Marco Rubio. Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP
Marco Rubio. Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP

Will you wear high heels to work?

Dapper boots and shoesbespoke or off the shelfare the new 'black shoes' in men's footwear, and they aren't afraid to flaunt them

On 4 January, reporter Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) tweeted, “Marco Rubio is rocking some seriously fashionable black boots today in New Hampshire."

On the same day, David J. Rosenberg, a law student who writes on politics, said on Twitter: “It’s hard to be 5’10" in American politics. I can’t blame him for trying to lift."

Last week, Barbaro’s Twitter account made headlines across platforms like CNN, Fox News and The Guardian. Barbaro, a political and former fashion reporter for The New York Times who is covering the current presidential campaign in the US, had posted a photograph of Marco Rubio, a Republican party presidential candidate, sporting black, stack-heeled ankle boots. Rubio wore the Florsheims with slim-leg pants and a tubby blue sweater for a New Hampshire campaign event. Soon, parallels were being drawn online between the politician and The Beatles sporting sleek shoes and Bob Dylan in black-heeled boots. His rivals, Texas senator Ted Cruz (who had once slipped into cowboy boots himself to flaunt his roots), senator Rand Paul from Kentucky and Carly Fiorina, another Republican party candidate, made jabs at his choice of “formal wear". Fiorina tweeted “Yeah, @marcorubio, but can you rock these?" with an image of her 3.5-inch heels. Paul called them “cute new boots", while Cruz’s communications director tweeted, “A Vote for Marco Rubio is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties", a story on TheCut website.

The question is: Would heeled and ornate shoes be apt for men at the workplace in India?

New Delhi-based Sameer Singh, director of Mescos Shoes Ltd, which got the Italian luxury shoe brand Fabi to India in 2015, believes this East-meets-West trend is very wearable as formal wear. “Men travel and like to experiment these days," says Singh. “I see a lot of Indian men wearing detailed blue, green and even yellow shoes to office, like what some men do in Europe."

But whether boots with heels are suitable for the workplace will depend on the industry you work in. They may not be appropriate for those in formal corporate work spaces, but may work well for those in more creative fields, says Dhiraj Bathija, managing director of Heel & Buckle, a multi-brand concept footwear label.

Pune-based Naman Shah of Cuero, who makes off-beat handcrafted shoes, says, “Nowadays, it is not necessary for formal shoes to be dull and boring but you have to be willing to experiment." Most of Shah’s clients are “men who want something different to wear to work" and are willing to experiment with patterns, textures and colours. Cuero’s designs mix English and Italian patterns and techniques juxtaposed with an Indian aesthetic. The USPs are brogueing, basket-weave texturing, hand-painted (“patina") finishes inspired by traditional Kolhapuri chappals that darken or lighten with age, jute, denim or wool inserts, chopped-off suit lengths, and customized, hand-embroidered logos and family crests. These shoes come in rich colours like cognac, burgundy, dark tan and midnight blue.

Mumbai-based Karan Berry and Aeiman Jarwala of AKA Bespoke design footwear give contemporary twists to Oxfords, brogues and derbies. Berry and Jarwala’s textural designs—tweed, suede and velvet combined with leather—can be conversation starters. But Berry warns, “They are good for a corporate event but not for a formal meeting." According to Berry, there are a few aspects to keep in mind while choosing ornate shoes for work. The toe shape must be classic, the shoe mould basic, dress shoes must be lace-ups, and opulent materials like velvet should be avoided. “You have to be free-spirited to carry off funky shoes," he says.

The prices for most of these shoes start from 2,000 and go up to 40,000 or more, depending on the styling and surface ornamentation

Elaborate shoes aside, boots with heels are an unusual choice for modern Indian corporate men. Berry believes the trend was not initially gender-specific. “Men used to wear Cuban heels in the 1900s. They were adopted by women later. Riding or cowboy boots still have heels, don’t they?" says Shah. Chelsea boots can be worn with suits, denims, trousers or pants. But make sure you polish and resole them periodically.

Berry also believes choosing the heel type is an important aspect when flaunting Chelseas to work. He says, “Usually, regular classics like derby or Chelsea (boots) look nice with Cuban heels. But they have to be chunkier to look masculine or your walk will change. Keep everything else formal and minimal. And you cannot go skinny with your formal clothing as it will make the heels pop out obviously."

Bathija adds that the weather and occasion should also dictate the choice of ankle boots, especially for men. “Ankle boots can be very elegant (rugged yet stylish), but they need to be apt," he says, adding that ankle boots are fit for a north Indian winter. Heel & Buckle stocks Chelsea boots in neutral colours, brogues with fabric patches, contrast leather inserts, the ombre effect (a gradual blending of one hue into another) and ankle boots with chic touches from a bunch of international brands like Magnanni and Rad Russel. You can club a pair with fuss-free linen or wool suits, slim-cut pants with basic shirts, or dark denims and a white shirt.

However, Shah does not advocate block or stack heels for men. “If you must buy heeled boots, pick a pair with a one-and-a-quarter-inch heel. Cuban heels look smart only if you are tall (over 5ft, 11 inches) and can carry them off. But an Indian body type may look weird in them." If you crave height, Shah suggests getting boots customized with a concealed heel of up to one and a half inches, for he believes most Indian men are still sceptical about slipping into noticeably heeled boots to work. “Although these can be worn with jeans or wide-legged pants, they still are not an option as daily work wear in India. But then again, if you want to be fashionable, there are no don’ts in fashion!" concludes Singh.

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