IT'S NOT ALWAYS EASY to be a woman. From douche commercials to wage inequality, there is plenty of bullshit to contend with. However, when it comes to footwear? We're good. By every measure of variety, price point, and social acceptability, we're awash in options. And for the most part, men are too, with one glaring exception: summer.
A few years ago a reader asked me to recommend a good option for a male summer shoe. Flip-flops were too shlumpy, sneakers without socks were too stinky—closed-toe shoes in general didn't offer a sufficient degree of ventilation—and sandals were... well, "mandals." Like the pitiably high percentage of men's fashion that is so easy to laugh at, mandals are at best utilitarian, and at worst laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Emasculating. It's not fair. I had no good answer for this guy, and since then I've been waiting and watching every year for an acceptable solution to materialize. Something the cool guys would embrace, or that at least wouldn't prompt hesitation in potential mates.
Honestly, a satisfying resolution still hasn't arrived. (Shoe designers! Opportunity knocks!) Men either end up succumbing to the mandal with all the risks that it implies, or they scrape by with a slipshod compromise. Frankly, as far as readily available options go—and while on principle I dislike them in any context other than a pedicure or public shower—flip-flops are a perfectly understandable choice. It's the hands-up, "Look, what the fuck else am I supposed to do here?" of shoes, and I get that.
Espadrilles are okay, but a little too Francophile or Montauk-y for many men's styles, and the nouveau iterations, Toms, are... how shall I put this? Ostensibly they have a charitable selling point, in that when you buy a pair, another pair gets donated to a child in need. However, as far as I've witnessed, these things can't withstand a solitary active summer in the average multi-shoe-owning hipster's life, much less that of a kid who wears them every day on the rough roads of the developing world. It's not terribly inspiring.
Boat shoes have also, surprisingly, withstood the whole yacht-rock fad to remain a popular choice. Leather breathes, and they do feature ventilation holes. Still, not all style-conscious men I know are biting, and the vast majority simply soldier through in the same sneakers and athletic socks they wear the rest of the year (even boots). I'm not saying these men are necessarily suffering, but it's hard to argue that they wouldn't be a tad more comfortable with some room to breathe. So, I asked a few of the most fashion-conscious dudes I know what their favorite options are for the warmer months.
"Huaraches," was the one-word response I got from well-respected designer Adam Arnold, and I would concur that there is something to be said for the wisdom in hewing to the classics. Conditional allow.
Fellow fashion designer Brady Lange concurs, with a tacit defense: "The 'mandal' can be tricky, but they usually don't look right on people because they are wearing them in inappropriate settings or with the wrong outfit. Don't go on a dinner date in them, don't try to get a bank loan in them, don't go meet the in-laws in them. Tevas and Chacos are only good if you are being active in them, they are not to be worn in a fashion sense. Also, it's a confidence thing. If you are unsure about wearing a sandal and self-conscious about it, it will totally make you look like something is off with the whole getup. And for goodness' sake, clip your damn toenails and consider some lotion on those heels."
Writer and fashion show producer Brett Glass takes a somewhat dimmer view. "FAIL," he says. "No good summer options for men. I stick to classic-looking sneakers. But when I'm not working and it's a hot day... I'm embracing Birkenstocks. I still feel kinda weird wearing them sometimes, but I think they look good with rolled-up pants and shorts."
For many men, and arguably society at large, the issue comes down to mangy feet. In general, men are less fastidious about pedicures than women, and there is something to be said for keeping problem feet under cover—which goes for everyone, regardless of gender. In which case, Lange agrees that boat shoes can be a great option, as well as derbies in canvas and suede for a slightly more formal look. Personally he's jonesing for a pair of the mesh sneakers pictured here, which cleverly bridge several issues at once.
As for socks versus no socks, remember that leather interiors are always going to be more conducive to sock-less excursions than rubber or cloth. If it feels gross without them, Lange has another tip for you: "Pick up a pack of no-show socks, and I mean the kind that actually don't show. Seeing a low-cut sock peek out can totally ruin a look. It's not a hard problem to fix, so either go sock-less and don't complain or buy the $9.99 four-pack. Yeah, they look a little silly, but you literally don't see them when your shoe is on—that's the point. Women make tons of sacrifices for their shoes, we can wear some silly little sock." Indeed.