Traditional Men’s Dress Shoes Are Not Always Comfortable
Men’s dress shoes are often considerably less comfortable than casual or athletic shoes. While they rarely provide all-day walking support, there are several ways to make them substantially more comfortable. First, let’s look at what makes them uncomfortable to begin with.
- Shoe Construction - Few men’s dress shoes have removable insoles. Instead, your foot rests on leather or synthetic materials without cushioning or arch support.
- Footwear Materials - Stiffer leathers are often used for men’s dress shoes. These leathers do not conform to the shape of your feet as well as softer, more casual leathers.
- Design - Thin leather soles afford very little cushioning. Built for looks not comfort, these soles tend to be hard and slippery.
- Fit for Business - With firmer leathers, there is little give to ease discomfort if the fit is a bit narrow or tight. The shoes must fit perfectly.
Adding Comfort to Men’s Dress ShoesFor shoes that you already own, here are some tips to improve comfort.
- Low-Profile Insoles - The comfort delivered by arch supports is substantial. By spreading weight over a larger portion of the foot, supportive insoles provide comfort, even if there is minimal room for cushioning. Our new Stride Short insoles are perfect for your dress shoes. 2/3 in length, they end just behind the ball of your feet, ensuring they fit in low-profile men's shoes. But they still have the medical-grade arch support necessary to provide structure and comfort for your feet.
- Leather Conditioners - Most dress shoes are highly polished. Using a conditioner rather than a polish will soften the leather, allowing it to conform better to your feet. Do not confuse conditioners with cleaners like Saddle Soap. Most conditioners have some oil or grease in them and may darken some leathers. Allen Edmonds leather conditioner is a good choice. A more robust option is Tana Dubbin. I used the Tana product extensively when I made custom shoes. For suede and nubuck leathers, use only conditioners designed for that type of leather.
- Stretching - Shoes can be stretched in width and instep height but not in length. If your shoes are of quality construction and just feel too snug, find a good repair shop and ask about stretching. Usually the shoes are sprayed with a mixture of alcohol, water, and glycerin. A shoe stretcher is then put in and pressure is applied as the shoe dries. Don’t expect miracles, but you may be surprised about how much a shoe’s fit can be improved.
- Socks - Changing the environment immediately surrounding your feet can make a big difference for foot comfort. We are big fans of merino wool socks. They are comfortable in all kinds of weather, keep your feet amazingly dry, and do not stink. They are available in thinly woven designs if you don’t have extra room in your shoes. Smartwool has a great collection of dress socks in itch-free merino wool. Check them out.
- Resoling - If your dress shoes are high quality and you really like them, it is possible to have them resoled with thin rubber or crepe outsoles to increase their flexibility and cushion. The outsole need not be thick to provide some measure of comfort. In addition, the heels can be rubber. Having softer materials in the heels will have an even greater effect on the comfort of the shoes. A good shoe re-crafter can do the job. Expect to pay $70-$85 to get softer bottoms on your shoes.
Purchasing Comfortable Men’s Dress Shoes
There are several choices for new men’s dress shoes with elements that enhance comfort. Here are 4 suggestions to consider if you need new dress shoes.
- Allen Edmonds - Allen Edmonds makes a collection of quality dress shoes that have removable insoles and lightweight cushion outsoles. The outsoles are not so thick that they detract from the traditional look of the shoes. The material in the outsoles (EVA) will not wear particularly well, but it will be more comfortable than any leather-soled shoe. These shoes are re-craftable for a good value. Made in the USA.
- Neil M - Neil Munro has been making shoes in the U.S. for decades. The Neil M line features a thin layer of polyurethane foam inside to increase comfort. Most styles have removable insoles; some have rubber soles. Another advantage of Neil M is the huge array of sizes offered. Like Tread Labs, they understand that fit is critical for comfort. Don’t be put off by the older looking website. The shoes are top quality.
- Ecco - Ecco dress shoes for men feature the same direct-attach construction as the rest of their shoes. This design creates a flexible shoe with a soft polyurethane outsole that is very comfortable. The shoes have removable insoles and a second layer that helps dial in the fit. I find the shoes fit very well. Expect mid-range pricing and European sizing. The disadvantage of Ecco is that the direct-attach construction cannot be resoled. Imported.
- Cole Haan - Nike owned Cole Haan from 1988 to 2012 and injected a big dose of comfort into the footwear. The brand still retains some of that DNA, especially in styles that cross visually between dress and sport. If your idea of dress shoes include thick colorful soles, Cole Haan would be a great choice. Perhaps they are more casual than your typical dress style, but they still deserve mention. Check out the new ZeroGrand collection and see what I’m talking about.
If you have special tips or tricks for great looking men’s dress shoes that are really comfortable, post a comment and let us all know.