The idea of comfort is subjective and it often boils down to the idea of cushion vs support. In America, we are trained to believe that what has the most cushion must be the most comfortable. I have learned firsthand, that this is nothing more than marketing gimmickry. Good cushioning can provide comfort, but at the end of the day without proper support, no amount of cushion will provide the comfort we need to sustain a hard day on our feet.
I vividly remember when a guy in his late 50s/early 60s walked into my shop and attempted to educate me on this but with the reverse ideology. He told me ‘These are beautiful shoes, but you know what you need in order to make any sales to old guys like me? You need to put cushioned soles on them. You know, like Cole Haan.’ I entertained his mildly condescending manner more so as I felt sorry for his lack of education. All I was thinking is how a really big chunk of my best clients were his same age wearing leather soles because you know they fit well and provide support. Now, I understood what he was saying and to a degree, he was right as so many men in his age bracket are trained to think like that through years of mass marketing, but the reality is that this sad truth is only real for an uneducated shoe consumer.
Since that day (above), I have been wanting to write about this subject and what prompted me to finally realize doing so was when someone asked me to recommend a brand that they could stand in for up to 12 hours a day. And I thought about that and said to myself, ‘How can I recommend a brand as at the end of the day, what feels good to me may not feel good to him.’ I see people who can wear cemented slippers all day long. My feet would attempt to kill my body if I subjected them to that torture. And thus I realized, it is not about a brand or a type of shoe that gives you 12-hour-long comfort. It is about finding a last/shape that supports your feet in the right places. That support then allows you to be comfortable for long periods of time. This is regardless if the shoe has cushioning or not.
If you can find a shoe that supports your arch in the right places and properly aligns your body, giving you the support you need for your knees and spine, as well as offering some good supporting cushioning, well then you are in business! But the sad reality is that most shoes that offer a lot of cushioning are often cheaply made mass-produced shoes that wouldn’t give a second thought to producing their shoes on a well-contoured last that offers arch support. Instead, they use a generic shaped flat last and throw in a sock liner they label as an insole and call it a day. And that sock liner is usually nothing more than a cushioned piece of fabric cemented to some foam-like material, compounding the cushioning, yet still providing zero arch support for your feet. They feel comfortable in the beginning but after an entire day on your feet, you won’t really be getting that long-term support that you really need.
I do think that this is why the recent trend of having softer commando-style rubber soles made on dress shoe styles is growing in popularity in the dress shoe industry. Because good dress shoes are made in mind with having good arch support (or at least they should be) and when you couple that with a softer rubber sole that is durable yet shock-absorbing, you have a real win-win situation on your hands. And since everyone wants to be comfortable these days (more so than ever IMHO), I think that this idea is appealing to more and more people. I won’t lie, even I have fallen for it! You will see if you watch the video in this post.
In the two pairs shown above, all things being equal i.e. arch support and sole, the one that actually feels better is the more snug fit one that cups my arch better due to the pattern. That would be the leather one. You can see in the suede one, due to a low cut with a long opening that is not structured, it leaves the fit loose and my arch collapses. At the end of the day my feet are more tired in this model than in the other. The wholecut loafer has a pattern that cups my arch and therefore supports it better. I can wear that one much longer without feeling tired. That comfort simply boils down to how my arch area is supported, or lack thereof.
I truly believe the majority of us need to realign our ideas of comfort and stop looking for the most cushion, but rather put our focus on good fit and ultimately great support. Because after a 10-12 hour day on your feet, that is what truly matters for long-term effects on your knees, hips, spine, etc. You might think that sounds crazy but your body will show you eventually. I learned the hard way and felt pain like never before. I am sure some of you reading this have experienced the same and know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you fortunate enough to not have felt excruciating foot pain due to a lack of support, well consider yourself lucky. Hopefully, you never do. But, just in case, finding properly fitting shoes that support you in the correct manner will certainly ensure that you never do!
I speak more on this in the podcast below if you wish to hear more thoughts on the subject!