Shoe bags are on the more obscure end of luggage.
A man is far less likely to own one than he is, say, a basic canvas duffel bag or a rolling suitcase.
But for all they can seem a luxury item, they're something no man should be without — at least as long as that man owns decent shoes he plans on traveling with.
In simplest terms, a shoe bag is a small, flat, rectangular bag with a thickly-padded interior. Most are, unsurprisingly, about the size of either one or two pairs of shoes, with a little wiggle room.
What's The Purpose Of A Shoe Bag?
Predictably, your shoe bag is for your shoes. You take a dress shoe, slip a shoe tree in it, and put it in the shoe bag, then put the partner in so that the soles are flat against one another. Usually, the heels point in opposite directions to make the pair of shoes as regular a shape as possible.
At that point the shoe bag can either be packed in a larger piece of luggage or taken as a small bag of its own. Because it's purse-sized or smaller, most airlines will accept a shoe bag as a “personal item” rather than a carry-on — useful for travelers who don't have a laptop bag to worry about and want to take advantage of the space allowance.
The two biggest functions are convenience and protection: the shoe bag turns two or four oddly-shaped items into one regularly-shaped item, and it gives a thick layer of padding to scuffable leather surfaces.
A “shoe bag” meant for luggage is usually semi-stiff and made from tough nylon or canvas, and shouldn't be confused with the individual bags that some nicer brands of dress shoe come in — you can pack those bags for extra protection, but on their own they're not luggage that you'd want to trust to carry-on or checked compartments without some extra protection as well.
Why You Should Own a Shoe Bag
Good leather dress shoes are too much of an investment to trust to airline baggage handlers.
A shoe bag gives not only a layer of cloth protection but also cushioning, keeping the shape from being collapsed by weight on top of it.
That way your shoes are more likely to reach their destination in the same shape they began, even if they end up in the bottom of a baggage compartment.
Basically it comes down to economy over time: for $50-150 or so you can pick up a long-term storage and protection solution that'll work for all your shoes, any time you travel with them.
Since it only takes one deep scratch, tear, or crease to ruin a leather dress shoe, that pays for itself pretty quickly.
Very infrequent travelers, or travelers who only drive their own cars and never have to stow luggage on a plane, bus, or train, might not have much need for a shoe bag; the rest of us can stand to add one to the wardrobe.
Space-obsessed travelers can even save themselves a Dopp kit or shower bag by slipping toiletries into the cracks of the shoe bag or into the shoes itself, but this isn't necessarily a recommended strategy — if a cream or paste of some kind leaks, it can destroy the shoe just as badly as external damage would.
Stick to keeping small, dry items, and pad them with socks or handkerchiefs so they don't rattle around and scuff the leather, if you do plan on storing anything beside shoes in your shoe bag.
How to Buy a Quality Shoe Bag
Luggage-style shoe bags are a little hard to find. Some larger footwear companies make them, in both men's and women's styles, but the quality can vary from fine leather pieces to flimsy plastic bags that don't actually add much protection.
For a fine example, we've looked at the Blue Claw Co.'s “South Shore” shoe bag, part of their Classic Collection. It gives you a good idea what a real top-quality shoe bag should have:
- Thick, sturdy ballistic nylon exterior
- Full-grain leather straps, handles, and trim
- Thick interior liner made from non-scuff plush
- Heavy-duty metal zipper with pull-ring and leather tab
- Room for two pairs of large men's shoes: 13″ x 9″ x 4″
Blue Claw Co. luggage is also all made in the United States, which is a plus for conscientious American shoppers. Theirs isn't the only shoe bag on the market, but it's one of the best, and a good benchmark to look at when you're considering buying one for yourself.