Ask most men what a slingback is, and you'll get a blank stare. Which makes sense. For years, the strappy shoe has lived in the women's department, far away from the sturdy soles and shiny wingtips of the men's floor.
Well, guys, listen up. There's a man who wants you to put on a pair slingbacks. And they're blue suede, open-toed, and cost about as much as a flat screen TV.
This week, Manolo Blahnik, the Spanish designer famous for making women swoon over $700 stilettos, announced he's putting out a line of men's shoes. Among the styles: Afiyet, the aforementioned blue suede number, and Bir, a sandal made of leopard-print leather.
"There are some simple sandals in beautiful materials, and a few classics -- with a twist," Blahnik said in a statement. "I thought it was time to bring back some color into the male wardrobe."
But many men, especially in the United States, may not want to do that. In a land where pink shirts and hair wax have only recently become acceptable, where some people still think metrosexual means homosexual, blue suede slingbacks and leopard print sandals are about as likely to catch on as men's eyeliner and the murse (aka, men's purse).
"I wouldn't wear them. I can't imagine guys wearing them," said Tyler Thoreson, executive editor of men.style.com. "They're of limited appeal, I think. He's a master cobbler, and so you probably won't find a better made pair of shoes anywhere, but the style isn't going to be for everyone."
Even if Blahnik's shoes don't inspire red-blooded American men to ditch their dull brown slip-ons and pick up a pair of bright green oxfords, Thoreson believes their introduction represents a viable trend in men's fashion.
"I think it's a reflection of the general trend among men toward craftsmanship," he said. "You're seeing it in custom shirts, bespoke suits, handmade watches. ... What you're seeing is a move away from the idea of bling and a move toward the subtler more connoisseurship. You're not just trumpeting it to the world. You're not just making a statement of 'Check out how rich I am.' It's about taste, not flash."
Not all men's style mavens agree. Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC's "What Not to Wear," the show that makes over fashion disasters, said he might consider buying Blahnik's red suede oxfords "after a few glasses of wine at lunch." But he dubbed the rest of the line a fashion don't.
"This screams look at my feet," Kelly said. "This is not about craftsmanship, it's about, 'Hey look what I have on that you don't have the balls to wear.'"
Like a boyfriend who needs to have his homepage set to Tiffanys.com before he gets the hint and pops the question, Kelly believes men must be coaxed into trading in their chinos and loafers for something more fashion-forward.
"This kind of fashion turns the average American man off. I think the American man needs little nudges in the right direction as far as being more adventurous with clothes," he said. "But this is not a gentle nudge -- this is a real, open-toed kick in the butt."
So it's probably a good thing Blahnik's line of footwear will stomp across Europe first, in February 2008, before it hits American soil. If and when a guy takes the plunge and buys those blue suede slingbacks, what can he pair them with?
"I honestly have no idea," Kelly said.