Tag Archives: loafer

Review: New Aris Allen Shoes for Women (and Notes on New Shoes for Men)

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Saddle shoes, circa 1938.

Saddle shoes, circa 1938.

If you haven’t been to Dancestore.com in a while, you should spend a few minutes checking out their new selection of shoes. I knew Dancestore was working on a pair of mesh and leather Aris Allens, but I did not know they had other men’s styles and new women’s shoes up their sleeve, as well. They were kind enough to invite me to test out a few pairs and I’m happy to share my report with you about the women’s shoes (and direct your attention to some of the men’s shoes I think are worthy of a look-see).

The first pair I decided to try was their new saddle shoe. I personally think saddle shoes are adorable and if you showed up to a dance in a 40’s skirt, blouse, sweater vest, and saddle shoes, I’d think you were completely awesome. And adorable. Very collegiate, no? I think most people associate saddle shoes with the 1950’s and poufy skirts, but they date back to 1906 when Spalding introduced them for tennis and squash players and reached their height as a trend that spanned 20 or so years, from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

Saddle Shoe - available in brown tweed, black tweed, and classic black and white

Saddle Shoe – available in brown tweed, black tweed, and classic black and white

I have been looking for a pair of saddle shoes for myself for some time, but have failed to find any with leather soles (like the pair from my childhood), only that spongy “crepe” sole which I find not as well-suited for dancing. Dancestore has introduced a great compromise – a saddle shoe with a hard rubber sole that has been sueded. I opted to try the brown tweed version of their saddle shoe, which has a soft tweedy fabric covering most of the shoe with brown faux leather covering the “saddle” part of the shoe. They came with two pairs of laces, a thicker set and a thin set. When I first tried on the shoe it felt a bit stiff, but after only a couple of dances, the stiffness wore off at the points where I needed movement. The shoe itself was very comfortable, the rubber sole flexible, and I didn’t worry about the shoes as I danced in them. I wore them with socks, which was a nice change for me, and they looked great with the collegiate outfit I described above. :) The only criticism I have, which is more of a personal preference item, was that the footbed was not super cushioned – this is not something that bothers me, but some people prefer a cushioned footbed. Given the shape of the shoe, it would be easy to add an insole or inserts for an easy fix. I normally wear a 7 in Aris Allens and needed a half size larger because I wanted to wear socks with them.

Athletic Mary Jane - available in black, white, black & white, and black & leopard print,

Athletic Mary Jane – available in black, white, black & white, and black & leopard print,

The second pair I tried is actually a style that has been out for a while, but since I don’t normally wear flats for dancing, I hadn’t had much incentive to try out the Aris Allen Athletic Mary Janes. I know there is a population of dancers out there who don’t wear heels who are looking for a Keds alternative, so I thought I’d try them out. The biggest pros for me with this shoe were the wide sole and the cushy insole. The shoes themselves felt of regular width, but the width of the sole seemed wider than the sueded Keds I owned, which in turn made my ankles less prone to roll and just gave me more overall security in feeling “grounded.” The insole on these shoes is cushy in all kinds of good ways – giving without being squishy; soft, yet resilient in its mesh design; arch support with good placement of said support. The strap was ample, so they remained on my feet, and the wingtip styling is adorable. I also had to go a half size up with this shoe for it to fit comfortably. I am hopeful that, like the white mesh oxfords, I’ll be able to shine these up with Windex when they get dirty.

D'Orsay Sandal - available in black satin, tan satin, and silver sparkle

D’Orsay Sandal – available in black satin, tan satin, and silver sparkle

The final pair I tried is definitely a new style for Aris Allen and was the one I was most excited about – the d’Orsay sandal. I have admired the Aris Allen d’Orsay satin t-strap since they launched a few years ago, but never bought a pair because the 3 inch heels were just too high for me for dancing. I hoped that they would create a similar pair with a lower heel and was elated to see the d’Orsay sandal with a 1 5/8 inch heel.

I selected a black satin pair to try out. Initially I got a size 7, but couldn’t fit my foot in the shoe, so I exchanged them for a 7.5. I got the 7.5 on my foot, but because I have a weird foot* the part of the shoe around where your foot enters the shoe near the ball of the foot was too tight. I enlisted the help of my friend Tiffany Linquist, another size 7 lady, to test the shoes for me, as her foot fit into them without the same problem. Another dancer, Heidi Reule, also tried out the fit of the shoe and did not have the same problem.

After about 5 dances, Tiffany came back over to me – the short end of the strap had broken on the d’Orsay sandal. We were pretty mortified, because we both have Aris Allen shoes that we love and know that they can make quality products. We brainstormed about the shoe and here’s what we came up with:

- The quality of the shoe appeared to be good – the materials used appeared to be quality, the overall aesthetic of the shoe was very good, the cutouts added to the comfort at the ball of the foot, and the insole was soft and comfortable.
– The heel height and width were ideal for Charleston, Balboa, and Lindy Hop.
– While the ball of the foot was very flexible, the arch was not – it was stiff and the shoe itself was very narrow at the arch. Tiffany’s feedback was that the shoe was very comfortable while she was dancing on her toes, but not while she was standing still. The arch, overall, felt and looked very narrow and, when she was wearing the shoes, she said it felt like her arches were dancing off a cliff (i.e. not secure).
– The arch support in the shoe felt like it was too far forward in the shoe.
– We were surprised that the strap broke (the small part with the buckle, not the long part with the holes for the buckle) until we noticed that there was no elastic on the strap. The absence of elastic, combined with the stiff arch appeared to put unnecessary strain on the strap, which likely caused the break. There is only so much thread can hold without some give to that tension.

That said, I hope that Dancestore does not give up on this style – I would still love to own a pair of shoes in this style and heel height – I hope that they take this feedback and make some improvements to this lovely shoe – a little elastic and some love in the arch would help what is, otherwise, a good shoe.

Styles I did not try, but that are also new include a cap toe sneaker – if you’ve been dancing in your Chucks and finding them lacking, maybe an investment in the Aris Allen Cap Toe as a viable alternative. Available in black, brown plaid, and black/white/blue plaid. They have also added a number of colors to their heeled oxford selection, including black/black & white houndstooth, black/blue brocade, black/red brocade, and fuschia velvet.

Lurve these

Lurve these

MEN! If you are still reading, you are dedicated – there are good things for you, including a much anticipated mesh wingtip in brown tones, a sweet white wingtip that looks like it may give Re-Mix’s version a run for its money (at half the price), and dance loafers in black, white, and a “Michael Jackson” edition in black with a special rubber insert in the heel that was specific to a pair of shoes worn by the King of Pop. I notice in the descriptions for the white wingtips and the loafers that they have taken feedback from dancers to heart and made these pairs with a thicker sole than the regular Aris Allen dance shoes – the result is something more like a quality pair of dress shoes and requires a bit of a break-in period. Not a bad thing if you are looking for a more quality pair of shoes. Men, I would take the time to read the descriptions of these shoes, as they have taken the time to describe their qualities in a fairly in-depth way to help you make a decision about what shoe would be right for you.

I’d be interested in hearing how the new Aris Allen shoes fare as compared to the shoes from December’s men’s footwear discussion

I love where Dancestore is going with their men’s shoe line – I think the aesthetic is spot on and the focus on quality materials and listening to user feedback is a step in a great direction. I think there are some improvements that could be made with the women’s shoes – aside from the aforementioned satin sandal, I would also like to see more leather shoes in the women’s shoe line and would like to continue to be able to buy leather wedges, which are a staple of my dance shoe wardrobe. I see that my staple wedges are being phased out, which is a shame because there are no viable alternatives, in my experience, that have the same wonderful, flexible sole as my Aris Allens. I am on my second pair of tan Rugcutters (since purchasing my first pair circa 2003/4?), and would still be on my first pair if they hadn’t smelled so terrible after 5 or 6 years that I had to throw them out. I wore them to death, almost every night, until I could afford to expand my shoe wardrobe and buy more wedges. I love them, please don’t get rid of them! *grovels and clings to your leg*

I would like to thank Dancestore for involving me in a review of their products. I am a staunch supporter of their shoes because I believe that they are a great entry point for dancers to buy dance shoes at more affordable prices and are one of the few places offering viable social dance shoes in flats. I hope they continue to make shoes that I love and experiment with new styles and adjustments to make the shoes that they have even better for dancing.

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*I have weird feet, so not every shoe works. I am the genetic product of a father with narrow feet and mother with tiny feet, a high arch, and Haglund’s deformity – the result (in me) is a narrow heel, a disproportionately wide ball of the foot, and the Haglund’s knob on the back of my heels. I also have a Tailor’s bunion and have had two surgeries to repair a toe I mutilated in my youth by falling down the stairs, breaking my toe, and then stuffing the broken toe into toe shoes before it healed. Needless to say, I must have very comfortable footwear and my health insurance has labeled me as having a pre-existing condition.

Discussion on Men’s Swing Dance Shoes

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I am often curious about men’s footwear, specifically for Lindy Hop and Balboa. You see everything from sneakers to wingtips, but the options for shoes made specifically for dancing are drastically more limited than women’s options. My friend Matt Mitchell from Austin, Texas posed this question on Facebook: “Looking to retire the Aris Allens. What shoes would you recommend? Nick, David, Jeremy, Mickey, and any other lead?” I’d like to know the answer to this myself!

Pronto Uomo Brown Center-Seam Dress Shoe | Men's Wearhouse

Jon Tigert chimed in first with his endorsement for Pronto Uomo brown leather oxfords, adding that “they are mostly a clothes company, but the shoes hold up great and are super comfortable.” A quick search of the internets revealed very little in the way of offerings for purchase, but if you are looking for tuxedo shoes for this year’s Lindy Focus, their patent leather tuxedo shoes are available at Men’s Wearhouse. A search of eBay shows that there are a lot of these shoes being sold used, which translates into savings for you.

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Nick Williams‘ shoe of choice has been discontinued, Nordstrom brand loafers, but Jeremy Otth posted a link to a pair of loafers from Nordstrom that could fit the bill. Nick says that this particular loafer is different in terms of design, so his search for a new favorite dance shoe continues. David Lee adds that he is wearing the new Nordstrom loafers, which were a little hard on his feet until he bought inserts, and they are now great.

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Andreas Olsson favors these sweet Moreschi Italian loafers, acknowledging that they are pricey, but that they are very comfortable and extremely durable. He’s still wearing the pair he bought in 2006.

In terms of general brand recommendations, Carl Nelson recommends Florsheim because they fit his feet well. Jason Swihart* perfers Allen Edmonds, but adds that “any quality men’s shoes with a flexible, not-too-heavy leather sole (if the heel is rubber, you can have it replaced)” is good. Jeremy says that Stacy Adams shoes are good if you like a thicker sole, but he prefers the Nordstrom loafer so he can “feel the floor.”

Other general tips:

- Buy shoes that fit your feet.
– Shoe trees and leather treatment can help make shoes fit you better.
– Vintage shoes are a viable option, especially if you have narrow feet.
– If you find a pair of shoes you like and they aren’t leather on the bottom or on the heel, you can always find a cobbler and have them soled in leather or suede.

I found this discussion very useful and broadening in terms of knowning what options are available to men. It appears that classic men’s shoe makers/retailers are the most viable options outside of the Aris Allen brand. Thanks to all who participated in this conversation for your feedback and the results of your trials and errors.

* Mr. Swihart appears on the Lindy Shopper blog with the permission of his legal counsel.

Lady Dandy

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Another article featured on Yehoodi - enjoy!

In light of recent online discussions about gender roles in Lindy Hop and the recent Amendment/abomination passed this month in my home state, I decided to take up a suggestion made by Sam Carroll that I do a post on women dressing in menswear or dandy garb for dancing. Specifically,

“For my own sake, I’m interested in outfits which cater to the curvy woman’s body, but which are using traditionally ‘male’ items – eg jackets, waistcoats, trousers, hats, cravats, etc. Not women’s clothes, but men’s clothes for women. Or men’s clothes tailored for a woman’s body. Most of the ‘female dandy’ stuff I see about features ridiculously skinny, flat-chested women without hips. That’s not me, I’m not interested in that stuff. But it’s hard to find alternatives.”

I think this is a really cool concept, one that could be practical for dancing socially, traveling, or in performance where a female could be leading and/or want to fit into a particular role in the ensemble.

When Sam posed this question, a few things popped into my head:

- Like vintage clothing for men, the actual vintage options will be limited, but with ladies’ narrower shoulders it could open up more jacket options.

- Accessories are the key. Like many gents I know who dress in vintage or in vintage style, many of the main pieces they wear are regular menswear or reproductions and the accessories, which have usually survived and are more plentiful, take their outfit to the next level. It’s all in the details.

- Finding pants is going to be really hard. As someone who has pretty much given up on finding pants, it could be even harder for me to make a recommendation.

- Like any good dandy, you will need a tailor.

- Women’s clothing retailers offer some dandified options, if you know where to look.

So let’s break this down into the man uniform. Menswear is generally comprised of pants, shirt, jacket and/or vest, socks, shoes, belt or suspenders (but not both). Accessories could be a tie, a cravat, a tie clip, cufflinks, hat, cap, watch, lapel pin, etc. I’ll try to hit on most of these pieces and recommend ideas for sources (because that’s what we’re all about here – where the @#&* do I find it?):

PANTS

Gonna get this one out of the way. Men’s pants are not made for women’s bodies and vice versa, but this doesn’t mean that men and women are made of one shape, or that men’s pants won’t ever fit. One of my favorite pairs of pants in college was a pair of men’s pants and I purchased a tuxedo for myself last year and didn’t have much trouble with the pants (although they cut a wee bit tight across the hips, more so than I am used to feeling). They fit me a hell of a lot better than these skinny jeans that are in style right now (which make me look like a linebacker) and give the illusion and drape of a proper pair of men’s trousers, in spite of the hip area.

My next suggestion is to find men’s pants that fit in the hips and have them tailored to fit your shape. This may not work for all men’s pants, but I believe it’s a viable option. Most nice men’s pants are cut to be tailored and taken in or let out.

Plaid knickers may be adventurous, but this pair of khaki knickers could be the basis for a great lady dandy summer outfit with fantastic socks!

There is always the option to have them made, which is my favorite because they are guaranteed to be made for your shape, in the fabric you like, and can be tailored to look like men’s pants. You can also have more options, like a higher waist to give it a more vintage look. Also, with the higher waist pant, it’s more likely to be a flattering cut for the female figure. I’m thinking specifically about the 13 button sailor pants the U.S. Navy used to issue as part of a uniform – those pants are universally flattering on just about every human I’ve seen wear them.

Finally, in rare instances (so rare that I can’t really point to a consistent source), I have come across wide or straight leg trousers in women’s stores that do sort of have a nod to menswear. The cut will be most important in this case, because womenswear is so squirrely and the cut may not be tailored enough to be truly dandy. Then, there is this sort of hybrid that is golf knickers, which are definitely more traditionally male, but also sporting female, and are made in women’s sizes at golfknickers.com (I would rock the Stewart plaid pair in a hot minute!).

SHIRT

I think most men’s shirts have comparable women’s shirts (tees, polos, button-downs). Sadly, I think a lot of modifications that retailers have made to women’s dress shirts to make them more…girly (?) have not worked out for the best. I am a lawyer IRL, so I deal with a lot of button-down shirts to wear under suits for court. I get miffed when I see that retailers have modified the neckline to show more cleavage – with that silly angle exposing more of the upper chest and removing the buttons so you no longer get to decide where your top button is located. Forget about wearing a neck scarf or a tie with it. And is it too much trouble to put a button across the peak of the bosom, instead of spanning it and causing a gap that must be safety pinned, lest your co-workers catch a glimpse of your bra? But I digress.

The shirt is just the beginning – add high waist trousers, tie or cravat, and a boater

I have found a few good basics for button-down shirts. My favorite is Banana Republic because the fit is usually really good (efficient, professional) and they have nice variations on classic menswear for women, without sacrificing buttons or adding excess cleavage. It’s also one of the few places I’ve found women’s shirts with French cuffs for cufflinks – bliss! They even have a line of non-iron shirts, which is the only kind of shirts my husband will buy, but that I haven’t seen made available that often for comparable women’s shirts. A scan of the BR line shows some great dandy options for summer – long sleeve basics, a safari shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a fantastic long sleeve button-down in blue or pink with contrast white collar and cuffs!

I think it is important to buy shirts made for women, if at all possible. Generally, our shoulders are narrower and we need darts to highlight our feminine shape and streamline our look. Being a dandy is about looking tailored, not frumpy, and I think men’s shirts are just too much of an adjustment in shape when there are options available that do not require alterations or custom-made garments.

I am also not above shopping in the little boy’s section for shirts…which sometimes works out well. :)

JACKET/VEST

Ralph Lauren striped jacket with insignia

Things start to get easier here. I’ve seen more women’s vests in recent history and there are always menswear-inspired jackets available. The key here is to mind your colors and materials – obviously, a pink boucle jacket is going to scream femme, but a linen, stripe, or tweed would be more along the lines of a dandy. I’d also experiment with vintage menswear and men’s vests, as there may be potential for tailoring them to fit, or with vests, cinching them if they are adjustable in the back. Again, the key is tailoring, keeping lines clean, and sticking to menswear basics.

SHOES

This becomes a wee bit more difficult because Dancestore.com isn’t making men’s Aris Allens in smaller sizes anymore – finding menswear-inspired shoes is fairly simple, but finding leather soles is not. This is where the ladies with the larger feet have an advantage. I went through great difficulty to find boy’s size 5 black patent leather oxford ballroom shoes to go with my tuxedo (and the size chart was so off that I had to send them back 3 times for an exchange). That said, there are some boy’s ballroom shoes out there in basic black oxfords.

Rachel Antonoff’s take on the classic loafer, for Bass

While I can’t vouch for the danceability of all the soles (there’s always the option of having things sueded), G. H. Bass has some great shoes right now for women that are a sort of twist on classic men’s shoes. I’m loving the Rachel Antonoff collection, which has things like clear/black patent wingtips, saddles shoes in lots of two tone color combos, and loafers with complimentary plaid panels. The Bass American Classics line for women almost looks like a collection of men’s shoes, with basic colors in loafers (tassled and penny; BONUS: leather sole) and saddle shoes.

SOCKS

This is where the fun starts. You could go with the traditional conception of matching your socks to your trousers, but one of the things I love about our male Lindy Hop counterparts is their fearless socks. So long as it matches your ensemble, feel free to experiment with stripes, argyle, prints, and color. This might be a good place to inject your femininity or sense of humor

Dapper gents on a tie worn by a dapper lady? Hehehe

ACCESSORIES

Belt, suspenders, tie, cravat, tie clip, cufflinks, hat, cap, watch, lapel pin…this is where there are comparable women’s products (belt, watch), or adjustable (suspenders), or we have unisex sizing (hats, caps), or it’s one size fits all (tie, cravat, cufflinks, pins, etc. I’m actually thinking vintage 30’s and 40’s ties might work even better on women because they are shorter than modern ties. This is where you have very few limits – go forth to the men’s section and conquer!

As with creating any look or ensemble, it’s important to do your research – look for inspirational photographs of men and women in menswear, or women in pants from the swing era. Pants were definitely not the norm and I think you will find that women took a lot of inspiration from the men when they embraced pants.

I hope this was helpful in some small way – please let me know if you have any follow-up questions or product recommendations for other burgeoning lady dandies!

Steve Madden Wingtips for Women

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

For a more casual, menswear-inspired look to go with your Lindy Hop duds, check out Steve Madden’s series of wingtip-inspired shoes – with leather soles no less!

Melin Oxford in black - also comes in two-tone hot pink and black or white and black

Miltie Oxford - hit the links or the dance floor; also comes in all black and all white

Mistaa Loafer - also comes in black, tan, silver, and white