Style Defined: Driving Shoes

A brief history of the driving shoe

The driving shoe is perhaps the perfect example of a piece of attire created purely out of necessity. That need? Comfort. With the rise of automobile ‘driving culture,’ men were on the hunt for a shoe comfortable enough for a long drive in the country, but stylish enough to live up to the rest of a casual outfit.

Traditional dress shoes, with their hard soles and often stiffer, sleeker uppers, were simply too stiff for the job, not to mention that a day of mashing pedals could put some unwanted wear and tear on your finest footwear.

Back in 1963, the Car Shoe company was founded to solve that very problem. Their solution was to take a classic moccasin-style shoe – a simple slip-on shoe made of soft leather – and add rubber pads to the soles. These pads come in two forms, either rubber-dotted with small round ‘nubs’ covering the soles, or separated pads with strategically placed larger rubber panels.

driving shoes history

The pliable leather and open construction allowed flexibility for comfort, while the rubber components of the soles added durability and longevity. The final distinctive characteristic is the extension of the sole and the rubber pads up the heel of the sole to provide traction and stability while in a driving position.

driving shoes history

At the time of their founding, Car Shoe’s products were very high-end and relatively unobtainable with a middle-class wage. Tod’s, a shoe company founded in the 1920s, capitalized on the demand for an affordable driving moccasin and began producing the shoe for the masses as they expanded from a small, boutique brand into a department store staple. These days, Car Shoe still makes their classic style, but prices have relatively evened out with Tod’s, who’s Gommino shoes have become the standard driving shoe in many men’s minds.

A few style tips for wearing driving shoes

Now, as far as styling goes, there are some things to be cautious of when working a driving shoe into your attire. First and foremost, it is a purely casual shoe, for a few reasons. One is that the shoe is usually made from softer leather, like suede or deerskin for greater comfort, which doesn’t lend the shine and structure of a more formal dress shoe.

Another is the shape, which is a bit more square and decidedly less sleek than a dress shoe, again to allow for more comfortable, roomy wear. Last, the shoe is definitively a loafer, and even dressy loafers have a limit as far as formality goes, and should rarely be worn with anything more than the most casual of suits.

driving shoes history

For these reasons, we highly recommend keeping your driving shoes in casual territory – rock them with jeans, or casual slacks, but don’t try to take them much farther than that. If you’re headed to a formal event that calls for dressier attire, simply bring a change of shoes to swap out when you arrive at your destination.

On a final styling note, we’ll also caution that there can be some disagreement as to how appropriate it is to wear a driving shoe when you aren’t driving. Some folks approach it as a purely functional piece that should be worn only in the car, while others have latched on to the comfort/class combo and wear them more frequently in the day-to-day as a substitute for a standard loafer.

We won’t tell you that one is right or wrong, but it’s important to consider how you feel about the prospect before diving in head first.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Adam Lehman
He Spoke Style

Photography by Rob McIver Photo

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  • Peter

    I would only add that it’s up to the wearer whether he wears them only when driving or not, but it should be considered that wearing them when not driving will wear out the sole quicker, especially if they are worn often in pavement; and these kinds of shoes can’t be re-soled as far as I’m aware.

  • InternRita_StyleGirlfriend

    Who can’t resist a great pair of classic Tod’s driving shoes! Also, I definitely agree with using driving shoes only with casual looks and change them for more formal events.