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Ask the shoe designers what the leading fashion dictum for summer is and you'll get the same answer - comfort.

No, it's not a real news flash.But comfort is the buzzword for fashion footwear folks. "Casual," "cushioned" and "cool" are the other c-words you'll hear if the subject of men's shoes just happens to pop up in conversation.

Just how one shoe can be more comfortable than another is serious business for shoemakers. Each company has its own theories, methods and materials. Yet somehow, all of them have claim to have created the ultimate in comfortable footwear.

Take Keds for example. This year, they've introduced a new material - microfiber. Designers describe it as a "super-lightweight material" that is "extremely breathable and water repellant for a more comfortable fit."

Microfiber is supposed to hold vivid colors better than that other fabric your old Keds are made out of. It's the "new fabric for footwear in the '90s," says marketing manager Molly Streeter.

"Comfort and style are two important elements for the '90s and microfiber combines both," she said.

But Keds doesn't have the market on new comfort innovations. Johnston and Murphy has developed a new "Trampoline Cushion System." Recent "laboratory findings" prove the system is "measurably more comfortable" than other comfort technology, their press releases state.

Apparently the company has actual shoe researchers who've been working overtime collecting statistical data in the field of "comfort technology." Johnston and Murphy claims its trampoline system provides 36 percent more shock absorption than Rockport and 61 percent more than Cole-Haan.


Not to be outdone, Hush Puppies developed its new line of shoes in conjunction with the Biomechanics Evaluation Laboratory at Michigan State University. The collaboration has provided a "breakthrough" in footwear technology.

The company claims its new "Bounce" collection has evolved from "years of research analyzing the function of the foot throughout the walking motion." Eric Dryer, assistant director of Biomechanic Research at the laboratory, said the design is revolutionary because it propels you forward.

"The double, rocker-bottom outsole has been designed to absorb the shock of initial heel contact, where a sharp upward force is applied rapidly to the foot and body. The Bounce design also serves to absorb the peak forefoot force during toe-off, allowing the foot to move forward with more ease, because the Bonce sole manages the body's energy more efficiently."

What that explanation apparently means - and what the other companies are so proudly heralding - is that the shoes are now more comfortable.

Comfort is nice, but it isn't everything in the shoe biz. This summer, earth tones are what's hot. But don't ask your shoe salesperson to try on "that brown one over there."

Try, "Could I try a pair of these in a size 9 and in a `moon dusk' color?"

Or ask for terracotta, khaki, olive, chocolate, taupe, evergreen, spice, wine or neutral colors.

Sandals, short-top boots and the traditional canvas shoes are the big sellers this spring in Salt Lake City, said Terry Vickrey, buyer for men's shoes at Nordstrom.

"It's kind of a big year for sandals, even with the rains we've had," he said. Burkenstock and Timberline are two of Nordstrom's biggest sellers.

The short, casual boots are normally popular items in the fall. But they're big business for spring throughout the country. And the Perry Top Siders and other classic canvas shoes have regained popularity for this spring, too.

The Bass "Compass" boat shoe is also a popular seller. More than a million pairs have been sold in the past year in the United States. A twill version with leather laces as well as suede and leather versions is available.