Can leather-soled oxfords be comfortable? Of course! Would I say they’re more comfortable than that inexpensive pair of sports shoes I sometimes wear on weekends? No way.
Men who don’t like dressing up often say that formal clothing makes them feel restricted and uncomfortable. It’s not exactly an unpopular opinion, and I’ve heard some bemoan how the conservative dress codes failed to adapt to the reality in which clothes are supposed to be comfortable.
The answer is often something along the lines of: “Get a suit that fits well and you’ll see it’s comfortable”, or “Buy Goodyear-welted, leather soled dress shoes, they mould to your feet and are super comfy”. But it’s not really that simple.
Formal clothing is restrictive. In a suit jacket, for example, a sleeve is attached to the body in a way which will always make it problematic to raise your arms too high. And while a small armhole and minimal shoulder padding can alleviate this somewhat, the jacket will never give you the range of motion a raglan-sleeved jersey sweatshirt will. And believe me, I’ve actually heard somebody compare the two and tell me his bespoke jackets fit so well that there’s no difference at all. I don’t believe that, simply because the construction of tailored garments doesn’t allow that. They were designed with different things in mind.
Similar thing about shoes. The pair in the cover photo for this post is very comfortable, and since I’ve been wearing them often and for quite some time, they are my go-to shoes if I know I’ll be doing a lot of walking around a city. But they’re not sports shoes designed to basically not be felt on your feet at all. And I won’t even bother counting all the blisters that new dress shoes have caused me.
Elegant clothes are supposed to look good. They augment your appearance, and do it like nothing else out there. But there’s always some trade-off in comfort, range of motion, transitional period of breaking a new piece. They’re not uncomfortable – but they require some getting used to, and will never reach the level of a sweatshirt or a jumper. But they don’t have to.
If they fit well and are well designed, smart clothes will not really limit you. Especially now, with soft tailoring being so popular, you no longer feel the armour that all the padding, canvassing and construction creates. But this trend has its limitations – I find trying to marry comfortable athletic wear with tailoring a dead end which produces horrible results. So just accept the fact that some comfort is lost when you dress up. You gain other things instead.
And it’s fine. Elegant clothes don’t have to be the best in every area of life to justify their continued existence.