Nina Originals

The Virtues of Patent Leather

 
I am a huge fan of patent leather for both shoes and bags.

Blouse

Shiny shoes

 
 
Shiny bag

Shiny bag

For Casual Friday

Shiny bag and shoes

 
Hardest working shoes in closet, and probably on blog:
No rest for the weary

No rest for the weary

Why this penchant?

(1) Patent leather asserts itself at the edges of an outfit and thereby gives you definition — like a dark outline or a terminal punctuation mark: Outfit within! This outfit ends here!

(2) Black patent leather has a color value — i.e., an intensity — that makes it unlikely to clash with or recede against black textiles. So, when you are wearing dark socks, tights, or pants, your black patent leather shoes will be darker. You may have noticed that my shoes are almost always the darkest part of my outfit; I generally think that shoes should (with few exceptions) ground an outfit and black patent leather is very helpful in following this rule.

(3) Correctly or incorrectly, I believe that patent leather is very durable — far more resilient than suede (tender, timid suede — which can scarcely absorb a dampening look, let alone actual raindrops) and less susceptible to dulling than calf-skin leather.[1]

So, if you haven’t thought about patent leather much before, today’s the day. Here are some ideas for fall:

FitFlop Patent Ballerina Flat

FitFlop Patent Ballerina Flat

French Sole New York Passport Flat

French Sole New York Passport Flat

Tory Burch Louisa Flat

Tory Burch Louisa Flat


Nina Originals

Nina Originals

Tory Burch Astoria Wedge

Tory Burch Astoria Wedge

FF2-Pop Mary Jane

FF2-Pop Mary Jane

Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, author of A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions,[2] wrote approvingly, but somewhat inconsistently, of patent leather. She’s with me on patent leather shoes, observing, “Black patent leather [shoes] can be worn with almost everything except for very casual or sports ensembles; they harmonize with the colour of any outfit, including white, navy blue and brown.”

On handbags, though, she concludes, “Patent leather is never really elegant.” But, as Mme. Dariaux would readily concede — elegance, chic, and stylishness are very different things, and I think a patent leather bag can be chic and stylish even if it isn’t truly elegant.

14 thoughts on “The Virtues of Patent Leather

  1. Love this! My suede definitely stains when I give it some side eye.

    How do you feel about patent nude shades? Or gold metallics? With my blond hair I’ve been gravitating towards shoes in the same color family — the whole “bookend” your outfit thing. Or is that out of fashion now?

    • Hello Regina — I like the patent nude shades and the metallics, and I like the idea of bookending, too. I love a bright shoe (red or green) with an all-black or all-grey outfit, and I like metallic shoes with black, too.

  2. I had a pair of purple patent Mary Janes which I adored to distraction during high school in the 80’s! I wore them with all of my punk outfits until they met their final demise cracking almost in half. Sadly I find patent difficult to break in these days – blistery and pinchy. Yours look so elegant I long for a bearable pair!

    • Hi Linda — I have no idea of how patent leather is made, but agree that stiff shoes are not to be borne. Tory Burch is making patent leather flats for travel that fold in half — so those might fit the bill! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Lovely and highly entertaining reading Directrice! I am keen on suede heels for work though. I think, as I have long, narrow feet, my theory is the matte and light absorbing effect of the black and sooty suede has a length reducing optical value. Whereas my patent shoes seem to amplify the foot’s length i.e. Light reflecting bling factor .. No light absorbing black hole matte suede effect. I like my peep toe kitten heel black patent shoes though, as the peep toe breaks up the expanse of shoe. I have that book too and was obsessed with it for some time. It really confuses and confounds me about the patent handbag advice, which I had taken on but am bothered by. Your advice is good and I will now use my non elegant Longchamp patent leather bag, dang it, and be chic and happy about that. Also her advice about crocodile accessories being sporty is worth contemplating and is sort of infuriating. Is she correct, or just annoying? I don’t have any crocodile accesories, but have been on the lookout if I see any to ensure they are being worn correctly. Years have gone by and I’m yet to see any on my city streets!

    • Justine, you raise an excellent point about the magnifying qualities of patent leather! I, too, have a pair of suede heels (ok: kitten heels), which I wear with work dresses that require a heel and look best with nude hosiery or no hosiery. I went to lunch one day with a male colleague wearing the suede heels and as we were getting ready to leave, the skies opened and torrential, epic rain began. He was a bit nonplussed when I told him I couldn’t leave the restaurant until the rain let up and that even then I would need him to hail a taxi for me. (We were three blocks from our office.) The Guide to Elegance is probably right about crocodile — it’s for day-time, not evening wear — but the best part of that advice is trying to envision what she means by “for sports ensembles.” My mind immediately goes to Suzanne Lenglen (real person) and Jordan Baker (not real person). I also love her discussions of clothes for “the country.” But my favorites are the references to “harmonizing” — harmonizing beads with dresses, jacket linings with blouses, sweaters with jackets, etc.

  4. So sorry to hear about your suede shoes and rain debacle. Your male colleague must have thought “sheez … women and shoes!” Yes! The country dressing section! Can you please do a post on an outfit you have compiled, based on her country dressing thoughts? That would be so much fun! Beige straw bags … very compelling … I liked the idea of a “cut velvet Roberta” bag so much that I hunted one down on Etsy and bought it and love it. I also love the recommendation about buying yourself something nice if you experience a financial windfall (the Tiffany & Co gold mesh bracelet I allowed myself with my tax refund was very worth it), and on collecting coordinating sets of small items, such as wallet, lipstick case (but ha! I need a tote for my daily supply of lipsticks – the only makeup I carry through the day and wear and by the end of the day I probably have a mash up of 5 or 6 colours on my lips), glasses case and notebook etc. I love her story about the lady customer who commented in the shop on her nice jewellery, and admired her for hanging onto that despite what the customer assumed were straightened circumstances. Very sweet. Also the thoughtful and exhaustive/exhausting lists of different outfits a lady would need throughout each day. Thoughts on suits and colours. It’s a lovely and consoling book. I am going to look up the people you mention now, re the crocodile sports ensembles. I always thought of crocodile loafers with a linen suit at a tennis match! Don’t you love that suits are thought of as sports ensembles? Of we go to Court in our sporty suit outfits : )

  5. I am in love with Patent leather shoes. Even my Dansko clogs for weekend wear are patent Mary Janes! It’s a simple way to have a touch of “dressy” without “bling”! On all my patent leather shoes, the scuffs are easily remedied with Windex – seriously – it’s so easy to make them shiny again. Long live patent leather!!!

  6. What do you think about black patent pumps with two inch heels for a funeral? Every time I go into a shoe store looking for dressy heels I always emerge with a pair in patent, so practically all of my heels are patent.
    I am in my 50’s and am planning a black sheath dress with some sort of jacket or cardigan and I wonder about black sheer vs. opaque stockings with closed toe patent pumps since I’m short and prefer to extend the black line. Also, my small Coach bag is black matte, not patent – what do you think about mixing matte and patent?

    • Hello Cindy — I tend to prefer sheer stockings for dressier occasions, so that’s what I would wear for a funeral. I like opaque tights, but tend to think of them as youthful and therefore more informal. You may want to look at Hue — which has a wide range of denier knits (weights?), and therefore provides sheers that aren’t as sheer as say, Hanes. Just a thought. I like mixing patent and matte as well as patent and suede (and matte and suede) — so I think it’s fine that the finish on your bag and shoes is different.

  7. Hi! I am currently debating whether I should by a pair of loafers in patent or regular leather and my main concern is which one is sturdier for lots of walking?

  8. Hi! I am deciding whether to buy black or navy patent leather lace-up oxfords. I like the lace-ups as my foot is long and narrow and the tapered toe on the lace-up oxfords seems to minimize the length of my foot. But can’t decide on navy or black? What would you recommend?

    • Julien — I always favor black over blue. For my wardrobe, where black and grey are the foundational colors, and red, yellow and green are the secondary colors, I think black works best. Good luck!

But what do you think?