As men, we are often guilty of not paying attention to shoes, whether other people’s or our own. However, at some stage in life we realise that having a trusted pair (or more) of dress shoes is a true necessity. This could be at your graduation ceremony, first job interviews or weddings. A tailored $1000 suit will not achieve the desired outcome if the rest of your accessories don’t carry their weight. At MAEZU we believe in knowledge sharing to make better decisions for your outfit. This article should equip you with the basics (and beyond) about dress shoes and we promise that at the end of reading this guide, you will be in a better position to make informed buying decisions for your shoe drawer and decide which shoe to wear at what event.
Elements of a Dress Shoe
Similar to a suit, there are various elements which provide the dress shoe with its own character and style. On a high-level, there are four components to the shoe: Toe, Vamp, Facing and Quarter. An illustration helps to visualise these:
As with other men’s accessories, it is all about the details which come together to define your unique style as a gentleman. The MAEZU team would suggest purchasing dress shoes where the toes are rounded, not pointy and definitely not squared. Other than this simple rule, there are the following considerations regarding the toe style:
No decorations on the vamp, just plain and easy. Provides a clean and understated look.
The name says it all: The toe is capped with a horizontal stitching across the vamp. It could either be an actual separate piece stitched on the vamp or just a stitch on the cap. Most often seen on Oxford style shoes.
Split & Apron Toe
The Apron Toe features a seam that runs from the middle of the shoe across the toe to the other side at the middle of the shoe. More common on casual shoes. The Split Toe provides an additional lining in the middle of the toe.
The Medallion can be recognised by its plain toe and slight broguing at the toe. Again, a trait of more casual shoes.
The Wingtip features broguing in the center of the toe and along the seam of the cap.
Brogue refers to the decorative perforations on dress shoes and denote a more casual trait. There are different types of broguing:
Full Brogues / Wingtips
Also known as wingtips, the wing-shaped cap extends around to the outside of the toes.
The shoe’s brogued wingtip cap continues along the side of the shoe all the way to its centre seam in the back.
Less prominent than a full brogue, the semi-brogue features broguing along the seam of the cap toe as well as some on the center of the cap toe.
Most subtle version. No decoration on the center of the cap toe and simple decorative broguing along the seam of the cap toe.
Level of Formality
Existence of Shoelaces
A simple way to determine the level of formality of shoes is to look at the shoelaces, or lack thereof. Historians estimate that shoelaces have been invented around 3000 BC, so this must be the time when humans decided to drop the barefoot act and cover their feet with something, whether for protection or aesthetics. Our ancestors might have used strands of grass or other natural material as shoelaces, but the purposes of shoelaces has always been to fasten the shoe to one’s feet. We would recommend that dress shoes with shoelaces can be worn at most events, whereas shoes without shoelaces should be avoided for formal occasions, such as job interviews (in the more traditional industries) and business meetings.
Dress shoes can come with a variety of design patterns which is achieved via decorative perforations referred to as “Brogue”. Men invented broguing centuries ago as a solution to a practical problem: Allowing water to escape the shoes. When marching across wet terrain, the holes would allow water to be squeezed out with every step. Today it mainly serves a decorative purposes though – at least I have never had the pleasure of squeezing rainwater out of my shoes. Broguing is often seen on Oxford and Derby shoes are available in four different cap styles, see section below. The basic rule here is that the simpler the design/pattern, the more formal the shoe. A gentleman making a serious, formal statement prefers a clean, non-decorated look over intricate patterns which distract.
Choice of Colour
In terms of formality, black beats the rest. A power colour associated with authority, it also delivers class and sophistication to your attire. In second place is the brown colour, especially darker shades or variations, including burgundy. As the colour tone becomes lighter, the more casual it gets. We would suggest to at least have one pair of black and brown shoes in your show drawer. You might also note that dark-coloured shoes are more easier to match than light-coloured ones. Although deciding on the right shoe colour will also be impacted by the season of the year (lighter colours during warmer seasons) and the time of the event (daytime works well for lighter colours, whereas darker colours look more suitable in the evening).
Major Shoe Styles
A true classic and timeless staple dress shoe which represents a staple item in your shoe drawer. Named after the Oxford University, the Oxfords represent a modern version of the Oxonians which were popular in the 1800s. After a few centuries, the half-boot style was deemed outdated and eventually replaced by today’s Oxfords.
The main characteristic is the facing being stitched under the vamp, also called closed lacing. The limited stitching provides a sleek look which emphasises the sophisticated no-frills style. This minimalistic aspect has contributed to the popularity but also versatility of the Oxford shoe, allowing it to be paired with most outfits. Black is usually the safest option with black patent leather being the most formal material with suede being on the opposite end. Oxfords are regarded as the most formal type of dress shoes.
Derbys & Bluchers
Originally designed as a sporting and hunting boot in the 1850s, the Derbies became more mainstream as normal footwear at the beginning of the 20th century.
Compared to Oxfords, Derbys’s quarters are sewn on top of the vamps and are hence called open-laced dress shoes. This construct allows for a wider fit than with an Oxford and makes the Derby slightly more comfortable to wear. Bluchers are very similar to Derbys, save for a few patches of leather on the vamps. Due to their stitching mechanism and its sporting roots, the Derbies are one level down in terms of the formality ranking compared to Oxfords.
Similar in shape and construction to an Oxford, the Monk Strap utilises a wide leather strap across the front of the shoe instead of an eyelet closure. The name is derived from the monks who wore them for the closed-toe design which provided better protection compared to traditional sandals.
A relatively modern style, it is very modern and can be worn with either jeans or suits. Single straps are more formal than double straps, but either way, Monk Straps are bound to attract attention. We would advise to match the metal buckle with other metal accessories you’re wearing for a more consistent style
On the other end of the spectrum we have the very casual loafers. The Loafer is a slip-on shoe which was created as a house slipper for King George VI of England. Though it did not gain widespread popularity until the 1930s when manufacturers in the US started to produce this slip-on shoe. Later on in the 1960s, even businessmen and lawyers started to wear Loafers with their business suits.
Loafers come without shoelaces or any form of fastening. Their characteristics include low heels, separate soles and a saddle, which is a decoration such as a plain strap, a slit strap or an ornament. As one of the more casual dress shoes, we would suggest wearing Loafers on warm weekends with a smart shirt and chino trousers.
Purchasing a well-made pair of shoes is a long-term investment and will become an essential element of your wardrobe. Do your research and choose wisely, as your shoes should reflect your personal style as well as be suited to the occasion you are attending.
Most men do not need to have many shoes, hence it is even more important that we carefully select what to buy and understand the different characteristics of each shoe so as to be prepared for most eventualities.
Your MAEZU Team