When I ask men where they shop for stylish shoes in Victoria, many develop a pained or perplexed expression. The most common response is a mildly sarcastic “Vancouver.”
Honey often laments the lack of shoe-shopping options for Victoria men, certainly as compared to the smorgasbord of women’s shoes. (See my article on the Best Shoe Stores for Women in Victoria.) My research confirms the disparity. There isn’t one shoe store in the city exclusively for men. What’s worse, some very good shoe shops that were unisex a few years ago—Footloose, Cobbler—have found greater profitability in selling only to women.
Keith Gage-Cole, owner of Heart & Sole on Cook Street, explains the problem.
“Men just don’t buy shoes like women do,” he says. “A woman will come in, find a pair she likes and that fit well, and she’ll buy them. A man will come in, find a pair he likes and that fit well, and leave saying, ‘I’ll think about it.’ Men wait to buy until the sale price is below my own cost!”
So, gentlemen. If you want better shoe selection in Victoria, you need to buy more shoes. That’s not such a hardship, is it? And let me tell you, your wives, girlfriends, and boyfriends will notice. Women I spoke with told me they definitely notice a man’s shoes—both the style and the condition—and a fashionable, well-heeled man is an attractive man. Gage-Cole says gay men are his most foot-fashionable and trendsetting clients.
So do men really have to spend $100 to ferry to Vancouver for good shoes? Actually, no. Victoria has several good men’s stores that stock some beautiful boots and shoes. Your selection will be limited to 20 or fewer styles in most shops. And brace yourself for sticker-shock on the most fashionable, top-quality lines: sales are few and far between. But if you factor the ferry savings of shopping on the Island, you can get outfitted in some very handsome Fluevogs, Hugo Boss, Pikolinos, David J. Pliner, or Cole Haan shoes here in town, if you know where to look.
- HEART & SOLE (www.heartandsoleshoes.ca) 1014 Cook St. Victoria, BC.
This stylin’ little Cook Street shoe store carries men’s and women’s footwear. Sturdy and ever-so-stylish Fluevog shoes from Vancouver designer John Fluevog dominate the men’s collection…in a good way. You’ll also find select men’s styles from Birkenstock, Tsubo, Mephisto, Josef Seibel, and others. Guys: if you buy only one high-quality pair of shoes or boots this season, get them here. The owner swears he is going to stop stocking men’s shoes altogether if sales don’t improve.
- OUTLOOKS FOR MEN (www.outlooksformen.com), 534 Yates, Victoria, BC
This is Honey’s favourite menswear store in Victoria, and of all the shops we visited for this article, he liked the shoes here best. Outlooks stocks some wonderfully stylish Fluevog boots and shoes, carrying somewhat edgier styles and colours than Heart & Sole. They also had men’s shoes from To Boot of New York City and Grenson of England. Be prepared to spend $240-$450 for a shoe purchase here.
- HUGHES (www.hughesclothing.com), 564 Yates, Victoria, BC
After a visit to Outlooks, it makes sense to pop into Hughes, just up the block on Yates Street. I was surprised to find so few men’s shoes at Hughes, though, since the entire second floor is devoted to men’s designer clothing. They had a couple of pairs of casual Belstaff leather running shoes, echoing their line of gorgeous Belstaff motorcycle jackets (what man can’t picture himself in one of these?). There were also shoes by Tiger of Sweden, priced around the $250 mark, and by Ted Baker for around $325. Selection is definitely very limited here.
- PHILIP NYREN (www.philipnyren.com), 960 Yates, Victoria, BC
I’m willing to wager that Philip Nyren is the only clothing store in Victoria that has its own magazine. (Check out Philip Nyren magazine here.) Knowing that should prepare you somewhat for the pricing stratosphere of this tony clothier for men and women.
I was impressed with the handsome, manly brands of footwear at Philip Nyren: Hugo Boss, Kenneth Cole, Eduardo G., Cole Haan (partnered with Nike Air for style with comfort), and sleek Italian numbers from Donald J. Pliner. For the fall/winter season, the emphasis is on boots, and I would LOVE to see Honey kicking around town in some marvellous Mark Nason boots, the first I’ve seen to rival my passion for Fluevogs.
For those savvy B.C. residents who have a Friends of the Empress membership (see my full article about the perks of this free loyalty club), show your card at Philip Nyren when you make a purchase of $250 or more and they’ll give a $25 gift card to use at The Fairmont Empress Hotel.
- VIBERG BOOT MANUFACTURING LTD. (www.workboot.com), 662 Herald St., Victoria, BC
What better footwear to make a fashion statement in Victoria than boots crafted right here in Victoria? I admit, I’d only ever glanced in through the front window of the seemingly small boot-making shop on Herald Street. I truly had no idea that Viberg Boots designs boots for the Japanese fashion market.
If you thought they specialized in steel-toed work boots and footwear for hikers and hunters, well, you’re right—they do that, too. They also make motorcycle boots and cowboy boots. But their latest enterprise is the new Viberg Street Collection, “made exclusively for the Japanese fashion market and distributed to select boutique stores in Asia, Europe, and North America.”
- WALKERS SHOES (250-381-8608), 1012 Broad, Victoria, BC.
A small, shoes-only store on the south side of the Bay Centre. About the same square footage as Heart & Sole, Walkers carries somewhat more comfortably casual shoes, though still high-quality. Nice options from Mephisto, Pikolinos, Rohde, Naot, and Lloyd.
- SIMPLY THE BEST (250-386-6661), 1008 Broad, Victoria, BC
Because it’s practically next door, after you visit Walkers you should really step into Simply the Best, if just for your amusement. This is where men with money come to spoil themselves. Among the assortment of fine watches, buttery leather gloves, silver pens and business-card holders, I saw only two pairs of shoes. My eyes bugged as I turned over the price tag on the Metzlan genuine crocodile-leather dress shoes, handmade in Spain: $1,325, about the cost of a Manolo Blahnik splurge for women.
- TOWN SHOES (www.townshoes.com), Mayfair Mall, Victoria, BC.
This co-ed mall outlet contains some nice surprises for men and a decent selection among the women’s shoes. The mix includes Lacoste, Diesel, G-Star, Kenneth Cole, Penguin, and Calvin Klein, among others. I was impressed by the array of Blundstone boots. Note: a helpful reader advises me that Town Shoes’ sister store in Millstream, The Shoe Company, is one of the few stores that carry size 16 dress shoes for men.
- WALK IN COMFORT, four locations, Victoria, BC.
Once upon a time, I veered away from Walk in Comfort stores, expecting a selection of staid, vaguely orthopaedic shoe styles. If that ever was the case, it isn’t now. With outlets in the Mayfair and Hillside malls, downtown on Fort Street and in Oak Bay, Walk in Comfort stocks brands that are both comfortable and stylish: Ecco, Merrell, Rockport, Clarks, and more.
- FEETFIRST (www.feetfirstshoes.com), Bay Centre, 1150 Douglas, Victoria, BC.
This chain store in the Bay Centre carries brands similar to those at Freedman Shoes, but FeetFirst has a smaller selection, and, generally, stocks shoes of lighter, less-sturdy quality. On the flip side, prices start out lower and sales are frequent.
- STILL LIFE (www.stilllifeboutique.com), 551 Johnson, Victoria, BC
This fashionable clothing boutique recently split in two, turning this original location into a men’s only store. The shoe styles for men have always been interesting, and now there’s room for more. On my last visit, I admired some stylish leather “officer boots” from Timberland’s upscale Abington collection, as well as the Fitzsimmons boot from Native Shoes in eye-catching colours: academy blue (shown here), bottle-cap gray, zucchini green, and trail brown. These street-hiker lace-up boots have a removable neoprene “sock” inside, and apparently can be worn barefoot quite comfortably.
- CITIZEN CLOTHING (250-590-6716; www.citizenclothing.ca), 2541 Estevan Ave., Victoria, BC
This shop in Victoria’s Estevan Village positions its menswear collection as “an unexpected twist on today’s modern classics.” I like any shop willing to define itself as “a smart men’s haberdashery.” Citizen carries a small but carefully chosen selection of men’s shoes; at last visit, they had Paraboot, Duckie Brown for Florshiem, and the limited edition John Varvatos for Converse.
- SOFTMOC (www.softmoc.com), Bay Centre and Mayfair Mall in Victoria, BC
Before I started writing this article, I’d never been to SoftMoc. The odd name is a hangover from when the company sold only moccasins. While they still carry the soft leather mocs for men and women, I was thoroughly surprised to discover they carry quite a few quality men’s lines—Kenneth Cole, Born, Mephisto, Clarks, Rockport—often at better prices than you’ll find elsewhere. Look here for Blundstone boots and Dr. Martens.
- BAGGINS SHOES (http://bagginsshoes.com) #110 Paper Box Arcade, 561 Johnson, Victoria, BC.
Only at Baggins can the men of Victoria enjoy the same giddy abundance of shoe styles that women generally take for granted. This is Converse Central, from high tops to low tops, for men, women, and children. These running shoes are funky classics, available in colourful designs from playful to artful. I can’t decide which I love more: the new Dr. Seuss line, with the Cat in the Hat and characters Thing 1 and Thing 2, or the Rock & Roll series, with groovy designs representing the Ramones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, AC/DC, and other rock legends. Note: Watch for sales at Baggins, which can be sensational. Right now, they are clearing out their Vans runners at 50% off.
- HtO (http://hto.ca), 1314 Broad Street, Victoria, BC
What Baggins does for Converse runners, HtO does for Vans and other skater shoes. The selection is pretty dazzling, and there’s even an Ht0 skateboarding blog. And guys, if you need flipflops for summer or a tropical vacation, HtO carries dozens.
- OCEAN RIVER SPORTS (www.oceanriver.com), 1824 Store Street, Victoria, BC.
The footwear is very casual at Ocean River Sports, as you might expect from a kayaking outfitter, but they stock more styles that I’d imagined. Among the more typical outdoor lines—Teva, Keen, Timberland—they also carry Blundstone boots, and quite a large collection of waterproof Bogs. These breathable neoprene rubber boots come in many styles—though the decorative options for women are much more stylin’ than the pedestrian black boots for men.
- FIELD’S SHOES LTD. (250-388-5921), 1300 Government, Victoria, BC
Honey and I have noticed the men’s selection at Field’s Shoes is subtly shrinking by the season as the assortment of women’s shoes expands. Vote with your dollars to let this retailer know you still want good men’s footwear in Victoria. Brands include Palladium boots, Ecco, Timberland, and the like.
- HEART’S CONTENT (250-380-1234), 18 Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, BC.
Victoria’s go-to place for the best selection of Dr. Martens and a very limited selection of other European imports.
- CAPITAL IRON (www.capitaliron.net), 1900 Store Street, Victoria, BC
You may be genuinely surprised what you’ll find in the menswear department at Capital Iron. They carry a large selection of Palladium boots, as well as the Timberland brand, Rocketdog, Dish, and more. Watch for sales, which can offer deep discounts.
- ALDO (www.aldoshoes.com), Hillside Shopping Centre, Bay Centre, Mayfair Mall, Victoria, BC. Also Millstream Village, Langford.
What can I say about Aldo shoes for men? In a town hungry for style, Aldo does push the margins and try some fashion risks, and they stock almost as many men’s shoes as they do women’s shoes. Sales are frequent and discounts are deep. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for; quality is poor and discomfort is common.
- WINNERS (http://www.winners.ca), Tillicum Mall in Victoria, BC
Men’s Ed Hardy running shoes show up at Winners; so do Australian UGG boots, along with the occasional pair of fine Italian dress shoes. As always with this fashion outlet store, it’s a throw of the dice whether you’ll find something you like in your size. Prices for better-quality shoes, while they are marked down considerably from full retail, often hover around the $80-100 mark—which, to me, doesn’t feel like a true steal when the choices are this limited. But if you visit often, you’re bound to make a real find eventually.
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