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  • Sam

In search of proportions - can we define what makes a dress shoe pattern visually appealing?

Proportions - a catch-all and vague term for a supremely important aspect of a shoe's aesthetic appeal and fit. In the broadest sense "proportions" are the relative size, shape and arrangement of the components pieces that form an object, generally with the intent of creating a harmonious whole.

It's far more of an art than a science, but it's often at the root of why a pair of shoes just doesn't quite gel in terms of how they look.

What makes the Edward Green Dover so well proportioned?

A good introduction is a comparison of some Yeossal Thompsons (top) with some Edward Green Dovers in the same size (bottom).

Let's not beat around the bush - the Thompson is very clearly inspired by the Dover (many of Yeossal's shoes are derivative of established models from other makers, but that's a matter for another day).

It hits all of the same design notes - it is essentially made of the same overall shapes and components - but the difference in proportions makes one (the Dover) rather more attractive than the other (the Thompson). At least to my eye - we are clearly diving into very subjective territory here.

The big difference evident in this comparison is the length of the heel section. See the same photo with comparison lines below. The pink lines show the heel section of the Yeossal shoe is the shortest "third" of the shoe, with roughly equal length between the heel and end of the eyelets. With the Dover, the heel section and toe apron are longer, with a shorter section in between.

The effect (in my opinion) is that the Dover has more aesthetic balance: where the Thompson has something of a yawning gap along the quarters but looks cramped at the heel, the Dover appears to have rather more of a continuous flow with more even spacing of features.

Another aspect that jumps out, highlighted in blue lines, is the substantial difference in instep between the two. The Dover sits at a smooth 30-degree line, while the Thompson is damn near a 45-degree slope. While this undeniably affects the shoe's aesthetic proportions, the difference (negatively, sadly) that it has on fitting is more apparent.

Next, consider also the length of the stitched toe section. Shown here are a pair of Beckett Simonon Anders split-toes, then a pair of Edward Green Dovers, and lastly some Paolo Scafora split-toes.

You can see that the length of the toe stitch gets progressively greater, each time creating more space at the toe and less space along the top of the vamp. And quite clearly the effect that has is quite subjective - there is something quite rakish about the Paolo Scafora pair alongside the dramatic patina and welting. In contrast, the Beckett Simonon's seem rather more functional and practical. The Dovers seem to sit somewhere in the middle.

So, take that all with a pinch of salt if you want, but that's what we are talking about with proportions, and is a breakdown of why the Dover is so well proportioned when sat against other seemingly similar looking models. Often where a shoe design looks just a bit "off" for some reason, it's something not quite right with those proportions.

What about the toe?

I recently bought (and sold, sadly) a pair of Gaziano & Girling St James II, pictured below. G&G lasts tend towards elongation in the toe. The dominant factor at work for the visual impact of a dress shoe's length is the length of the toe, and the knock-on effect it has on the gap between the toecap and laces.

But as it happens, the G&G aren't a longer pair of shoes per se - the measurements are as follows compared to other UK 9.5 shoes:

  • Edward Green Chelsea, UK 9.5 E, 82 last - 31cm overall length, 7.5cm toecap

  • Edward Green Canterbury UK 9.5 F, 82 last - 31cm overall length, 8cm toecap

  • Crockett & Jones Audley UK 9.5 E 337 last - 31.5cm overall length, 8.5cm toecap

  • Gaziano & Girling St James II, UK 9.5 F, TG73 last - 31cm overall length, 8.8cm toecap

So, the Edward Green Chelsea is the exact same outsole length as the Gaziano & Girling, but the proportions of its components make it look rather more compact. To be clear, I don't consider either of them unattractive at all - just that the G&G has a rather more dramatic impact as a result.

Toecap broguing can have an impact - brogued edges occupy a bit of space physically, and the serrated design provides a clear visual demarcation between sections. Likewise, toe shape will impact things. The G&G shoes work with a longer toecap as they are on G&Gs TG73, a classic soft square. If they had the rounded toe of the Edward Green 82 last, they would look far too long. Going further than this, I think the square toe creates a nice visual harmony with the straight line of the toecap.

As a final visual aid, this is a comparison shot from an article earlier in the year comparing captoe Oxfords from four makers. The shoes were all the same size (UK 9.5) but it's the relative slimness of the Meermin shoes that make them appear so much "longer" than the Tricker's next to them, which have a more voluminous last overall. So we should consider a shoe's overall width as an important part of its proportions.

All of these shoes fit me well enough - most of the fit in a shoe happens around the heel rather than the toe, so as long as the toe section isn't grotesquely extended it makes little functional difference.

So that's my thesis - you can of course take this and apply it to any pair of shoes or boots (or any physical object imaginable really, but that's a bit outside the remit of this blog).

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