Privilege Blog

Should You Cringe When You Buy Steve Madden Brogues?

I bought some Steve Madden shoes this weekend, and cringed.

Let’s blame a man with a microphone. It was the annual Nordstrom shoe sale. Complete with open boxes on the floor, empty display cases, and cut price footwear. The man with a microphone directed traffic. I usually hate sales. Too noisy, too much visual clutter, too much pressure to Buy Now.

But I had been thinking about buying a pair of oxfords, having seen them in New York, and in magazines. To say nothing of feeling the breath of fall under the full heat of summer.

So I bought these.

And cringed. The Steve Madden brand is not one I am proud to own. And any time I feel shame in purchases, I have to deconstruct. What is it about Steve Madden?

First of all, actual Steve is a crook. He went to jail for fraud and was removed from his company. That puts him somewhere between Bernie Madoff and Martha Stewart. But that is not enough, by itself, for brand shame. Greed in America often takes entrepreneurs off the Calvinist track.

[This] cost him about eight million dollars and control of the very company that brought him such riches. Madden was sentenced in 2002 to 41 months in prison for his role in a stock swindle scheme coordinated by the now-closed brokerage, Stratton Oakmont. His wrongdoings include conspiring to manipulate the stock prices of more than 20 companies, including his own. And, he did it at the expense not only of the public but his own investors who lost more than 100 million. (LegalZoom)

The answer to my shame can be found front and center on Madden’s brand management website.

Madden has innate sense of what’s hot, what’s next, what’s exciting and more importantly, how this will translate to his consumer. [GRI]

There you go. The company targets strivers. Unabashedly markets to happy wannabees. Actually wants to be trendy. High WASP are mortified to show any signs of trying. Any at all. We prefer to at least pretend we do not care. That we are not trendy. Au courant, perhaps. Fashion forward, rarely. Trendy, never.

It’s not that we want to buy brands that show our wealth. The opposite. I suffered a veritable crisis when I bought a Louis Vuitton bag. I could only do so because the Monogram Vernis line renders that ubiquitous logo nearly invisible. Nor do High WASPs shun discount stores. Target is our friend. Merona makes fantastic tee shirts, in both fit and price.

But we don’t want to strive. We were supposed to have finished striving in 1892. Steve, clearly, is not targeting me or my ilk. I am fascinated by his clarity of vision, and shaking my head once again at the power of well-executed branding. Brand well, and you will attract your target consumer, alienate others. Design good products at a good price, and even those you alienate with your brand may purchase your stuff.

The brogues, on the other hand, I liked very much. Soft distressed leather. Nice detail. Comfortable. Interesting color that works well with khakis. One cannot, after all, wear nothing but black on the feet forever. The only issue I have is the synthetic sole, preferring the texture, sound and sensation of leather. Of course, to prevent wear I always have to get the shoe repair place to cover them with rubber, but that is beside the point. Uhuh, it is so.

Finally, Steve prices for value. The brogues cost less than $70.00. To a woman who has sworn by Ferragamo all her life, and confesses to having regarded Stuart Weitzman as down market, $70.00 is a remarkable price for a pair of shoes.

Let’s face facts. My family fortune has faded. I need to keep building up a decent casual wardrobe for what appears more and more likely to be my imminent retirement. I am a Sturdy Gal who hates high heels. All signs pointed to one and only one conclusion.

It would have been dumb not to buy these. Dumb, and a symptom of the High WASP snobbery I struggle to resist. I liked the shoes. I could afford the shoes. I bought the shoes. Some of us grow both by indulging in slightly vulgar dreams of Louis Vuitton and by coming to terms with a reality of Steve Madden brogues.

And lest you think I am virtuous, it has occurred to me that no one will know they are Steve Madden unless I tell the Internet.

Images: me
Shoes: Steve Madden “Trouser” from Nordstrom

54 Responses

  1. I say: Enjoy! I've been alternating two pairs of Oxfords I bought (one last fall, one early spring) at a very happy price point. I just beat the accusation of striving, since I was too obtuse to realize these were going to be so big, but I've always loved oxfords and will be wearing them long after the hype has faded. So will you, if the Maddens have the staying power to keep up with your Sturdy Gal activities.
    Liked the deconstruction, btw. Thanks

  2. Interesting stuff about Steve Madden! I bought a pair of his wedges last summer on sale, after seeing a very famous footballs wife wearing them and I love them! Your brogues are cool!

  3. I feel that way about polyester…..I bought a Liberty dress at Target last spring and I cannot wear it because I cringe at the feel….I am a fabric snob.

    Those brogues on the other hand have great style, look soft and are very wearable…I think you have a winner.
    I didn't know about Steve Madden's checkered past…obviously his company is thriving.

    Will you wear socks with these?
    I would not….just curious…do High Wasps wear socks?

  4. I have a hard time resisting Steve Madden too, primarily because they are affordable and yet stylish. But I want to resist, because I too have been entirely turned off by his personal life. Of course, I don't have the high Wasp aversion to the branding that you have. But still. Personal politics are important. But those shoes are so nice and affordable. And frankly, I'd never have known they were Steve Madden if you hadn't told me, so I think you're okay.

  5. I have the same reaction when I pick up a cute pair of shoes only to see that they are Jessica Simpson's. I have not been able to get past it.

    Those are really cute! I had no idea about the man behind the brand. I've had a couple pair of SM's in the past, they were just fine. Won't last forever, but at those prices they don't need to. I haven't yet found "my" brogues so may have to go hunt down a pair of these to try.

  6. They say confession is good for the soul ;)

    And I am a bit puzzled (and asking sincerely, not scarastically) Is it not characteristic of the WASP to wear what they like, irregardless of others opinions? Is that not where the sockless weejuns/topsiders, cashmere sweaters till they are worn out, and all other "fashions", etc. all came from? Originally from practical (sailing= Topsiders), and value (quality brands worn till cannot be worn any longer)?

  7. Well, you were simply seduced by a pair of very pretty shoes. Steve Madden DOES know how to do business, that's all. ;c) I would have caved, too – those shoes are very stylish.

  8. Well, I love brogues. Regardless of brand. Katharine Hepburn was my personal goal when I have purchased mine… : )

  9. I am on the exact same page as you regarding ALL points of this fantastic and witty post. I've been contemplating 2 pairs of SM brogues for approximately 3 months and just can't bring myself to commit. And yet, in a world where JCrew's (humble JCrew, I will never forget that you made chinos before you made $1000 bridal gowns) brogues are an unbelievable $250, I think you're right on the money. Literally.

  10. Thanks for briefing up this SM guy, I never even knew he / brand existed. I did have a pair of oxfords, they are on sale now. Beautiful shoes-but not for me. If you feel ok in your shoes,wear them. I do share your feeling about the soles. I too love leather soles, there is a difference.

  11. Love the shoes! Not a fan of his but at least the shoes don't scream his brand. I would have guessed a more important maker if you hadn't told me who they were by. Good score! I may have to go look for some in my area since that price is in my range.

  12. i generally have a problem with steve madden too, mainly because he's a d-bag, but also because i caved and bought a pair of his boots five years ago and they were too uncomfortable to wear. i like these brogues, however, and you can't beat the price tag, especially if they're comfy.

  13. They *are* quite fantastic. And ooh, can we get an update post/pic on the fab LV bag? I'd love to see this patina discussed in the comments….

  14. Knew a fledgling lawyer, poor, who bought a very similar pair of burnished vintage men's shoes from a Goodwill and wore them to his interview with a Main Line law firm. Man complimented his shoes.
    He got the job.

  15. Ha, I remember Steve Madden's little issue with the law!
    Since the brogue look tends to the trendy, it's so "in" this year that it will probably be out next year, it is probably reasonable to not make a huge investment in it. So perhaps in this case a Steve Madden purchase is OK.

  16. Mater – you were just prescient:). And I believe a photo of you in your oxfords was one of the things that piqued my interest.

    Looking Fab – Thank you! I suppose if a footballers wife has them:).

    Hostess – I will wear socks. High WASP women wear socks if they have thing about foot comfort:).

    Los Angeles – Thank you. What else has the guy done other than cheat people out of millions?

    Deja – I too have thought a few of the Jessica Simpson shoes were kind of cute and have not even considered buying them.

  17. Southern Prole – I hope it's good for the soul:). And your questions is a good one. Originally I am sure it was all about genuine artifacts of a lifestyle. Over time, however, we've had to start working at looking like we don't care about opinions. It's all rather exhausting.

    Anna – I agree. The man is a good businessperson.

    Worthington – I do have Katherine on the brain, it's true.

    CJM – I didn't even look at J. Crew! The Comme des Garcons of sea of shoes costs close to $500.

    Mette – Somehow I do not think you would love Mr. Madden's goods.

  18. Sharpie – Thank you! I bet you can find him. Mr. Madden knows from distribution.

    Giovanna – Thank you. Yes, they seem to be comfy. No matter how cheap, uncomfortable is terrible.

    Cara – OK. I am not sure if I have any patina yet. I will do an update. Remind me if I forget, OK?

    Vildy – Love that story.

    Belle – That's a good point. And I agree. Boots are like that too – what gets worn seems to change every 18 months.

  19. *had to delete the comment above due to spelling-mistakes*

    Lisa, any woman in Austria would not know about Steve Madden. So the brand would actually not be a brand any more :)
    The prices on their website seem to be very moderate. Plus I did not know he re-invented the plateau. Did he, really? I owned "new" plateau boots in the 90's. Made me look like a hooker though … Sometimes it puts you at risc when you wanna be trendy.

    Apropos Wannabes: how I LOVED Cox in the 90's:

    Reading your today's posting I imagine how nice it would be sharing a cup of tea or coffee with you. You appear to be an enjoyable company!

  20. LPC…that is my point then, you have been true to yourself. You have found a pair of shoes that suit your lifestyle, sense of taste and value. Why then worry at what others think? You are truly being "WASP", by the fact that you are not *trying* to be WASP. (Does that make any sense?) For the record, I think the shoes will be fine. And if the ethics of SM bothers you, contribute to a charity to offset the offense.

  21. I like them.
    I didn't know he was such a D-Bag ( to borrow from another blogger ).
    I don't go out of my way for his shoes anymore because I too bought a pair of cheaply made, not so comfortable boots of his.

  22. I had no clue that he was a crook! thank you for keeping us in the know!



  23. (I had no idea.)

    But I also say enjoy them. (Although I do love how you deconstruct your purchases!)


  24. They are so cute that I am willing to avert my eyes from his crookdom.

    Brogues! $70! This is a most excellent purchase.

  25. My first reaction was "as long as they are leather." Because leather usually means comfort to me. I'm sure you'll enjoy wearing them – I bought a pair in yellow early this spring, and have worn them about once a week since then and all over Napa. Despite yellow being a less than versatile color.

  26. Best. Sentence. Ever. "Greed in America often takes entrepreneurs off the Calvinist track."

    Seriously, I am in love with this sentence, if such a thing is possible. Steve Madden I do not love, not his shoes. However…. the brogues look mighty good Miss LPC, and we say "Buy 'em if you'll wear 'em," it's that simple. He is such a thug though, but not as nasty as that American Apparel man, he is a creepy creature.

    Big smiles at you, and gratitude for another divine post.

  27. Oh Bwahaha… this made me laugh. I bought a pair of gold Steve Madden ballet flats a few years ago. I almost didn't just for the name. And then I heard my mother whispering in my ear.. "snob!" And they looked exactly like the $150 pair I had seen in another store. So I bought them. And ran to CVS to buy a pair of Dr. Scholls insoles to cover the labels. So there, I have outed myself.

    And, btw, my Steve Maddens are super comfy!

  28. It's when you find yourself buying Naturalizer or SAS tie-shoes that you need a slap upside the head!

    Better to be bopping around in a happy wannabe trendy pair. Only old ladies wear old lady shoes.

    I bought a pair of Bass suede saddle shoes last spring – blue/brown with that familiar red sole. It got warm soon after and I didn't wear them a lot but as I'm thinking about fall and dark colored cottons they'll be coming out again.

  29. OH, how timely this was for me. Yesterday, I cringed when I slipped off my sandals to get a pedicure…yes, Steve Madden bronze kitten heeled thongs bought for $30.00 at DSW…and I love them!

  30. I love all the info on Steve Madden. I have never really paid much attention to the brand because I wear narrow and I don't believe the brand is available in that. I've also always had it in my head that they were more for younger gals. I must say, I do love the look of the shoes you bought. You will have to update in a few months and let us know how they wear.

  31. Those shoes rock!

    Today I'm sporting the eminently cringeworthy Payless white patent leather sandals I bought last summer!

    I wholeheartedly agree with The Princess about the creepy creature who runs American Apparel. I can't bring myself to purchase anything of their's.

  32. I love those shoes, I tried on ones that look just the same from Church's but they were about £400 which I would splurge on a special fancy dan Manolo etc but not for a brogue. They are wonderful!

  33. What a fun post, and I loved all the comments. Hope this isn't misunderstood, but if Madden served his time, shouldn't we not keep dredging up his and poor Martha's past? They got caught – they went to jail – they lost a lot of respect in many people's eyes – they went back to work. Let's let it go, what say?

  34. It seems you haven't quite reached the orthopedic stage yet! that should be encouraging. some hit it sooner (Me) than others. I vowed to find the ugliest old lady (1940's) sandals possible on zappos this summer- I did it. Much like the brogue craze with its practical manly yes, but I like it too-I have gotten immeasurable compliments on the sandals-they are even a practical beige-even I can't go so far afield as to buy white. Maybe though the compliments were said in jest- I don't give a damn, they are comfortable beyond and no one can deny they make a statement. pgt

  35. I know what you mean, having posted on some desirable Madden brogues not too long ago. Happily for me(?) I tried on a pair last week and found their sole too hard. (As a long-time runner I have had arch challenges and soles are very important!) But if they had fit comfortably, I would have snapped them up!

  36. Oh my dears, don't write off Jessica Simpson. Yes, she doesn't know if tuna is chicken. Yes, she sells grody hair extensions.

    But she makes a great, comfortable ballet flat that you can usually get at TJ Maxx for $30 or less.

    For a comfortable shoe, I can get over just about anything. Add in the great price, and let's just say I have 3 pairs.

  37. I am a big believer in buy what you want as long as it didn't involve slave labor in the making of. That said, I will admit that my immediate reaction to Steve Madden is prison. And that association is the only reason I wouldn't likely buy his shoes. Prison depresses me. But if you don't share my association, I say enjoy the shoes. They are great looking.

  38. Many fine artists have done time in prison; there's no shame in that! Let's just assume that creativity also has some ill effects that must sometimes be overlooked in the name of style. To put Steve Madden in the same category as Martha Stewart is a bit unfair; at least Madden makes shoes that are attractive and stylish (even if sometimes they're ripped off from other designers), whereas all Martha sells is bland, unimaginitive crap disguised as decor. I'd be far more likely to cringe over buying any of Martha's boring paint colors or bland furniture than giving in to an adorable pair of Madden brogues. You did the right thing!

  39. Paula – Thank you. You too. Perhaps I should include an iconic mug of tea in these posts. Steaming.

    Southern – If I can live up to what you say here, then I am living out the best of the High WASP ideals.

    Ms. Givens – Google d-bag. You will get some really funny results.

    QBS – You betcha!

    Vintage – Then so I will.

  40. Kate – Thank you!

    Julia – I just love the idea of yellow brogues in Napa. Goes with the mustard flowers.

    TPP – I like your creed, Buy em if you'll wear em. Thank you.

    EM – You and I are out together. Sounds like his boots are uncomfortable, flats comfortable.

    RoseAG – Wait! I own some Naturalizers! I do! They are kind of Birkenstock looking, without straps.

  41. ADG – OK. We will call them Maximinimus:).

    Jill – If you're for them, why am I even worrying?

    Pearls – I agree, he usually targets the younger set. I will have to see how these do through the fall.

    Patsy – Thank you! I don't think Payless is so cringeworthy. They aren't so aspirational. Just pure budget. So it's all just our own reactions, right?

    Tabitha – Oh yes, I saw those Churches. But they were a little too thick in the sole, a little TOO masculine. Total menswear has gotten a little harder to carry off in my 50s.

  42. Anon – Don't we have great commenters here? I think that precisely because Mr. Madden and Martha have named their brands after themselves, they are asking us to buy a piece of their projected identity. So we can let it go, in terms of legality and punishment, but brands are tricky things that everyone constructs a little differently.

    little augury – In fact I believe you are absolutely fashion forward. I was just reading somewhere that celebrities are wearing the ugliest possible orthopedic sandals. Take a look at this:)

    Miss Cavendish – Maybe you were one of the blogs fueling my desire:).

    Anon – Hear that everyone? Jessica's ballet flats! Besides, I kind of like her.

    Audi – I am glad you like my new shoes:):. You, as an artist, value Mr. Madden's creativity and like that in his brand. I swear some consumer marketer should read these comments and learn.

  43. I found your blog in a round about way, and love it. I have never bought a pair of Steve Madden shoes, but when I walk into DSW, I feel the same way you did when purchasing these. Which could be why I don't ever leave with anything from there. Cute shoes, BTW!

  44. I have Steve Madden sandals and they are the most comfortable shoes I own. I LOVE shoes and I have everything in my closet … very expensive to Target specials. I think if you really love shoes, the brand doesn't matter. The look and feel of them does!

  45. Interesting post. I have no idea who Steve Madden is, and have lived thus far, without his shoes; but he sounds like an interesting personality.

    If the shoe fits comfortably, why kick the brand?

  46. Amazing brogues – I love them… I had no idea about Steve Madden though. x

  47. All things considered the shoes are still beautiful. I've actually had several pairs of Steve Maddens which I've liked, they'll fall apart soon enough, but I go to school in a place with so much snow that it's not worth investing in shoes because barely anything makes it through a winter.

  48. This is a brand I'd personally never buy because of the extraordinary amount of copying it does but … I forgive you ;-)

  49. Isn't the main issue with Steve Madden (besides prison, which is something to be ashamed of, but at least he didn't marry his girlfriend's daughter or drug and rape a young teen or propagandize for the N. Vietnamese) that he plagiarizes other designer's work? That's kind of cheating.

    On the other hand, they are cute shoes. As long as they are not made by political prisoners and nobody is suing him for whatever you sue when someone copies your work, I guess it's OK.

  50. Although the actual Steve Madden himself may not be the perfect role model for anyone to follow you can argue with his success. In less than twenty years he turned his small shoe company into one of the world's most decorated brands. He may have served some hard time in his life but you cannot argue with his success.

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