Men’s dress shoes are an important part of our daily lives. We all can’t or don’t want to wear sneakers every day, so for many of us our dress shoes become our daily bread and butter. Which makes you think it’s probably a place that could use some optimizations. You’ve probably heard of barefoot shoes but what really are the benefits and downsides and how would you go about identifying & finding a barefoot dress shoe? Let’s get into it!
Why you should care about barefoot dress shoes
There are 3 main benefits to going barefoot, each of which we’ll go through in turn; anatomical alignment, foot & arch strength, and brain improvements.
Walking barefoot promotes a change in gait that is more natural. Regular shoes have trained us to heel strike hard when we walk, however when walking barefoot we are much more likely to land with a mid foot or forefoot strike. The mid foot or forefoot strike happens further under the hips with shorter steps and is our more natural gait. This is the gait our body’s alignment expects from our feet.
The heel cushioning in conventional shoes was developed with runners in mind as a way of softening the hard heel strikes and moving the body forward when going fast. For dress shoes, we don’t really care about our topline speed. Also heels in general were introduced to western culture through a mix of Persian archers, cobblestones, and enlightenment, very little of which has an effect on us today.
- Foot Strength
When we keep our feet in regular shoes at all times it is akin to keeping your foot in a cast. Any muscle left in isolation and unworked will begin to attraphe over time. This is no different for the muscles in our feet. Many people complain of their arch height or lack thereof (flat feet) and look to extra orthopedic cushioned soles as a solution when arch height is almost entirely genetic and really the issue is whether or not your arches are strong. Naturally strong arches prevent pain. In addition, the repaired gait we mentioned earlier will require your feet to move and strike differently resulting in the muscles your body’s posture needs from your feet to become strong.
By brain improvements we mean propreoception or muscle awareness while in motion. Like muscles in the body specific parts of the brain can grow or atraphe with their use or disuse. Overly cushioned and supportive shoes dull the foot’s information being sent to the sensory homunculus within the brain. This part of your brain helps with better balance and improved motor control. Using a barefoot dress shoe would increase the amount of information received from the foot, improving your sensory homunculus rather than creating bad patterns.
What are the downsides of wearing barefoot dress shoes?
There are two main concerns to keep in mind when switching over to barefoot shoes; infections and stress issues. Infections can occur when the sole of a barefoot shoe is made incredibly thin and thus makes it more susceptible to punctures which can result in infections like athlete’s foot, nail fungus, etc.. Depending on the shoe brand you are using this may be just part of the cost of going barefoot, however most brands have adequate sole thickness and the risk is quite minimal.
Too much stress too soon is the other concern. As you’ve read earlier a barefoot shoe can alter your gait to more natural posture and strike zone, which may in turn workout different muscles in the feet and legs than you’re used to. Going from sneakers only to strictly barefoot could result in heel pain or shin splints however the easy solution like any kind of new training is to proceed slowly and work up to what you are comfortable with. For example a new pair of barefoot dress shoes may be worn just once a week the first week while steadily increasing the number of days a week as time goes on.
So what constitutes a barefoot shoe?
There are three main components that make up a barefoot shoe; zero drop, sole comfort, and toe box width.
- Zero drop means that the heel and toes are the same distance from the ground and there’s no drop from the heel part of the sole to the toe part of the sole. Most footwear is designed to elevate the heel an average of 12 - 16mm, or just over half an inch. In zero drop shoes this elevation is 0. This most closely replicates your foot's natural position when barefoot.
- Sole comfort determines the “cushiness” of the sole and how much support it is giving your feet / arches. As we discussed earlier, you want to avoid putting your feet in a permanent cast where the muscles never have to work, this only leads to worse issues down the line. You want enough thickness to provide adequate support but not enough to dull your foot’s development.
- Last is the toe box width. The toe box is the front end of the shoe from the ball of your foot to your toes. Most shoes, depending on the right or left foot, widen a bit to accommodate the widest part of your foot. Barefoot shoes typically have wider toe boxes in order to allow your toes to spread out more naturally rather than having them squished in a specific place. The flip side is that too wide of a toe box and your shoes start to look like clown shoes, which most of us want to avoid.
Where can I find barefoot dress shoes?
While there are numerous options for barefoot casual shoes, dress shoes are a little harder to find, which is why here at Oaka we developed from scratch our own men’s dress shoe that blends modern, professional styling with the health conscious movement of going barefoot. The Oaka dress shoe is also incredibly soft, breathable, eco-friendly, machine washable and can be worn with a suit or while traveling.