Vintage Florsheim Imperial Longwing Bluchers
Made in USA - 100% Shell Cordovan Leather
I find it a little strange that shell cordovan has become, in some minds, the be-all end-all of men’s traditional footwear. It signals, I think, the intersection between two partially conflicting ideas of luxury.
Shell cordovan shoes, prior to their recent revival, were once used by business men as what one might call “beaters”. When the winter rolled around and men didn’t want to ruin their calfskin shoes, they wore shell. This makes a lot of sense. Shell cordovan is both more durable and water resistant than calfskin and as well as less “refined”. It has a thick, almost rubber-like texture and almost unalterable dull shine that needs little maintenance. Compare to calfskin which is much more delicate and can be shined to a blinding brightness, although it needs constant care to maintain. Luxury once meant delicacy and refinement. The more delicate and harder to maintain, the more luxurious.
The rarity and high price point of cordovan leather has allowed it to slip through these cracks. These days, many men who are willing to spend large chunks of money on apparel are willing to do so because of a new obsession with perceived longevity, rather than refinement. Shell has become synonymous with luxury footwear in some circles because of this combination of longevity and price.
So what does this mean in terms of being “well-dressed”. I would prefer my wardrobe to have a good balance between longevity and refinement. Luckily, classic clothing seems to have become classic because it tends towards this balance. Calfskin, wool, cotton, and silk, to their own varying degrees, continue to be used because they are both aesthetically beautiful and physically reusable.
In my opinion, shell cordovan sacrifices some amount of beauty and refinement in exchange for its durability, and that’s why it tends to be a less ubiquitous dress shoe leather at both low and high price points. It’s ability to be unaffected by abuse makes it almost inorganic in look and feel. While calfskin shoes get better over the years, it seems that shell cordovan shoes get better over the decades.
That being said, my wardrobe definitely strays from the classic towards the casual, specifically because of my job and age. My need to look comfortable and not necessarily like I’m dressing to impress makes shell cordovan shoes the perfect “everyday” option. While one might not want to wear shell cordovan brogues to a wedding, funeral, or important business meeting, they are definitely what is called for when one needs a long-lasting and distinctive wardrobe staple.
In New York, burgundy wingtip bluchers and cuffed selvage jeans have become the sockless topsiders of the fall and winter. In other words, it is the trendy look, which makes it a little bit hard to stand out as uniquely well-dressed.
Luckily, the wingtip style is classic and ubiquitous enough to easily be pulled away from the trend. I combat this first and foremost by not cuffing my jeans as well as wearing the shoes with other, more dressy styles of pants. These tend to be the shoes I wear when I’m on the dressy side in general, wearing a tie and jacket rather than a sweater.
In addition, these shoes are old and they show it. While in terms of shape and texture, these shoes have barely changed since they were made, they definitely have developed a color of their own. Hopefully, this communicates to others a confident commitment to a personal and professional style: that I am not overly concerned with how I look because I know that I look great. I may not always feel that way but these shoes are best at pretending that I do.
That being said, the worn-in discoloration of the shoes is definitely a check mark against them when I am actively trying to look my best, such as at a special event. In addition, since shell cordovan is almost impossible to shine, its hard to show the “effort” that one wants to show when getting “dressed up”. Luckily, I have other shoes that I can wear to such things so its not a problem.
While these shoes are most likely about twenty years old, the only real wear I have experienced since I acquired them has been on the soles. As far as I can tell they will never change.
While fads will change, the simple yet casual beauty of wingtip bluchers probably will not. As long as I have a need to look comfortable yet professional, I will have a need for these shoes.