If I would only have a dollar every-time I hear a fellow sartorialist say “The shoe makes the man”… Well, this saying is popular for a reason. Nice footwear does add a tremendous amount of style and class to your wardrobe, a fact that inspired me to write this dress shoe guide. Below are the eight most common dress shoe styles found in a man’s wardrobe, and besides just writing about what makes each style unique, I am giving you some helpful dress/style tips on each. Last but not least, because a picture is worth a thousand words, I added images of some of my favorite pieces for each category.
Oxfords (AKA Balmoral)
A classic shoe style with a formal, elegant, and dressy appeal. Oxfords come in any color although black and browns are most popular. Typically the sleeker the design (being also black in color), the more formal the shoe. Brogue oxfords and heavier construction on the other hand appear a bit less formal. Pair the oxford shoes with dress pants but not jeans.
Two classic examples of men’s oxfords. The one on the left is a captor style. Its black calfskin leather and overall simplistic design makes it a perfect formal pair for suits and even black tie events. The brown color, more rugged construction, as well as its brogue wingtip makes the left pair much more casual in comparison.
Derby (aka Blüchers)
The Derby is a very similar to the oxford shoe but the difference is in the lacing which is sewn outside of the shoes (showing visible flaps). This more noticeable lacing style makes this shoe style less formal compared to the classic Oxford. Derby/Blüchers come in any color, brogue and non brogue, cap-toed, wing tipped, as well as many different types of leather and linen. Derby shoes are perfect for a smart-casual dress consisting of jeans, dress shorts, and sport coats. They are less suited for suits but do make a good shoe choice for business attire on rainy days due to their more rugged construction.
Two very unique pair of Blüchers. The pair on the left is decorated with a brogue wingtip. It is a classic pair that suits casual business attire with slacks and sports coat as much as with dark wash jeans and cardigan sweater. The pair on the right stands out because of the dark blue color and different leather combinations (suede and calf skin).
Loafer’s are the traveling business man’s best friend. They slip on and off easily when going through security, they are comfortable, and versatile. The sleeker and simpler the design the more formal it is. Also, darker colors are more formal (black being the most formal), and the less of your socks are visible the more formal the look. Loafers look great with jeans and dress pants, as well as with suits when not wearing a necktie. Common loafer variations are monk straps, tasseled decorations, penny loafers, and formal pumps (see below).
That most loafers are more casual can be seen here. The Hugo Boss pair on the left is a bit more formal compared to the suede pair on the left thanks to color, type of leather, and minimalistic design. The pair on the right (sometimes also called driving shoes) are much more casual. The blue color, the suede leather, and the thin rubber sole are all indicative of a casual pair.
The term cap toe refers to the extra layer of leather near the front of the shoes. That being said, oxfords as well as Blüchers can be “Cap Toed”. Again, the sleeker the design the more formal. Heavy brogue (embossing of the leather) takes away the formality but does add a more uniqueness. Depending on the style and formality, cap toed dress shoes can be worn with suits, tuxedos, and even jeans.
Two classic Allen Edmonds captoes. The oxford style pair on the left is elegant yet not overly dressy thanks to the decorated brogues. The Derby pair on the right is another perfect casual dress shoe that would look excellent with sports coats, blazers, and even suits.
The term “Monk strap” refers to the buckled strap the replaces shoe laces. Monk straps come with one, two, and even three straps, are available in any color, can be made from a wide variety of different leathers, and can be cap toed as well as wingtipped (see below). Monk strap shoes are perfect for those who seek a more unique type of shoe that will draw attention. When matching the shoes, make sure that the color of the clasp Typically silver, brass, or gold) matches your belt buckle, wrist watch, and cufflinks (should you choose to wear those).
Two elegant pairs of monkstrap dress shoes. The pair on the left uses a double clasp giving the shoe a more trendy/fashion-forward look, while the pair on the right keeps the style classic/timeless with its single strap. Note the captoe construction on the left and the brogue wingtip on the right.
Dress boots are a sleek and minimalistic boot style that can be worn with jeans, odd trousers, and suits (in rainy or snowy weather). Dress boots come in a wide variety of styles such as brougai, wing tip, monk strap, and cap toed.
Two completely different types of dress boots. The chelsea boot on the left is a classic accessory dating back to the Victorian era. The laced up pair on the right is perfect for smart-casual wear and great for jeans and slacks but not suits.
The term “Wing Tip” refers to the shape of the cap toe that looks like wings stretching across the front of the shoe. Most wing tips are Derby shoes decorated with brogue leather. While most wing tips are solid in color (mostly back or brown), two-toned date back to the 1920s (black & white). Today two-toned wingtips are once again quite popular and perfect for a smart-casual dress.
Wingtips are a popular shoe style that comes in any color and style. The brown brogue pair on the left is a bit more elegant compared to the grayish-blue brogue pair on the right. Designers like Cole Hahn especially has played with lots of colors on their assortment of wingtip shoes offering bright colored soles and two tone upper leather.
The formal pump (aka Opera pump) is a formal type of loafer made from shiny black patent leather. Typical is a grosgrain ribbon decoration on the cap of the shoe. Formal pumps are only suited for formal black tie or white tie ensembles and do make a good alternative choice of shoe to formal patent leather oxfords which are typically worn for these two formal dress codes.
Who said loafers are casual? The so called Opera Pumps are one of the most formal type of footwear in a man’s wardrobe. The patent leather on the left is the classic style decorated with a grosgrain ribbon. The suede pair on the left is a bit more fashion-forward but an excellent choice for those opting to wear a tux with suede lapels.