Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reggie's Alden Slip-Ons, and Why He Wears Them

Last week, Dear Reader, I treated myself to a new pair of Alden shell cordovan, full strap slip-on loafers.  Doing so triggered a rush of memories of when I first started my career in finance in New York City, thirty years ago.  It also prompted me to consider the social and—dare I say it—tribal significance of one's chosen footwear, at least in the dwindling world of those of us over the age of forty who are still employed in the city's beleaguered financial services industries.

Reggie's new Alden slip-ons
sitting on a horse hair covered dining chair
at Darlington House on Thanksgiving Day

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

I slipped away from the Investment Bank where I work the day before Thanksgiving for a much-needed wardrobe replenishment shopping trip on Madison Avenue.  My journey started at J. Press and concluded at the Brooks Brothers flagship store.  Imagine that.

The Brooks Brothers flagship store at 346 Madison Avenue,
where Reggie bought his shoes last week
Image courtesy of Brooks Brothers

I came away with half a dozen shirts, two pairs of trousers, a sweater, a jacket, and the shoes shown in the photograph at the outset of this post.  As readers of this blog may recall, the topic of shoes is one that Reggie has returned to more than once or twice.  In previous posts I've written about my affection for Belgian Shoes, white bucks, and classic Gucci loafers.  I've even written about a much-loved pair of shoes that I wore as a toddler and that I still own (but have long since ceased wearing).  Now, Dear Reader, I turn my attention to another favored shoe in my wardrobe—Alden slip-ons.

The original Alden Shoe Company factory
in Middleborough, Massachusetts, 1880s
Image courtesy of same

I bought my first pair of Alden slip-ons the year I graduated from Yale, more than thirty years ago.  They were brown calfskin and had tassels, and I loved them.  I charged them to my father's account at the Brooks Brothers store in Washington, D.C., to wear at my first job in New York at an old line  commercial bank that has long since been absorbed into what is today Bank of America.  I had been accepted into the bank's corporate lending officer training program, and I wanted to be sure to dress the part correctly.  My father graciously underwrote the purchase of my initial post-college work wardrobe, including the Alden slip-ons, several suits, an overcoat, and assorted shirts and ties.

44 Wall Street,
the building where I began my career in finance
Photograph courtesy of ABS Partners

In those days (the early 1980s), young men in New York's bank officer training programs—such as Reggie—wore Alden (or similar) slip-on tassel loafers to the office.  While older bankers wore conservative lace-up oxfords, by the time I appeared on the scene most of the younger bankers had adopted tassel loafers as their preferred shoe.  What I didn't realize before I started at the bank, though, was that one was expected to wear only black tassel loafers.  I was dismayed to learn on my first day that I had blown my pre-employment shoe allowance on brown shoes, and that all the other young men in the training program were wearing black shoes.

Reggie mistakenly wore Alden brown tassel slip-ons
to his first day at the bank, all those years ago
Image courtesy of Harrison Limited

In those days, men didn't wear brown shoes on Wall Street (yes, the bank I worked in was actually located on that famous financial thoroughfare), but only black shoes.  Brown shoes were considered "un-bankerly" (a withering criticism), and only appropriate for weekend wear.  My father, who was a lawyer and regularly wore brown shoes to his office (where they were perfectly acceptable), thought it "poppycock" (a word he used with some frequency in my presence) that I felt uncomfortable wearing brown shoes to my office, instead of black ones.  Clearly, he didn't understand the cultural and sartorial differences between a bank and a law firm.

The Brooks Brothers store at One Liberty Plaza,
where Reggie bought his first pair of black Alden tassel slip-ons

Needless to say, once I received my first paycheck I high-tailed it over to the Brooks Brothers on Liberty Plaza and bought myself a pair of Alden slip-on tassel loafers in the desired and approved black.  My brown tassel loafers got pushed to the back of my closet, and didn't get much wear thereafter, except on weekends.  I held on to them for many years, though, stored in their original box.  I gave them away ten or so years ago, since by then I was no longer able to wear them, as my feet had grown in my forties and the shoes no longer fit.  It was a bittersweet moment when I finally decided to donate them to charity, as their significance still resonated with me.

Reggie's own well-worn
black Alden tassel slip-ons
sitting on a chair at Darlington House
Photograph by Reggie Darling

By then, though, I had pretty much ceased wearing Alden tassel loafers, having moved on to tassel-free Alden slip-ons in my later thirties.  For those of my readers who may not be familiar with Alden slip-ons, be they tasseled or not, they are a mainstay of a certain group of grown men who work in the lofty office towers of Manhattan.  They are a particular favorite of those of us employed in the worlds of finance, be it investment banking, private equity, or commercial banking.  Most of the investment bankers over the age of forty where I work have at least one or two pairs in regular rotation.  Alden slip-ons are probably the most popular shoe seen on such men walking the halls in the Investment Bank where I work, followed closely by Gucci loafers.  Shoes worn by the younger men at my firm tend to be sleeker, and are usually Italian.  I suspect that Alden slip-ons are to them what lace-up oxfords were to my generation when I started out in banking—the favored shoe of the older generation.

Wall Street today,
the old Manufacturer's Hanover Trust on the right,
US Trust beyond, and Trinity Church in the distance
Photography courtesy of Picasa

When I first started my career in finance, in 1980, those of us in the training program at the bank were handed a sheet of paper on the first day outlining what clothes we were expected to wear, and what clothes we were not to wear.  I wish I still had it, Dear Reader, as I would dearly love to post it here.  However, I don't, so I can't.

A Brooks Brothers window display, ca. 1960s
Photograph courtesy of Esquire

I can summarize it, though, for you.  We were expected to wear suits of a conservative cut in "somber" colors (gray or navy) every day of the week (no Casual Fridays back then).  Shirts were to be either white (preferred) or light blue.  Ties (mandatory) were to be a discreet foulard, club, or rep stripe.  Shoes were to be black, although dark cordovan was acceptable.  Should we need to come into the office on weekends (a regular occurrence, I might add), we were expected to wear a jacket and a tie, and tailored trousers such as gray flannels (winter) or khakis (summer).  No blue jeans or sneakers were allowed under any circumstances.  Ever.

J. Press was (and remains) Reggie's
"go-to" source for smart sport jackets
Photograph courtesy of LIFE Images

As all of us are well aware, these days clothing restrictions have loosened considerably.  At the Investment Bank where I work, suits and ties are no longer required, unless one is meeting with clients.  On an average day I'd say half the men do wear suits, and the rest are in blazers and gray flannels, or some variant.  At least half are tieless, regardless of whether they are wearing suits or not.  Most of us keep several ties in the office should we unexpectedly need one.  While black is still the preferred shoe color, brown is now entirely acceptable.  Long gone are the days when a man would be sent home to change his shirt if he had the audacity to show up at the office wearing one in any color other than white or blue.

The approved shirt as seen in a Brooks Brothers
catalogue from the 1980s.  White or blue.  Only.
Image courtesy of the Trad

So, Dear Reader, you may ask: What is it about Alden slip-ons that resonates with me?  Why have I kept buying them for the past thirty years?  Why did I buy yet another pair last week?

The same shoe Reggie bought, except in calfskin
Photograph courtesy of Harrison Limited

I like the way they look, Dear Reader, and they are one of the favored shoes of the men of my profession and background.  They are flattering to a grown man's foot, they have an easy elegance to them, and they are popular with the well-dressed Ivy League-educated men I have coexisted with my entire adult life.  In other words, they are one of the shoes of the Tribe.  I've bought more than a dozen pairs over the years, both with and without tassels, and I think they look just as good worn sockless with khakis on a summer weekend afternoon as they do wearing Pantherellas and a suit to one's office on Park Avenue during the week, as I do.  I bought last week's new pair to replace an identical pair that had become worn beyond redemption and that could no longer support yet another reconditioning.

The box my new shoes came home in . . .
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

At $650 a pair, Brooks Brothers' Alden cordovan slip-ons are not inexpensive.  However, they are well worth the cost, I believe, because they are beautifully made.  I like the fact that they are also made here in the United States by one of the few remaining American shoe manufacturers.  When the shoes are well cared for (which, in Reggie's book, includes the use of properly fitted wood shoe trees), they last for many years, and Alden does a terrific job of reconditioning its shoes if asked (they have a handy mail-order business for doing so).

The cover of an Alden catalogue
Image courtesy of same

And for all of these reasons, Dear Reader, Alden's shell cordovan, full strap slip-ons will always be part of Reggie's shoe wardrobe.

Please note:  Reggie has not received, nor does he expect to receive, anything in return for this post.  He is posting it solely in the interest of entertaining his readers, which is why he writes this blog in the first place.


  1. Your tribe wears beautiful shoes. It's a shame you weren't able to enjoy your first pair, but no doubt someone out there loves wearing them now. Wear your new shoes in good health!

    1. Dear Merry Wife: As my father always said "you can judge a man by his shoes," which has resonated with me ever since. Thank you, Reggie

  2. Reggie, several observations: LIFE pictures legendary heyday J. Press salesman George Feen waiting on the trade. Shocked you didn't care to mention the Barrie loafers most certainly sported in your early prime. The restricted clothing requirements of investment banking in olden days were more than a glimpse of stocking, but heaven knows were buttressed, not by anything goes, but by the tasteful intervention performed by Squeeze and my first tier competition.

    1. Dear Squeeze: I had a pair of Barrie's knock-offs of the Alden tassel slip-on, in black, when I was an undergraduate at Yale. Bought them when I was at St. Grottlesex. I wore them with to death. But it wasn't until I graduated from Yale that I then also graduated to Aldens. A rite of passage, perhaps? Thanks, Reggie

  3. Such lovely shoes! And a beautifully-written tribute.
    It's terrific to find a wardrobe item which one can return to again and again through the course of one's life. I feel that way about my Ferragamo Vara shoes - expensive but utterly worth it. It's harder to source classic items for a female wardrobe than for a male wardrobe so when I come across something that is enduring - both in terms of style and quality - I tend to snap it up and stay loyal.

    1. Ammu, I agree, both as to the Ferragamo Varas and as to the difficulty of finding really classic items for a lady's wardrobe.

    2. Dear Ammu (and Sewing Librarian): I am always interested to see lady Ferragamo shoes worn of the type I remember from the early 1980s -- black with the ribbon bow and the gold metal plate with "Ferragamo" inscribed on it). They were to women in the bank where I worked way back when what tassel slip-ons were to the men. Instantly identifiable, and iconic. I've recently noticed their reappearance here in New York (well, at least on the UES and along Park Avenue, where I work) on the feet of women under the age of 50. Hadn't seen that in a very long time! Reggie

    3. SewingLibrarian: thank you, I blame fast fashion for the onslaught of trends, making it difficult for the rest of us to find classic items.
      Reggie: you are right, they have definitely made a comeback. I am 32, i adore my burgundy patent Vara shoes (the style you described) and wear them all the time!

  4. This post brought back memories of a Sunday night ritual in our house when I was a kid: helping my father polish his shoes. He was a judge and he nearly always wore black shoes, but in summer there were a few pair of brown lace-ups and one and only one oxblood which he rarely wore. Which is too bad because they looked very snappy with the black robe.
    I think it comforting that a shoe style you love and that suits you so well is still made. Women have no such luck- shoe styles change so often which can be both a blessing and a curse.

    1. Dear LR: I, too, share memories of my own father polishing his shoes. He took extraordinary care of them and was inordinately proud of them (and had reason to be because they were beautiful and expensive). The smell of the polish he used is one that I shall never forget, and will always associate with him (along with Lucky Strikes cigarettes). As you point out, women aren't as lucky as we men are with their shoes, given fashion's fickle dictates. However, women get to have more fun with them, which (might) help mitigate that (somewhat). Thanks, Reggie

  5. Enjoyed your post as I have a pair of black Alden tasseled mocs bought at Brooks Brothers in Atlanta 25+ years ago as a young management consultant. They look mahvelous and I wore them this past week. History on the hoof, if only they could talk.....

    1. Dear HGB3 -- "History on the hoof" -- what a delightful and clever phrase! When well-cared for, one's shoes can last forever, as you note. Thank you, Reggie

  6. I especially liked the Aldens on the horsehair.

    1. Dear SMR, I am pleased you divined the significance... Thank you, Reggie

  7. No more ties on Wall Street?!?!?!?! Say it isn't so Reggie, say it isn't so.

    1. Dear LPC: I'm afraid so. But, as I wrote, around half of the men where I work wear ties, at least most days. I haven't bought a new one in years... RD

  8. Reggie,Great,Taste!


  9. A classic pair of shoes...brown or black...must have them in the arsenal.

  10. Although I feel somewhat like a jammy-fingered youth peeking into a fancy-store window inasmuch as you are so far above my social strata, I experience endless enjoyment by reading your blog my dear Reggie. You must be a sight to behold. Thanks for all you give us!
    Liz in Oregon

    1. Dear Liz, I am the fortunate one to have such a reader (and witty commenter) as you. Thank you, Reggie

  11. Hello Reggie, You should just have had the brown shoes dyed black. I did this with a number of shoes and the results were entirely successful, especially going to a darker color.

    1. Dear Parnassas: What a good idea, the thought never crossed my mind! Thank you, RD

  12. It's interesting about tribal styles. As a young City banker in the mid-1970s similarly sombre - dark grey, blue or black, (usually with pin or chalk stripe) suits. Oxfords only; never slip-ons. Only black in the City, brown (and suede if you liked) for the country. Shirts used to be striped or white, but as time progressed I only ever wore white shirts, with either blue and white or black and white ties, (dog-tooth or polka dot). White silk pocket handkerchief in the jacket's breast pocket; never folded - see Prince Charles's. On the rare occasions I wear a suit today it's the same as described above. Habitually cloned!

    1. Dear Columnist: You sound impossibly smart in such equippage, as I am sure that you are under any circumstances! Thank you, Reggie

  13. Do Oxbridge Undergrads still get sent away from the Exam Schools if they don't turn up in the obligatory white tie and black shoes?

    I'm sure that there are plenty of graduates who still have nightmares about turning up in brown shoes and not being allowed to sit their exams.


    1. Dear Herts: Thank you for your comment. However, I am afraid that I am not able to answer your question, as it is entirely outside my experience. Perhaps other readers might be able to do so? Rgds, RD

  14. We have a saying in England, "Never brown in town". Can be pronounced 'never brine in tine' in that clipped 1950's way.

    1. Victoria: This is quite marvelous, I shall be sure to remember it (and also the correct pronunciation of it)! Thanks, RD

  15. Hello, Reggie,

    I LOVE Alden shoes. And love that they're made in America. In fact, a year or so ago, they made a GQ list of seven or so items of clothing, etc, that are made in America. Can't recall all of them, but Red Wing boots were one. I had an ancient pair of Aldens reconditioned and they came back looking brand new. I hope they last forever! Do you have their catalog? It's a dream to peruse.

    1. Hello Anon: Thank you for your comment. I have seen the Alden catalog, and it really is quite dreamy, isn't it? RD

  16. Love the wooden shoe extenders. They are very hard to come by in NZ. Till I find some I will have to continue packing with tissue paper.

    1. Dear LC: Wooden shoe trees are a marvelous aid in maintaining the shape of one's shoes. They are widely available on the Internet, I believe. Rgds, Reggie

  17. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. It was excellent!

  18. Dear OCBD: Thank you very much, I'm glad you liked it. Reggie

  19. I have worn that style of tassel loafers for years( albeit a different brand that fits like custom )I have a pair of black ones which just had their 25th birthday (or is it 26?)- I went wild and bought a pair in a pale nubuck but couldn't get used to seeing the flash of light colored shoes out of the corner of my eye- oh well-an experiment in fashion gone wrong( they were pretty though)

    1. Dear Thomas, Pale nubuck sounds wonderful--perhaps more so for weekends than weekdays. Reggie

  20. My husband is a member of your tribe. Gifts must come from J. Press, Brooks Bros, T & A, Orvis or Trumper.

    Anyhoo, on a different subject I have a Pandora station recommendation: Cambridge Singers Christmas. Not sure if it is your cup of tea but just in case. It is very peaceful.

    Cheers to you both!

    1. Dear Pimms: I am a HUGE fan of the Cambridge Singers! Rather my cup of tea, of course! Thank you -- Reggie

  21. Mr. Darling,

    An enjoyable post, as always. The generational/age aspect of shoe choices is very interesting. Being a few years your junior, I remember being surprised as a young lawyer when seeing that the "Old Boys" of the office wore tasseled loafers. I had always believed that only wingtips or cap toes were appropriate professionals' shoes (black shoes of course). I quickly adopted tassel loafers myself, but note that they seem to be dying out among lawyers in this business casual, anything-goes, age. Lord help us when the next generations start adopting flip flops as proper business wear.

    Since your readers value your judgments in matters of taste, I wonder if you would share why you did not go with the tassel loafer this time. Do you think the full strap to be more versatile for casual wear? I would hate to see the tassel loafer go away.

    1. Dear Anon: Yes, it definitely appears that Alden tassels are falling out of fashion. A bit outré, perhaps? I bought the slip-ons to replace a worn out pair. My tassels remain in fine fettle, but I rarely wear them anymore. Ah, fickle me... Reggie

    2. I am afraid that the flip-flop in Silicon Valley has replaced proper shoes...(my favorite is the Gucci loafer with no socks!


      I am totally sounding like my beloved "Granny"

      who said in 1960; "the whole country is going to hell in a hand basket "

      Well; around here the dress would make your hair all fall out at once!

      flip-flops; cargo shorts.....dirty t-shirts.......out to dinner at nice restaurants!


      "Inner" and "outer" Slobbovia!

      Anyone old enough to remember that???

      Al Capp!!

  22. The young Billionaires wear track shoes, jeans and hoodies. Capitalism dressed down. Remember Steve Jobs. They define themselves just like you do. They dress for success. Ann

    1. Such rubbish! They dress for idiocy.

  23. My husband used to wear Italian tasseled loafers to work in the corporate world... we used to refer to them as his ballet shoes, as they had a delicate, refined look. While I do love your blog, I have to disagree with you that those Alden slip-ons look great with casual wear. Whenever I see a fellow wearing the chino shorts with Alden loafers uniform in our upscale Fairfield County, CT town, I always think it's an uptight look and that he doesn't have the savvy wherewithal to buy himself a pair of casual shoes.

    1. Sperry topsiders!
      Correct with shorts! am I right!

      YES!! No Alden loafers with shorts! And no knee socks with shorts unless you are in Bermuda! SEE???

      Changing that fun subject........we have to confront the WORST!!!

      What tragedy you have had in Connecticut!

      All my ATTENTION and prayers are directed to your little part of our country.


      Everyone in this country is praying for you.......please spread that is true.

    2. The fellow with the "ALDEN Loafers" will be the guy I want to meet in your neighborhood! So much better than a guy who "wants to wear the right shoes"!

      Did you see "Legally Blonde?"

      That is the kicker! Wqtch it!

      20 years later or (whaeveritis) the funniest movie ever)

      and the whole shoe and wardrobe thing is paramount!

      Must see!


  24. A fine men's shoe is a beautiful thing.

    Now about those chairs. Are they all covered in horse hair?

  25. Which shirts did you purchase, Mr. Darling? Did you buy OCBD's from Brooks Brothers? Do you wear traditional fit? Thanks.

  26. An excellent post. I have been wearing Alden tassel loafers since the day I saw about twenty pair lined up in the men's locker room at the Racquet Club. I bought my own pair, also in brown, the very day. Living as I do in the sweet sunny south the black/brown convention was observed only in the breach. I bought them at Brooks Brothers and had no idea there was a company by the name of Alden and I carefully noted that some of my less observant colleagues wore similar but vastly inferior shoes made by Allen Edmonds. They did not see the difference which made all the difference. I wore my new shoes to Abercrombie & Fitch a few blocks north and I ascended to the roof where I tested a fly rod in their casting pool. These were the days when you could look down on Madison Avenue and see men in hats. Excellent post and thanks for alighting some excellent memories of a long gone age.

  27. Hi there Reggie,

    I have two old pairs of Alden shoes, one tie-up and the other slip-on. Up here in the Albany area, they sell the shoes, but you don't see too many men wearing them. I paid about $245 to $275 for mine, back in the day (20 years ago?). The price now, I think, is over $375 to start. I've had mine resoled once, but in this area people don't do that often. People seem to buy something, wear it until it is beaten up, then throw it away.

    Executives here in the Capital region seem to still to be "First generation off of the Farm" with an education and higher paying job, so they would not know the difference between an Alden and a Johnson Murphy shoe from an outlet, if their lives depended on it. They would also be shocked about the price, if you told them what you paid. The funny thing is, lower payed employees wear better clothing than the bosses, and the lower paid help laugh about it ALL THE TIME.

    1. Now that is really sad.

      And I believe you!

  28. Very nice post sir, very nice indeed. Thank you.
    p.s. I very much love my Aldens as well.

  29. It is probably way too late to comment!

    But I just have to: even if it ends up in the "mists of the blogosphere!!!

    After "not being asked back" (expelled in todays language)

    I was sent to New England to "prep school" from Southern California (Pasadena; not Newport Beach. big difference)

    We are 1962!!

    I think everyone in New England thought Southern California was the "wild west!" (and perhaps it was.....not however, to a 15 year old in Pasadena!)

    Anyway; My adorable and wonderful mother (who had me at 40!)

    took me from Pasadena to Santa Barbara to buy the "right" clothes!

    (Anybody else's mother did that??) come forward!

    She knew that "Weejuns" sp? Were the shoes.

    Unfortunately for me; coming from the west coast......I picked black weejuns.

    Completely and uttterly wrong. (I will do a post about this!)

    I called her three weeks in in complete tears......(everything is wrong!!)

    And she flew back to Hartford/Springfied airport and drove to Northampton to buy me the "right clothes"!

    Sheesh! I had the shetland sweaters with the grosgrain ribbon down the front..... and the monogram (she was really good.......there was no sophisticated communication......and you could not do this by phone.....anyway!)

    But black weejuns......DEATH!!

    In my humble opinion; shoes still tell the tale.

    They tell the tale and the story and don't tell anyone else who does not subscribe to your blog!


    What a wonderful post! I can't wait for your tree!!

    ps I learned to spot a "preppy" in airports (this is before took a long time to get back to California before jets!

    Then along came Ralph Lauren!!

    I still remember my being able to recognize fellow "preppies"; and nuns from the small order who "saved me" in airports all over the world!

    No more nun's "habits"; (almost no more nuns!)

    And Ralph Lauren leveled the playing field!

    I am for it! Taste for everyone! Ralph has to be a person to be honored for bringing taste to everyone! His goal (I believe this to be true) was not about "just money"!

    I believe his goal in the beginning was to spread "taste" (there is no such thing as "good taste" or "bad taste"

    (just my opinion!)

    There is just "taste" or lack of.

    Again.....a wonderful and civilized post! Bravo!

  30. I'm a lawyer and am in my 19th year in the profession. We used to have to wear navy or black suits with closed toe shoes and hosiery. Thank God the revolution in the workforce in about 2003 gave us the freedom to embrace colour bare legs open toe shoes and embellishment. Except for court where it's still 1994.

    I just completed a questionnaire for a student's dissertation about clothes and image and grooming which I blogged about and someone left me a comment directing me to this post.



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