NEW YORK --- When it comes to men and their shoes, it's hard to get past the comfort zone. Literally.
The stereotype of the shoe-obsessed woman is that she'll sacrifice just about anything -- the ability to walk, her weekly food budget -- for a cool, trendy shoe, but it's just not that way with men.
"Men are all about comfort and neutrality. They certainly are not going to suffer because they think a shoe is stylish," says Marcia Kilgore, the founder of the FitFlop brand. "Women are willing to 'break it in,' but that would never cross a man's mind."
They also fall into a rut of buying only what they know, added Daniel Silver, half of the designer label Duckie Brown. Duckie Brown's partnership with Florsheim has resulted in electric-blue suede lace-ups, metallic brogue boots and canvas wingtips. Even with their edgier collection, the men who like them come back wanting more of the same.
"Men like to have the same thing over and over again. They buy a brand and style of shoes, and five years later come in to a store and say, 'Do you still have these?' " said Duckie co-founder Steven Cox.
The basic shoe wardrobe for men includes a sneaker, a weekend casual shoe and a weekday dress shoe.
"At work, men really don't like pushing boundaries," said Tommy Fahrner, the men's merchandiser for Piperlime. "They stick to a black oxford or, if their work is more casual, the brown loafer."
"I think men are a little intimidated by shoes, and it's a little bit of an afterthought," said Tom Julian, the author of Nordstrom Guide to Men's Everyday Dressing . "Someone who invests heavily in clothes might still shortchange themselves on shoes."
Part of the problem, according to Julian, is that many male shoppers are unaware of all their options. They don't browse the shoe department in the way that a woman would even if she wasn't technically "shopping," he said.
Other than that oxford and loafer, a contemporary footwear wardrobe should include a low-profile sneaker, a rugged weekend shoe, a sandal or flip-flop and a boot, said Julian, a trend analyst.
It's a man's sneaker, however, that makes Daniel sweat over the details. Men in their 20s and 30s have grown up sneaker heads and are now into vintage treatments, including canvas, frayed edges and lower profile, although you'll see an unexpected patent leather, a bright color or even a metallic stripe, says Piperlime's Fahrner, who remembers fondly his original Air Jordans.
But, Fahrner warns, don't cross the line of overdone. "What makes me cringe is overly embellished looks. ... If your shoes look like they're wearing jewelry, you've probably gone too far."
He'd also stay away from square-toe oxfords right now, which look a little dated, while Julian says a soft loafer should go.
The jury is out on sandals. Duckie Brown's Silver nixes them for the office, but he'll wear Birkenstocks with socks on weekends. "But you have to own that look," he says.