Time to Start Loafing Around

Photographer: Brent Murray/Bloomberg

Wearing dress shoes without socks is like wearing a tie without a shirt. It turns a solid, if stolid, mainstay of a man's wardrobe into a destructive affectation.

First, "it definitely puts you at greater risk of fungal infections," says Vera Halbfass, a podiatrist at the Healthy Feet center in New York. "Your feet will sweat more and nothing will absorb the sweat. ... What's worse is you can get a fungal infection of your nails, which is very ugly and very hard to treat."

If fungal hell isn't reason enough to slip on a pair of socks, "it does a real number on the shoe," says Jack Lynch of E. Vogel, a fourth-generation custom shoemaker in downtown New York. "Salt is very tough on leather, and perspiration is loaded with salt."

The sockless impulse is understandable -- summer is hot. But there's a time and a place for whimsy, and while summer might be that time, dress shoes are not that place.

Happily, there are office-appropriate ways to give your feet room to breathe. "There are certain shoes that are made to wear without socks," says Lynch, "like moccasins." Loot would add some loafers to that list.

Driving shoes, sometimes called moccasins, are effectively expensive leather slippers. If you think you can pull them off, then by all means, put them on. (It really depends on where you work.) Why? Because unless you need orthotics, it's the most comfortable footwear you can buy.

Prices vary widely, starting at around $150 for a pair of suede Cole Haans , and ending at a bewildering $650 for a pair fromBrunello Cucinelli . In the mid-range, there's the appropriately named Car Shoe brand of driving loafers, which retails for around $380.

Loafers are more structured and have a greater chance of passing muster in a boardroom. Probably the most iconic loafer is the cheapest of the bunch -- the Bass Weejun Penny loafer ($109) is recently so back in vogue it's carried by that arbiter of downtown chic,Opening Ceremony . For something more contemporary,Florsheim by Duckie Brown makes a suede loafer for $230. At the high end, there arePrada's wholecut loafers for $780, which, while no bargain, are formal enough that they can be worn clear through fall.

All of these shoes can be worn au naturale, and many of them aren't wildly expensive. So bare your sole to your heart's content. Just try to not to ruin your feet, and your shoes, in the process.

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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