monthly column

The Free Spirit

by Jeroen van Rooijen

The shoes make the man. No browns after six.
Yes, we all know the classic rules of style – now let's redefine them!

No 12

But I’m not Bill Clinton’s daughter. My roots date back to the Victorian era. Later, in the 60’s in London I became the footwear of choice by the hip kids trying to distinguishing themselves from their parents. Today, I’m a notable friend beyond class and age.


There’s a popular style proverb saying that decent men’s shoes are always tied with laces. There is some truth to it, since slippers and zipped boots do very seldom match with formal garments. But I think it’s too harsh for today’s lifestyles and fashions. Times do change, and so does our set of rules. We see less suits and more combinations of pants and jackets. Men do wear less and less ties. This opens some space for footwear to take new roles. Loafers, for example, have largely profited from this relaxed mood.

But let’s not forget the other untied shoe of class! It’s the cool Chelsea boot. It is a plain, close-fitting, ankle-high shoe type with one or two elastic side panels. Chelsea boots do work as well with casual looks as they qualify to be worn with a classic dark suit. 

The Chelsea’s history goes back to the victorian era in England. It was Queen Victoria’s personal shoe maker J. Sparkes-Hall who invented the boot, although it did not have a specific name then. It was in the 1960’s in London, when the cool kids rediscovered this shoe type as a staple of coolness and called it «Chelsea», referring to the then very cool King’s Road area in the city district of Chelsea. 

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones popularized the shoe type in a larger-than-life way. Through the mod movement and slim, tailored suits they became very fashionable. Until today, the Chelsea boot has retained some of the coolness of the time. But be aware: Even it is not a specifically «young» style anymore, it still requires a bit of Rock’n’Roll swag to look good. And slim pants.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 11

Shape is a delicate thing, especially when it comes to shoes, it’s all about striking the right balance between slim and sturdy. Never be caught wearing square-toed footwear – there is no more decisive way to outcast yourself from the league of gentlemen!


We’ve been talking about the pointy shoe earlier here. There is a fine line between sharp and offensive. The same can be said about the squareness of footwear. Though fashions might change and shapes are adjusted to the new tastes of the time, the very square shoe has always looked gross. They are never elegant. It makes you look like you are wearing bricks.

So how square is fine? Just very little is okay. But as soon as the frontal outline of your shoe has a curve that is straighter than that of, let’s say a bucket, you’re out. They will look clunky, chunky and cheap. They will ruin your whole appearance, no matter how expensive your gear might be.

Boxy shoes were very briefly in fashion during the 90’s. But they didn’t do the trick and disappeared. Even though that time period now comes back into fashion, the square shoes should not be reconsidered. They are the direct gateway to hell. Wearing them to a formal event is the surest way to outcast yourself from noble society. You’ll never be invited again.

Still not convinced? Check the collection of the finest shoe brands in the world. They do not offer any square shoes. You will only find them at the very low end of the market. Or at some hideous fashion brands with fake designer names. And you know what that means for your style credibility. Thanks for taking my advice.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 10

Of course you can walk around in socks or spa slippers you took with you from some resort – nobody will notice. But if you are really into the style thing, you will know the satisfaction drawn from owning and wearing a pair of distinguished house shoes.


Right now, while I sit here writing this column, the fall season has taken over reigns in my country. Temperatures have dropped significantly, a chilly wind is in the air, the stone floors of my house feel cold. So I’m lucky to know I have a good friend in house – it’s my comfy suede slippers that take away the harshness of the seasonal change. I unlock them from the cupboard they have been hiding in all summer and put them on. Gone is the feeling of discomfort!

It’s surely wise to strut through life in good shoes. After all, they can make or break the man. But it’s even better to extend the pleasures of quality footwear into your private realms. Even though in today’s busy world we spend less and less time at home, it’s a good investment to buy nice house shoes. And no, we’re not talking about those funny animal-like monsters made of synthetic fleece. Not about spa-slippers made from terrycloth. A real man wears a real leather shoe – even if he’s home alone.

You might now say: My grandpa and my father had such shoes, so I will surely not follow their path. But you better do. They save your socks, they protect your health and they look modest. I suggest you invest into slippers – open or closed heel is up to your taste. In case you have guests, a closed version seems more appropriate. And no, open-toe slippers like flip-flops do not qualify as decent house shoes. They might be fine for the garden during summer, but now, it takes a bit more effort.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 9

There is a species of footwear that defies all rules of style and elegance, but still finds its way into some men’s wardrobe: The very pointy shoe. And we’re not talking about the “winkle pickers” of goths and mods here…


If we consider, for a moment, that we are an experienced bunch of connoisseurs – I should not need to do tell you gentlemen that a square-toed shoe is not an option. It seems clear that a fine pair of shoes follows and enhances the natural shape of the foot with a more or less refined toe cap. A good shoe is therefore, by it’s very nature, round or slightly pointy. But it seems how pointy is yet to be defined. 

In medieval times pointy toes – known as crakows or poulaines – were quite common among noble men and lords. In the 1960’s, the mods chose a similar type of shoe to distinguish themselves from the classic styles. These were called ‘winkle pickers’, however,   in some parts of the U.S. they were known as ‘roach stompers’. Later, this look was adopted by the goth subculture. In the 1990’s, we saw the sharp chiselled toe coming back for a moment, but it didn’t reach real relevance.

Today there is a fine line between ‘slim & sexy’ and ‘spiky & slippery’. The shape of a cowboy boot might be okay for that specific type of footwear, but any other style with this shape will fail. I guess it has something to do with the thickness of the sole. If a shoe has a robust base, leather, heel and finishing, it can work better than with finer styles. Dark colors do it better than light ones. Men with tall feet should be cautious of the excess length a spiky toe adds to the shoe.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 8

In these times of disposable goods and throwaway products, some tend to forget what a good shoe maker can do for you. By giving your shoes a workaround you save money and strengthen the relationship with your footwear.


I have the fortune of knowing Diego, an impeccable shoe maker. He is in fact far more than that – a craftsman with the the ability to rejuvenate even  the most beaten-up pair of shoes and return them to their former glories. . Well, most of them, at least. I have been looking for this talent for a long time. And now that I found him, I will stick by him. Having a good shoe repairer saves you time, money and nerves.

Since I know this skillful cobbler, the relationship with my shoes has strengthened. I buy better shoes, since I know they can be fixed over and over again –  gaining comfort, character and a unique look. Why would you buy a pair of pre-destressed and beaten-up fashion shoes when you can achieve this look through the natural evolution of a good shoe? Not me.

So, every now and then I go through my shoe rack and carefully check every pair. Usually, two or three pairs are starting to show signs of needing a makeover. I wrap them in paper, put them in a box and send them off to Diego. Sometimes he calls me after a few days to ask whether I really want this or that being replaced – or the shoes just needed a good brush-up and polish (Reminding me, invariably,  that it is bit of a shame I didn’t manage to do this my good self!). And when I get my shoes’s like recieving  a present. To see my shoes reborn alows me to relive the joy of the original purchase, but I also take additonal  pleasure from each ressurection.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 7
United we stand

More and more men choose to wear their classic shoes without any laces. What started as a slightly eccentric fashion statement has become a phenomenon with the younger dandies. Can they get away with it?


When I first saw it – I initially considered it a mistake. I had heard that prisoners were sometimes not allowed to wear laces to stop them being able to commit suicide, but I had never seen a normal young guy in a good job with open-faced classic shoes. So when I approached the well-dressed gentleman and asked him whether he had forgotten to lace his oxford shoes, I was surprised to discover he had done this on purpose. I was puzzled for a few days, until I saw more stylish Milanese men doing so. In Florence –  at Pitti – laceless shoes were everywhere! The laceless shoe is now a bonafide fashion statement. But what does this all mean?

I posted a photo of the first spotting on Facebook and asked the community for opinions. The list of contributions was impressive. According to the majority of comments, the unlaced style seemed odd, wrong or even scandalous. Many found it too try-hard, funny or disrespectful. On the other hand, and this was a minority, found it to be an interesting concept, maybe even quite comfortable. There was one open-minded comment that stuck with me: Style rules are there to be broken. 

And that’s the whole point with this look. Generally speaking, shoes with laces are considered to be the most formal footwear. So leaving away the laces is a very clear statement to show a personal disagreement with classic dress codes. It could be considered a form of protest. Earlier generations grew long hair or painted their leather jackets. This one is unlacing its shoes. Should we be worried or believe it is a fad that will play out before the summer is over to put our minds at rest?

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 6
Sailing, takes me away . . .

Those of you who have experienced the joy of a sailing trip will know the appropriate choice of footwear to enter a vessel. Those of you who have not yet mastered it might be surprised to hear that most common types of footwear — especially formal and dress shoes — do not qualify on board. Not even for a yacht party.


But these restrictions have nothing to do with dress code or etiquette — the primary reason is safety on board. First, your boat shoes should fit nicely — slippers or open-heel sandals are not recommended because they can slip off your feet and cause you to fall, in the worst case overboard. Also, toes should be covered, since paths on deck are often narrow, exposing your feet to the risk of getting hurt. Stubbing a toe on a deck cleat is a rather unpleasant souvenir of a beautiful cruise. So no flip-flops, please. 

But the most important thing on board is the right choice of sole — your shoes should not slip or leave marks on deck, that’s why most boat shoes have white rubber soles.  Leather soles might be a style staple when strutting through town, but as soon as you enter a harbour, they are too slick. And black soles leave scuffmarks on the deck — a “decoration“ that many proud ship owners endeavour to avoid. 

Finally, here’s one for the ladies: though the lifestyle of marinas is highly glamorous, leave your stilettos at home, please. Even if you are invited to a party on a harboured ship. The hard and pointy heels may look great, but can dent the soft teak decks and thus wreck the nerves of the skipper or captain.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 5
Buckle up

The monk strap shoe, once derived from the footwear of monastic men who devoted their lives to the contemplation of god, is a current style favourite. The monk is a bit less formal than lace-tied shoes but still very “businessy“. The buckles are a bit bulkier and tend to look better with narrow trouser styles with shorter hems.


Though the monk is quite a formal shoe, it can also be worn “casually“ by leaving the buckles open. You see this a lot with stylish, predominantly Italian “peacocks“ — especially those cruising the central square of Pitti Uomo in Florence, the most outspoken male catwalk of style. Sometimes it looks as if they all forgot to buckle-up before leaving the house, but, of course, the loose straps are no coincidence, it’s a subtle sign of style.

Instead of laces, the monk has a single or dual strap and enclosing buckle that holds your feet within the shoe. The double version is commonly dubbed a “double monk“. We’ve recently noticed that many stylish men prefer to wear this type of shoe half-buckled. 

Wearing your double monks half-buckled adds a dash of casual nonchalance to your outfit. It is the equivalent of wearing your tie a bit loose and irregular, saying: I know the rules, but I don’t have time to care too much. It is an important detail for those who are willing to master the art of sprezzatura, making even the most carefully composed outfit look as if it didn’t require any special effort.

Do not attempt this look with a single strap and buckle, but if you have a double-monk, go on and give it a try. Make sure you wear it casually, not with a suit. Monks work very well with wool flannel trousers, white moleskin pants or dark denim jeans. And before you strut out, make sure you can walk with the open strap. In the end, you want to look cool, not like the fool.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 4
All tied up

They say that shoes make the man. We certainly agree, but add: if so, let your laces have the final word. Because laces, or shoestrings, if you prefer to call them that, are to shoes what ties are to suits: that little extra bit of personality and colour that make the difference. 


Commonly, shoes are delivered pre-laced in a certain manner; in most cases it is the classic horizontal way, called “bar lacing“. Bar lacing (sometimes called European style) delivers a sleek, clean, sophisticated appearance. Most men accept this proposal and never touch the topic again. Others, we consider them the style cognoscenti, ask themselves the creative entrepreneurs question: Can we do this in a new and different way? 

Yes, we can. It starts with the common bar lacing — depending on the even or odd number of eyelet rows, you will have to accept a slight irregularity. Only masters know how to avoid that top line of lace crossing diagonally.  For less formal shoes you can choose the sporty criss-cross lacing — it’s a good choice for sneakers, brogues or derbies.  

And then there is more: Experts will be tempted to try diagonal bar lacing; an over/under version delivering X’s or slightly bizarre techniques like vice/versa and the “lattice” – looking more like a stitched decoration than a functional element. Go over the top by adding a second colour lace. Probably not a first choice for classic footwear… 

If you want to go further: Read The Shoelace Book: A Mathematical Guide to the Best (and Worst) Ways to Lace Your Shoes by Australian mathematician Burkard Polster. You will not believe how some people invest their costly time in things you did not imagine until now. Polster has discovered 43,200 versions of lacing your shoe. So this is only an entry ticket to a whole new world …

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 3
Pas de baskets – vraiment?

Not long ago, there was an unwritten rule for upmarket restaurants or clubs in Paris: “Pas des baskets.” This dress code referred to the French synonym for sneakers, derived from basketball. Most doormen used it to pick the finer folks from anxious hordes. “Pas des baskets“ still applies in some very posh places. Sigh! Those French … as if sports shoes were an issue! 


As if they missed the development of a new and exciting typology of shoe that is very popular today: The dress sneaker. These shoes combine the casual coolness of sports shoes with the elegance and love of crafted details in classic footwear. This relatively new style has nothing to do with the “banlieue” – the look of angry young men in attire of lesser nobility – today, you will find them in the windows of even the most luxurious Rue St. Honoré stores.

Take, just as an example, the beloved Sutor Mantellassi Samson shoe. It is inspired by the traditional running shoes that were popular in the 70s, but on closer inspection, this is a very different type of footwear. It is not a sneaker. The Sutor Mantellassi Samson has the shape and lightness of a sneaker, and its hand-finished two-tone colour indicates a similar make, but with a second glance, you will notice that it is not assembled from bits of mesh fabric and straps like a common sneaker, rather it is cut and molded from a single piece of fine calfskin.

I can imagine this kind of shoe would be worn with the most upmarket and elegant suit you could procure, even to the chicest place in town. Imagine the Samson in Chester brown or even dark eggplant, combined with a silk-wool-linen blend suit in night blue, maybe even a fashionable tuxedo, worn slightly “undone.” I can’t imagine someone dressed this refined waiting very long in the club queue – not even in old-fashioned Paris!

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 2
The fine Art of Shoeing

A shoe is more than a fine piece of human craftsmanship, a symbol of status or an important fetish object – it is also a tool of nonverbal communication. “To shoe” or “shoeing“ most commonly refers to providing irons to horses, but also means to teach someone else a lesson of respect.


One of the most widely known specialists in the art of “shoeing“ was Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the reporter who, in December 2008, became world-famous for throwing shoes at the then American president George W. Bush. For those who haven’t seen the video, during a press conference in Baghdad, al-Zaidi threw both of his chunky black shoes at the U.S. president, failing to hit him.

Throwing shoes at someone is an act of disrespect in Arab culture. George W. Bush stayed relatively calm during the incident and later commented: “It was a size 10.“ Nevertheless, al-Zaidi inspired others: between 2008 and 2011 there were dozens of copycats, each attempting to grab media attention by throwing shoes at their personal foes. It even led to the creation of a new term for this form of protest: “shoeing.”

We don’t recommend it, but: If you’re considering this kind of action, prepare yourself carefully. Shoeing must be trained. Use the exact kind of shoe you will be using for your cause. If you use a lighter or heavier shoe, you will probably fail to hit your target. Throw from a distance of at least ten meters – you will likely need this buffer zone later.

Also, we think it would be sensible to choose a light shoe – you do not want to seriously hurt your opponent, because the fine art of shoeing is more about humiliation, not harm. Our shoe of choice – although far too precious to get lost in action! – is the Unity Loafer in a fine and ultra-resistant kangaroo leather. It has an aerodynamic nose (good flight lines!) and a contemporary Rapid Flex sole.

Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at

No 1
No sex after browns

There is this very old English proverb maintaining that it is inappropriate for a gentleman to wear brown shoes in town or at night. “No brown in town” or “No brown after six” it says. It is – sorry to put it so bluntly! – complete rubbish. The rules are for beginners, but any advanced man knows: there is nothing wrong with breaking them.


And don’t dare to mention this old-fashioned idea in the presence of any self-respecting Italian man! Because they know how well brown shoes work with a nice blue suit, and by the way: where does brown end and black start? With our trademark Sutor Mantellassi vintage polish, you may find that you have difficulties distinguishing the shades, because there are so many.

So: please free yourself from these antiquated dictums and wear whatever colour you feel. You probably still shouldn’t wear a full black tie (tuxedo et al.) – with your lightweight cognac loafers – but we can imagine you strutting out in dark blue shoes, perhaps complimenting the colour of your bow tie? Or, why not opt for dark red? In the past you might have faced beheading by the French, red was the king’s shoe colour, but today? Do as you like.

By following the old rules, you might be on the safe side, but you’ll be limiting yourself. It gives you a narrow-minded appearance. So by wearing strictly no brown after six, you might end up having no sex after six. Or before. You surely know that women judge men by their eyes, wallets – and shoes. Your shoes are your entry ticket to the pleasure dome. Choose them well and be fearless.


Jeroen van Rooijen, living in Zurich, is the style critic at the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung and runs his own style coaching service at