A Year in Tieks: a guy’s perspective

Tieks6
A collage of my Tieks collection

It was just one year ago that my first pair of matte black Tieks arrived. If you read my earlier review, you will note that I was initially a little skeptical. They were comfortable for sure, but initially were not as comfortable as my other favorite flats, Born Julianne. However, it only took a couple of months and my Born flats were relegated back to their boxes or the back of my closet. The Tieks were just that good!

Now that a year has passed, my collection of Tieks has grown to five pair; and I still want more! At first, I did not understand the obsession with Tieks, but I also don’t understand other obsessions with particular articles of clothing that my wife, other women and some men have. Wearing Tieks was in many ways an epiphany for me, as I now understand how it is possible to have an obsession with a particular brand of clothing.

I have been wearing my Tieks as a casual shoe almost exclusively for the past year. While I don’t wear then to work–they just don’t quite work with men’s suits (although I think they could work with the “skinny suit” look). When I get home, I immediately take off my dress shoes and reach for a pair of Tieks. After a year of wear, I have come to the conclusion that they are some of the best shoes on the market.

Comfort

My first and primary reason for wearing ballet flats is comfort. All five pair exceed just about all of my expectations for comfort. However, not all of them started out that way. Some were more comfortable initially that others; a trait I attribute to the fact that they are “hand-made,” according the Tieks website. All of them eventually broke in and are incredibly comfortable. The leather is buttery-soft and over time molded to my feet. I was also surprised that for such a flat shoe, the leather insole has a surprising amount of cushioning and it is still thick enough to provide protection for my feet on rocky surfaces.

I do have a couple of quibbles with Tieks comfort. First, I do have occasional issues with too much pressure on my big toes. This may be in part because I added moleskin to reduce the “toe bump” a little bit, but I also think it is a result of my foot sliding forward in the shoe. This is more pronounced if I wear footies, thin socks or other legwear that makes my foot slide around. The leather on these shoes is so supple, that it doesn’t do a very good job holding my feet stable. That said, when worn barefoot, the shoes mold to my feet and the toe issues mostly disappear. Second, the elastic around the opening pulls the heel padding tight against my Achilles tendon causing redness after a long day. While I would not really call it uncomfortable, it is annoying.

Quality and Durability

I can not say enough about how well these shoes have held up over the past year, wearing them everywhere and under all sorts of conditions. Even to soles on my oldest pair–mate black–show almost no wear whatsoever. I have had to polish this pair once as they did become pretty scuffed up, but a bit of Tarrago polish fixed that right up.

My only real complaint with the quality of my Tieks is that I have had to use the moleskin “hack” to reduce the toe bump and provide some additional protection from my toes wearing through the leather.

Appearance

The great thing about Tieks for us guys is that they are a very “classic” styled ballet flat without any ornamentation and they come an a number of neutral colors. I started out with neutral colors like black, taupe and navy. However, they also come in a wide range of colors if you want to be more “bold.” I have since added chestnut and burgundy to my collection. Some of my fellow Tieks-loving guys on Facebook have gone all out and embraced some of Tieks wilder colors, and they look great! As a fairly conservative guy in my dress, I was also a little hesitant about the signature blue sole of Tieks, but I have to say it has grown on me and I now wear it as a badge of honor in being part of the “Tieks club.”

Reactions

Surprisingly (or not), the sky did not fall and the world did not end because a “regular guy” broke through some footwear stereotypes and took to wearing Tieks ballet flats on a regular basis. In fact, I am probably more surprised at how little reaction I have observed. Most people just don’t seem to notice. Occasionally, I will notice people (usually women) doing a double-take or spending some extra time looking at my shoes, but I have never had a negative reaction. On the few occasions people have interacted with me about my Tieks, it has always been a positive experience. Usually it is just a brief compliment such as, “nice shoes.” I did have one occasion where a woman working in a shoe store stopped me and asked me about my Tieks. I described what I liked about them and I think I may have sold her on trying them out (still waiting for my commission though).

Conclusion

Tieks may not be for everyone, but I have found them to be a very versatile and comfortable brand of shoes. I realize the cost is high, but in a world where you generally get what you pay for, the value of these flats is commendable.

 

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Review: Tieks Ballet Flats

Having worn Tieks ballet flats for a couple of months now, they have mostly lived up to all the hype, but are not quite my favorite flats (yet) [UPDATE 2/4/2018: I think I have to admit that Tieks are at least equal to my Born Julianne flats in terms of being my favorite–they are different in many ways with each having advantages depending on the occasion]. That said, I can clearly understand the obsession by many wearers and I am probably moderately obsessed myself. Getting your Tieks is an experience in itself and opening the shipping box to find a sturdy blue box with a flower on top makes it just like Christmas or your birthday. Inside you find your Tieks in a little black pouch with an accessory bag and what appears to be a handwritten note. I have to wonder how much of this is part of the $175 minimum price? Lets take a closer look at these extremely popular shoes.Tieks

Quality

From the moment the shoes are pulled from their blue box and little black pouch, the quality of construction of these shoes is readily apparent. The blue split soles are made of a relatively thick blue rubber that has good flexibility while still being solid and thick enough to protect your feet, and demonstrates an excellent non-slip grip under a number of conditions. You can see the hand stitching of the blue soles to the leather midsole and midsole to insole when looking at the bottom and inside of the shoe. The midsole is made from a thick piece of leather that also protects the bottom of the foot and holds the shoe upper while allowing the shoe to be folded in half to fit in the pouch for easy packing. The insole is also made of quality leather that molds to the feet over time. Together, these three components provide a still relatively thin sole that has a nice a little bit of cushioning. The uppers of the flats are made of an incredibly soft Italian leather that I have only ever seen comparable softness in fine leather gloves. The padded and reinforced heel round out the quality construction of this shoe. 

Comfort

When I first put my new Tieks on, my immediate reaction was on how comfortable these shoes were. However, after some time wearing them around the house (so as to maintain the option to return them) they began to feel uncomfortable, particularly around my toes. The discomfort was bearable and I was not quite ready to give up on these shoes, so I continued to wear them around for a few more days and ultimately decided that I could tolerate the discomfort for a while more and I was relatively certain at that point that these shoes would eventually “break in.” I am glad I did because, as I wore them more and more, they became even more comfortable. The leather upper and insole are beginning to mold to my feet, adding to the comfort of the shoes. Like most flats though, Tieks have very little arch support, but I have not yet found that to be a significant issue.

Appearance

Tieks certainly make a statement. I love the smooth clean lines of my Tieks; they are simple but provide a “classy casual” look that I think can pass for a unisex look for guys who wear flats. The blue soles and blue stripe up the heel are very distinctive and easily recognizable, but that look also makes them look more like a casual shoe than something one would wear if you are dressing up a bit. I exclusively wear my matte black Tieks for casual wear, but some of the fancier designs, such as the metallic or prints may have a “classier” look with nicer outfits.

Issues

While I really love my Tieks, I do still have a few issues that keep these from rising to be my favorite flats (for the time being).

  • Initial break-in period. While I really like my Tieks now, it took at least three weeks of fairly regular wear to make them truly comfortable. With my next pair I may try some of the suggestions by other reviewers to speed up the break-in period.
  • Fits low on the heel. One of the first things I noticed when I put my Tieks on was that the shoe rides lower on my heel than any other shoe I own. Initially, I thought the show would slip off my foot, but that has yet to happen. The elastic around the shoe opening and the padded heel seem to hold the foot very securely.
  • Leather almost too soft. Don’t get me wrong, the incredibly soft leather is one of the clear pluses for these flats. However, the soft leather does have some downsides: 1) the soft leather means that there is very little lateral support in the shoe particularly around the heel and my foot tends to slide around a little bit; and 2) it results in the big toe protruding up through the front of the shoe.

Conclusion

My experience thus far tells me that Tieks are very well made and comfortable ballet flats that are worth the price (although I could forgo some of the trappings for say $20 bucks off the price). I really like the fact that they are handmade in the USA, so I can be fairly confident I’m not supporting some sweatshop in China with my purchase. I have to wear dress shoes to work, but everyday I can’t wait to get home and slip these great ballet flats on. A great pair of casual flats for guys or girls! Yes, I think I am probably obsessed and it won’t be long before these do become my favorite flats. You can take the test below and see if you too are obsessed with Tieks (you don’t even have to own a pair).

Tieks Obsession Test

See how many of the below conditions apply to you:

You might be obsessed with Tieks ballet flats if…

1)  …you are constantly taking photographs of your feet in Tieks and posting them on Instagram, Facebook or other social media;

2) …you have at least three pair of Tieks in your closet, but still want more;

3) …you have written at least one review of Tieks or about your travels wearing Tieks on your blog site and you check it regularly to see how many likes you have;

4) …you have purchased at least one pair of Tieks costing over $250;

5) …you saved your Tieks box and flower and use them to decorate your house or you use the flower as a fashion accessory;

The following can also apply to those of you who do not currently own a pair of Tieks:

6) …you have a savings account set aside to save for your next (or first) pair of Tieks;

7) …you waste time at least once a week looking at other peoples’ posts on Instagram, Facebook or other social media about their Tieks, and liking or commenting on those posts;

8) …you check the Tieks website at least once a week and fantasize about the next (or first) pair of Tieks you are going to buy;

9) …you stop perfect strangers you see wearing Tieks specifically to strike up a conversation about their shoes;

10) …you purchased a pair of Tieks for a friend or family member for Christmas or a birthday and secretly hope they reciprocate;

Bonus question:

11) …you actually took the time to come up with a list of things that would indicate you are obsessed with Tieks.

Scoring. Count the number of above that apply to you and the total will tell you how obsessed you are with Tieks ballet flats:

  • 1-2 Mildly obsessed
  • 3-4 Moderately obsessed
  • 5-6 Obsessed
  • 7-8 Significantly obsessed
  • 9-10 You should probably look into getting a job working for the company

Full disclosure: I scored a 4 (moderately obsessed) on the above scale. Confess your obsession level in the comments or suggest other reasons for a Tieks obsession–if they are really good, I may edit this post and add your reason to the test.

My Tieks

Review: Born Julianne Flats

I will start this review by stating that these are clearly my favorite shoes in my closet. In almost every instance, these are the shoes I will reach for first. I am on my second pair of black Juliannes and also have the shoe in both navy and brown.

Quality

One of the first things I look at in a shoe is quality of construction, and the first indicator I look for is whether the sole is stitched or just glued to the shoe upper. The Born Julianne has a rubber sole that is stitched to the leather upper and you can see the stitching when you look at the bottom of the shoe. julianne-sole1-e1514411860403.jpg

Other aspects of shoe construction are equally well done. The heel counter and other components of the incredibly soft leather upper are stitched together well. Immediately after opening the box you can tell this is a well-made shoe, even though it is made in China. There is one issue related to durability that I will get to later in this review.

Comfort

These are certainly the most comfortable flats I own and in many ways are probably the most comfortable shoes I own. The leather is incredibly soft and is very pliable. I have been able to put all four pairs on brand new and wear them all day without any blisters or other issues. Despite this softness, the shoe is well constructed and has a very solid heel counter (part that cups the heel of the foot) is very solid which provides a lot of lateral stability in the shoe. All of the flats made by Born that I have tried have a very soft padded insole with better arch support than any flat I have ever tried. The insole itself is part leather and part fabric with a leather arch support. I have seen complaints about the seam between the leather and fabric, but I find the shoe to be extremely comfortable.  You can see the insole below:

Julianne insole

Wear and Tear

As with any well constructed shoe, the Julianne hols up very well to wear and tear. I have been particularly surprised at how well the sole has held up with all the walking I do in them.  There are two areas where the Julianne falls short on durability, one can be mitigated and the other cannot.

1. Leather scuffs easily.  This is particularly true for all of the leather colors except black in the Julianne. For some reason black wears very well. If you read many of the reviews a common complaint is that the shoes very quickly become worn-looking and the colors of the leather upper fade. Even out of the box, the navy colored shoes look faded.  However, this issue is easily resolved with a little shoe polish every now and then (I even polish my black flats on occasion to keep them looking good). Meltonian makes a really good shoe polish and it comes in just about every color imaginable, and the results are spectacular–just avoid getting the polish on the elastic band around the opening of the shoe. Also, Born was smart to include a small patch of leather on the bottom of the sole of this shoe that you can use to test any polish you might want to try on the shoe. You can see that the polish on my navy shoes below is noticeably darker than the original shoes out of the box (this may over-state the difference a bit as I don’t know what lighting was used in the unpolished picture, but there was a noticeable difference).

Flats12b
Polished
Julianne unpolished
Unpolished

2. The midsole of the Julianne appears to be its critical weak spot. It appears to be made of a cardboard-like substance that appears to be a common material used in China according to this site. I have noticed this same construction with just about every shoe I have had that was made in China. From what I can tell, the Chinese companies use this instead of cork or EVA for their midsoles. Over time the sweat begins to break down this substance so that it cracks, breaks apart and loses its integrity and ability to provide stability in the shoe. I was able to get about 3 years of fairly regular wear out of my first pair of these flats before this weakness became a problem. The sad part is that the sole, insole and leather upper are still in excellent condition. You can see the midsole problem in the picture below:untitled-4631

Appearance

The Born Julianne is a great looking shoe. It has simple but classic lines that look good in both casual and dressier situations. The 1/4 inch heel also gives it a more refined look. This basic, yet classy, simplicity makes it a great unisex shoe for men or women.

Julianne

Conclusion

Despite the few shortcomings mentioned above, this is a great ballet flat. The midsole problem doesn’t appear until about 3 years of regular wear, so you can get substantial wear out of this shoe before it begins to fail. If they only used a different material, this shoe could easily last 5-6 years. I wear mine all the time and in many situations. The Born Julianne retails for around $85-$90 and is worth every penny. Highly recommended!

My Collection:

Flats12a
Julianne in Navy
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Julianne in Brown
Flats7d
Julianne in Black

The Best Ballet Flats for Men

I thought I might take some time to rank order some of the ballet flats that are out there and that I think make great options for men. If you are a guy who is considering trying out ballet flats for the first time or if you already wear flats but are looking for something different, hopefully this post will help. I own many of these flats and have at least tried on many others. This list includes a few that I think will also work but I have not yet had the chance to try them on.

My main criteria in developing this list, in order of priority, are as follows:

  1. Comfort – guys really are more about having shoes that are comfortable.
  2. Style – needs to have smooth, clean lines with a unisex look.
  3. Sizing – needs to be available in larger sizes for men.
  4. Price – when it comes to ballet flats, you usually get what you pay for, but it still needs to be reasonable.

1. Born Julianne

This is by far my favorite shoe, let alone ballet flat. This is the only pair of flats that I have been able to wear right out of the box with no blisters or undue pressure on my feet. The leather is very soft and supple and after a few wearings completely molded to my feet. The Julianne flat also has more cushioning and arch support than most any other flat, other than some of the “sporty” styles. Some colors of this flat are offered up to size 12 women’s (roughly 11 men’s) and wide widths. At $85-$90 per pair, they are great value and comfort for the money.

2. Tieks

Tieks flats are rapidly becoming another favorite of mine. They do not have the same amount of cushioning and arch support as the Julianne, but the soft leather makes up for that to some degree. I was initially disappointed when I tried my new pair on as they were uncomfortable around my toes, but after about a month of off and on wear they have become quite comfortable. Tieks are sized up to women’s 13 and the softness of the leather can easily handle wide widths. Beginning at $175 a pair, they are probably not the best value for the money, but they are worth it.

3. Skechers

Because Skechers changes their style offerings every year or every season, I am not going to point out a particular style. I got my start wearing flats by trying some of the mary-jane styles. Skechers shoes are very comfortable all around and are offered up to women’s size 11 (occasionally 12). This is a great way to start wearing flats because the “sportier” look of Skechers makes them look more unisex.

4. SoftStar Shoes Adult Ballerine Flat

I wanted to get this shoe close to the top of my list, even though I have not had the chance to try them yet, because I am impressed that they are marketing it is a unisex shoe. I think the company is trying to compete with Tieks to some degree as at $150 the pricing is nearly as high and some of the construction seems similar. They do offer this in unisex sizing (with men’s sizing as the primary sizes) up to men’s 12, but I think you can custom order larger sizes if necessary. You can also customize the colors and design.

5. Tory Burch

Tory offers a range of ballet flat designs with the “Minnie” being one of the more popular styles. I have tried these on several times but have not yet made the purchase as I am personally not a fan of the ornament on the toe (but that is just me). Several other male ballet flat lovers, such as ToryBri, think this is a great shoe.

6. Repetto

Repetto basically invented the ballet flat, so it only stands to reason that they would have a flat designed exclusively for men. I have not tried their shoes, mainly because the $500 price tag is a bit too much for me. I am encouraged though that they would continue to offer an alternative for men.

7. Cole Haan

Cole Haan is another company that makes a wide range of flats, some of which I have tried on and found very comfortable. Unfortunately, their sizing usually only goes up to women’s 11.

8.  Bass Lexi

I am including the Bass Lexi ballet flat because it is probably the best value for the money. I have tried on this flat in the outlet stores and it can be purchased for as little as $20, depending on the sale at the time. For the money, they are quite comfortable. Unfortunately, the sizing tops out at women’s 11.

9. Telfar

I need to include the designer Telfar because he has been showing ballet flats with his designs for several years now. I have never tried his shoes, but they have a good unisex look.

10. Any “Sporty” looking flat

My last pick is any “sporty” looking ballet flat. These are available from a number of companies, but they tend to change seasonally. I got a couple of great flats from Teva several years ago, but alas, they have been discontinued. This style of flat may pass off as unisex and I also recall several years ago that Vibram made a ballet flat-like shoe in its FiveFingers line for men.

Conclusion

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of possible ballet flat options for men. In fact, I have several others in my closet that I have not even mentioned here. I welcome others to post their favorites in the remarks to this blog page. In the future, I will start writing more extensive reviews of some of the flats that I own.

Men’s Flats in Other Cultures

Women have pretty much monopolized the “closed toe, open instep” style of shoe that is generally called a “ballet flat” in most of the west. However, that isn’t true in in a lot of other cultures around the world. In many cases these shoes may not be the standard footwear for men, but they still present an option for men.

Korea

The traditional dress of Korea is called “Hanbok” and for formal or wedding dress men wear a silk shoe with an open instep.

korean-art-korean-stylehanbok.jpg

However, the style of shoe is worn far more than just formal settings. They vary from an inexpensive rubber version, called Gomusin, to more dressy leather versions that are incorporated into more modern versions of Korean dress.

hanbok gomusinhanbok-men-korean-traditionalkorea-men-s-modernized-traditional-clothes-hanbok-temple-stay-wear-linen-pants

China

The traditional “kung-fu” shoes of china have a variant that is similar to the ballet flat and are worn by men.

China shoe 2Chinese-Men-Kung-fu-Uniform-Male-Cotton-Tai-Chi-Suit-Novelty-Wushu

India and South Asia

The jutti in India is worn by both men and women. While the name itself comes from Punjabi in NW India and Pakistan, the shoe are worn all over South Asia and the Middle East. The men’s version is often called a “khussa” and frequently is characterized by a curled up toe (which is supposed to represent a man’s mustache). The styles range from simple everyday leather leather  shoes to very ornate shoes worn for weddings.

khussa1Khussa3Khussa2

Indian waistcoat-suitindian-men-traditional

Romania

Romanina peasant sandals (opinci) were worn by both men and women. Opinci were worn throughout Romania and over a wide area of southern and eastern Europe, but by the 20th century this form of footwear had become less common. They were made frm a a single piece of leather and were tied with thin strips of leather to the foot. The shoes can still be seen now in poorer rural areas today, although they are sometimes made of man made fabrics such as tire inner tube or plastic are sometimes instead of leather.

Opinici-goaleopinci2

opinci 1Taran-cu-opinici-si-brau

 

Spain

The Basque region of Spain has a style of footwear similar to the opinci called abarka.” This sandal is also made from one piece of leather and is tied by braided wool laces. There are more commercial versions avaliable today, however the style was mostly replaced by espadrilles and rubber sandals for agricultural activities, but remain used for dance.

abarka1abarka2Abarka-15711350px-Olentzero,_Beasain

Spanish (and Mexican) bullfighters also wear a shoe called Zapatillas that are similar to a ballerina slipper. The bow in front is very functional as it allows the shoe to be tightened so that it will not fall off during a bullfight.

Scotland

The Scottish have a buckle style brogue worn by men for formal events, especially military events. It is also worn by those who choose not to wear the traditional laced Ghillie.

buckleroger.jpg

I am sure there are other cross-cultural examples of the instep in men’s shoes; feel free to post any example you may find in the comments below.

A Brief History of Men and Ballet Flats

Medieval Times

Most historical references date the “ballet flat” back to the 16th century, although the idea of a shoe with a closed toe and open vamp probably existed long before that. They were called “pompes” when worn by nobility as a court (as in royal court) shoe but also in a more simplistic form by Tudor peasants. These were worn by both men and women, but fell out of style by the 17th century, when heels became popular.

150426-275x325-renaissance3Pompe1

There was another shoe called “poulaines,” which were similar to pompes, but had a long (sometimes very long) toe. However, these were mainly reserved for men and the length of the shoe reflected social standing: commoners could wear shoes no longer than 6 inches; a Knight was allowed up to 18 inches; and a Baron could sport a pair of shoes up to 24 inches in length.

poulaines1

Meanwhile, the first true “ballet” shoe made its first appearance in 1680’s France in the ballet school at the Royal Academy of Dance. At the time it was a high heeled shoe that would later be replaced by the ballet slipper we are familiar with today in the 1800s.

Modern Times

The ballerina slipper continued to be worn by men and women ballet dancers. In the 1880’s and Italian immigrant to America, Salvatore Capezio, decided to design a better ballet shoe that would need fewer repairs. The result was a huge success, ballerinas loved Capezio’s shoe so much, that in 1910 Anna Pavlova bought a pair for each member of her ballet company.

In the late 1940’s, famed shoe designer Rose Repetto got some experience creating ballet flats. She gained notoriety in the ballet world after making pointe shoes for her son Roland Petite, but her most iconic design that brought the ballet flat into the mainstream by adding a hard sole and was inspired in 1956 by none other than Brigitte Bardot. She commissioned a pair of red ballet flats from Repetto to wear in the movie, “And God Created Woman.” Needless to say the shoes were a hit both on and off screen. The shoes went into mass production and sold extremely well. The following year in 1957, Audrey Hepburn, sported a black pair of ballet flats in the film Funny Face, helping catapult the ballet flat to closet staple status.

Today

Opera pumps are similar in style to the ballet flat and are still worn occasionally in the west by men.

black-shoes-gilded-age.jpg10SS_51

Some companies, including Repetto, are attempting to to market ballet flats to men. A few companies, such as Softstar Shoes, are marketing ballet flats as unisex shoes.

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While the ballet flat has become a staple shoe for women, some designers have branched out and are incorporating the ballet flat in their designs for men. Some of the notable designers are shown below.

Wales Bonner

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Telfar

Telfar-SS16-028Telfar pic-63

Seok Won Jang

Introducing-Seokwon-Jang_fy4shaun-141

Michael Bastian

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Chin Mens

chin-mens-ss18-14.jpgChin-Mens-SS18-17

 

 

 

Introduction

Ballet flats make a great footwear alternative for men. In the Middle Ages, ballet flats were called “pompes” and were worn almost exclusively by men. This blog, from time to time, will highlight the advantages of this style of footwear in an attempt to reclaim this comfortable and stylish style of shoe for men.