction to go in, although those Reeno slip-ons might be the ticket provided their manufacturing pedigree is up to snuff. What do you think? What kind of footwear do you turn to for unfussy comfort AND style?
Usual Disclaimer: Images of loafers and boat shoes borrowed from Zappos.com. Asian footwear images borrowed from YesStyle.com. All images used for illustrative purposes. If the copyright owner wants me to remove, I will do so.