Friday, September 30, 2011

loafin' about or, the saga of ballet flats without the ballet

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.

(Flats: Ni-kiyo)

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.

(Boat Shoes: Sperry Top Sider)

(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 Asian footwear images borrowed from All images used for illustrative purposes. If the copyright owner wants me to remove, I will do so.


Becky said...

Or, you could just man up and wear ballet flats, like this charming gentleman I follow on flickr:

Frederik Sisa said...

Kasmeneo! I had forgotten about him. Thanks for mentioning him. He rocks. Forget the theoretical possibilities, then.

Having said that: what works for Kasmeneo doesn't necessarily work for me, personally.

Anonymous said...

I'm a guy and I wear ballet flats almost every day. Although I sometimes dress as uniquely as Kasmeneo, most of the time I simply wear them will well-fitting jeans and a well-fitting shirt. My look is overall masculine, but it is something different than the typical options of either a.) baggy, loose clothes or b.) stiff, stuffy business attire.

Frederik Sisa said...


I salute you, sir! Thanks for sharing!

I don't suppose you'd care to send over a picture? I'd be curious to see how you pull it together - inspiration, perhaps, since I'm not finding anything that works for me. I just don't dig the way ballet flats look on me, but the thought of wearing boat shoes still fills me with some kind of dread.

Anonymous said...

I can. I need to resurrect my flickr account, and then I can post some recent pictures. I've been putting it off, but this has given me some motivation to do so.

Frederik Sisa said...

Awesome, Anon. I'm looking forward to it!

Anonymous said...

I think my best examples of "guy wearing otherwise male clothes but with ballet flats" are these two:

Frederik Sisa said...

Those are good examples indeed, Anon. The whole look works well with the flats. Thanks for sharing! I might refer to these images in a future post...

Brian Davis said...

I'm a guy that likes to pair ballet flats with my normal guys clothes. I love the look of ballet flats on women and I like that look on me as well. Something like this

Frederik Sisa said...

I applaud you, sir! Well done!

It's rather funny you should post a comment, Brian, as I did come across your Flickr stream a while ago and filed it away for...something, I don't know what, when I have the moment. In the meantime, though, thanks for the comment and photo!

I recently tried out a boat shoe and decisively ruled it out. UGH! If I could figure out a way to turn a design concept of mine into reality, I might get close to something I like for myself. For now, I'm happy to see what other adventurous guys are up to.

Brian Davis said...

Thanks for your kind words. It's funny, I've thought about trying boat shoes or Toms or something along that line but settle on ballet flats. I haven't ever found mens ballet flats some Im going to keep buying women's flats. If you ever do a blurb on flats fell free to use my pictures. Keep up the great work.

Frederik Sisa said...

Thank you for your kind words as well, Brian. I appreciate it. And I also appreciate the offer to use your pictures. I just might take you up on that sometime. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

About 4 years my best girlfriend bought me a pair of juicy couture rose ballet flats in europe and on the side it was written men's ballet flats on the box, could be a typo but i really don't care because they were the most awesome pair of shoes i've owned and wore. I got hooked. Wear my ballet flats with men's capris, skinny jeans and when i want to be edgy i wear them with leggings. If you do look at the history of flats, heels, leggings and skirts they were all made for men. You would be very surprised to know that on the net many guys wear them but few venture out. I own many pairs of ballet flats and love them.

Frederik Sisa said...

Ahoy, Anon. Thanks for sharing. I take my hat off to you for setting your own trend. That's the sort of thing I like to see.

I'd be curious to know how many guys really are out there who wear flats but don't venture out...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Crocs Marnie are unisex ballet flats ?

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