I’ve often wondered in quite some depth, why square-toed shoes? Surely, a line drawn around any man’s toes would run from that most outward of all five phalanges, ascending diagonally inwards and around the greatest of his toes, the hallux, down past the ball to the inside arch and around. The most simple and sensible line between those few points is curved. So why does the square-toed shoe exist?
I have some suspicions. One is that the stylishly un-inclined have been led to believe, for reasons I know not, that square-toed shoes are more comfortable. These people may simply think they’re opting for function over form, or perhaps they’re actively repressing their fashionable tendencies as some threat to their intended identity. Either way, this all adds up to ugly shoes. Another suspicion is some forced economic conspiracy. There seems no obvious reason why ugly products exist at all. Take two pieces of leather, granted one might be a better quality, but surely the forming of the leather into a shoe shape, whatever that shape may be, makes no difference to the cost of that shoe. Take cars as another example. Yes, the bells and whistles add expense, but it stands to reason that for BMW or Mercedes to charge such wide ranging prices for their products, there has to be a marked aesthetic difference. If your $100,000 car looked as good as your $40,000 car, I bet you’d sell significantly less at that top end. Superficial, yes, but just look at fast fashion. There are undoubtedly people who would once have saved for that Gucci souvenir jacket, but now, they buy the knock-off from Zara. And that’s why Zara’s made its billions—it’s subverted that forced economy and maximized on it. It’s difficult to imagine who that diabolical fashion puppet master might be—a person pulling fashion’s strings to engineer square-toed shoes as cheap, but walk into any cheap high street shoe store—Payless, Geox, Aerosoles—and all those shoes (I’ll pull no punches) are ugly.
So, are square-toed shoes actually ugly, or are we just conditioned to think so? Yes, they bring to mind one of nature’s greatest oddities, the duck-billed platypus, or perhaps some poor leper whose toes have all fallen off, but there isn’t anything inherently hideous about a square. Perhaps curved shapes are easier on the eye, but more angular geometry, like in nature’s crystals or human architecture, can be beautiful too. I would stand by my statement that feet fit best in a shoe with a curved toe, but reconsidered, it seems square toed shoes are not ugly in and of themselves.
A few years ago, I met a boy at my local bar on a Friday night. I bought him a drink and we flirted a while, but ever the image of virtue, I left alone. The following week, the boy was back. Four (or eight) martinis later, we were back at my place. I remember some hazy slap and tickle. He was very hot and it was a great time, but when I woke up and looked about to get my bearings, I saw them—square-toed shoes. All the interest I had in this hunky, handsome man drained out of me like dish water, once fresh smelling and soapy, now soiled. I unceremoniously escorted him out of bed and my apartment, blocked my number, found a new local bar for Fridaynights, and never saw him again. But that wasn’t about the shoes either. That was because I knew that someone who wasn’t familiar enough with codes of fashion conduct to steer clear of shoes like that wasn’t for me. But as we all know, in fashion, those codes are always subject to change. As a fashion editor, you are always expected to answer fashion questions. People never want a complex answer, so in this industry we’re all armed with stock responses. “Blue is a huge trend for spring” or “duffle coats are big for fall.” You can’t go into specifics because mostly the people doing the asking just want easy, usable notes. When anyone would ask me, “What’s the biggest fashion faux pas?” my answer would always be “Socks and sandals.” Nothing worse than those. Until Louis Vuitton sent them down the runway for Spring 2012, and the trend took off like a well-heeled rocket. Next season, everyone was doing it—dress socks with strappies or sport socks with slides or any other combo you’d care to think of. Socks and sandals were a thing. That’s a pitfall seasoned fashion people probably won’t stumble into often because fashion’s so essentially mutable. That’s part of the deal. Things must be endlessly shaken up to keep the wheel turning. Not surprisingly, when Raf Simons sent square-toed shoes down the runway for Fall 2017, the front row (the only row that can ever actually see the shoes) was atitter.
But if anyone can make socks with sandals happen, it’s Kim Jones. And if anyone can bring square-toed shoes back from the brink of the butts of jokes everywhere, it’s Simons. There was a hint of shoe squareness last season, most notably from Alessandro Michele at Gucci, who sent unquestionably cuboid loafers down the runway in various colors with signature horse-bit buckles and a few with Donald Duck embroidery. They were paired with lace or sheer pantyhose-style socks, and would really only be of appeal to the most fashionably flagrant of men. Simons’ shoes were much more simple, accessible. Also loafers, but all in black, with a simple rope braid detail outlining said square. Suspending disbelief for a second and imagining myself actually in a Payless ShoeSource, I can almost see those shoes in a sad shoebox on a cluttered shelf. Of course, any $29.99 square-toed loafer there would be of the most inferior quality and Raf’s shoe is obviously not. Raf is a menswear god among us mere mortals and his square-toed shoe is sure to command an aspirational price tag and pound pavements upon the feet of cool kids everywhere come fall. Hell, I’ll buy them too, right after I buy my pair of Gucci’s with the Donald Duck embroidery and procure a pair of pantyhose to go with them. And while I still think socks with sandals and square-toed shoes are not as attractive as other options out there, when all’s said and done, subjective opinions on what’s ugly and what’s not aren’t actually the issue. The issue is intention. Guys in Walmart tube socks and no-brand slides or Payless square shoes just aren’t trying, and to anyone with an ounce of style self respect, that’s a sin. But if you’re dropping the best part of a grand on a pair of Raf shoes, you’re winning—whichever way the cordwainer cuts it.