In Praise Of The Velvet Slipper

December 2019Words by Mr Stephen Doig, men’s style editor, The Daily Telegraph

For some, it’s the promise of good will to all men and peace on Earth, for others it’s the Mr Norman Rockwell idea of that snowy family vignette accompanied by Mr Bing Crosby and cosy knitwear. For other, far more superficial types like yours truly, Christmas is all about the anticipation of festive dressing and, in particular, the slipping on of a lustrous pair of velvet slippers. You can take your cult sneaker collabs and Supreme drops; my own wardrobe catnip comes in the form of evening slippers. The last audit confirmed 27 pairs. These range from the admittedly ostentatious and bejewelled, to the discreet and – dare I say it – surprisingly “everyday”, in the form of the traditional Venetian ones sold in just about every atmospheric alleyway in the city (that it’s my favourite place and is famed for its velvet slipper is surely no coincidence), with soles made from bike tires and costing as much as about one ice cream in St Mark’s Square (around 30 euros). Consider them my gateway drug.

Where did the slipper habit begin? I can’t be precise, but it certainly has something to do with the notion that, traditionally and certainly growing up, men’s shoes were men’s shoes; sturdy, leaden, stoic and as exciting as your grandfather’s old great coat. Men’s shoes meant classic black Oxfords, or chunky winter boots. They did not mean something gleaming and jewel-toned, in a fabric that picks up the glint of candlelight just so and sets a defiantly “evening” tone. You can’t wear Christian Louboutin plum, crystal embroidered velvet slippers (a particular favourite) while doing the morning school run (although I would applaud any fabulous fellow that did; how rakish).

Perhaps it’s their very impracticality that appeals – they are the exact opposite of the cloddish brogues for getting through the drudgery of a day’s work. They demand a certain degree of preciousness that’s campily hilarious – they spoil in winter weather, they freeze your ankles and look out of place on the Tube. It’s like being accompanied by a waspish, prissy old uncle. They nod to after-dark glamour, not daytime grind, and evoke an era where a man entertained at home in a smoking jacket and slippers. They’re roguish, not Roger from accounts; debonair, not “don’t-mind-me”. Can you imagine Sir Noël Coward entertaining in Converse All Stars? Me neither. Yes, they are a tad effete and effected, and with the traditional smoking jacket and blousy trousers can border on costumery and look a bit lord of the manor, but that’s part of the fun. You’ve got your whole life to wear apologetic black brogues.