(To read part 2 of this guide, click here.)
The dress shoe is an integral part of a gentleman’s wardrobe but unfortunately, many men do it absolutely wrong. In fact, shoes are so integral that many style gurus maintain that a man’s shoes are the most important item in his wardrobe. In my opinion, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it does highlight the significance of shoes for a man’s overall appearance. A great looking pair of shoes not only completes a man’s outfit, but will elevate it; conversely, an ugly pair of shoes will significantly drag down the rest of his outfit and his overall appearance. This means it would be wise of you to not neglect this critical part of your wardrobe.
You might not know where to begin when it comes to improving your dress-shoe game, but that’s okay. This 2-part article will give you all the basic knowledge you need in order to immediately elevate yourself to a dress-shoe pro. Because the topic of dress shoes is so expansive, we will do more in depth articles on dress shoes in the future, but for now, this article will give beginners a much needed reference on how to vastly improve their overall look.
When selecting a dress shoe you, you need to understand the following:
1. Avoid the clunky and other terrible looks
One of the biggest blunders men make when it comes to dress shoes is the dreaded square-toe shoe. It is unpleasing aesthetically. We don’t find boxy cars, boxy body types or boxy clothes attractive; instead, we like sleek shapes and shoes are not an exception. Square toed-shoes add unnecessary bulk at the end of the outfit and throws proportions out of whack. Avoid at all costs.
Also avoid bicycle-stitched toes, shoes with rubber soles and slip-ons. All of these are unflattering, clunky, and make you look like an amateur. Don’t go for extremely pointy shoes either, especially those that raise up at the toe. These monstrosities are made for elves and you are not an elf.
Instead, go for a classic, slightly elongated, elegant shape that is the Oxford. It has been a staple in classy gentlemen’s footwear since the 1800s and for good reason: its sleek, yet simple look gives it and its wearer an air of class and sophistication.
2. The different levels of formality
The three factors that determine a shoe’s level of formality are its lacing style, colour and amount of broguing.
Lacing Style: Shoes can generally be divided into two types of lacing: the closed laced shoe and the open laced shoes. Closed laced shoes are also known as “balmorals.” This type of shoe is closed-throated with a laced front. Its quarters -which are the two top pieces brought together by the laces- are sewn under the front part of the shoe. Closed laced shoes are considered to be more sleek and more formal of the two lacing styles.
Opened laced shoes are also known as “bluchers.” It has an open-throat front over the instep. The quarters are sewn on top of the front part of the shoe, creating flaps which results in a “sportier” look. The one benefit this creates is it provides more room for the in-step which means that you have more give at the top of your foot.
Colour: The darker the shoe, the more formal it is. This naturally means that black shoes are the most formal shoes. With that said, brown is definitely a suitable colour to wear with suits and is acceptable to wear in all but the most conservative environments. In fact, brown is more versatile because you can dress it down with jeans/chinos and it tends to bring more life to an outfit more than black. It is important to note that there are many shades of brown and the darker the brown, the more formal the shoe.
Brogues are perforations and patterns that serve as decorations in dress shoes. The more broguing a shoe has, the less formal it is. Here’s the list of shoes from most formal to least formal: plain toe, plain toe with medallions, cap toe, cap toe with quarter brogue, cap toe with half brogues, wingtips, long wings.
Click on the following image to see dress shoes classified by their broguing:
3. The differences in quality
Dress shoes are one of the items we recommend spending a bit more on. This is because the large jump in quality and looks between the price point of crappy dress shoes and the price point of quality dress shoes is significant and warrants the extra spending.
Two main differences between low quality dress shoes and high quality dress shoes are in the quality of the leather and the construction of the shoe:
Low quality shoes use corrected-grain leather. It’s basically low quality leather that has many imperfections so the surface is sanded off and an artificial layer is applied to its surface to give it an appearance of uniform leather. This results in a shoe that is less breathable, cheap-looking and short lived once the artificial top layer breaks down. The creasing and crinkling you see on cheap dress shoes is a result of the artificial layer being worn off.
High quality shoes use full-grain leather (if not better). The leather is free from imperfections so no artificial layer is added. It’s a stronger, more durable and breathable leather that lasts a long time and develops “character” as it ages.
Low quality shoes are mass-manufactured in poorer countries and by unskilled workers who are governed by low quality control methods. The materials used are of lesser quality and the manufacturing process is poor. Materials are poorly stitched together and the shoe is put together by glue – e.g. the upper portion of the shoe is glued to the sole. All this results in a shoe that is less comfortable and has a shorter lifespan.
High quality shoes, on the other hand, are made with care by skilled workers and are governed by high quality control standards. No glue is used and the shoe is put together by stitching. A popular way to attach the upper to the sole which is done by many high quality shoes makers is called “The Goodyear Welt” – in a nutshell, the sole is stitched to a portion of the upper portion called the “welt.” All these factors result in a more comfortable shoe that will last you for many, many years.
In addition, the soles of high-quality dress shoes are made of vegetable tanned leather whereas the soles of low-quality are made of rubber. The advantages of a leather soles include better moisture wicking and they better conform to the foot resulting in greater comfort.
Essentially, the higher quality leathers and construction of a high quality shoe allow it to be worn for a decade (if not decades) if taken care of properly and resoled every few years. Poorly constructed shoes will last less than a year and will look terrible as they age.
You’re Halfway There!
As you can see, there is actually a lot to learn when it comes to a man’s dress shoe but now, you are already half-way to becoming an adept in this vast topic. In part 2 of this article, we’ll talk about proper fit and then put together everything you’ve learned so you can find a dress shoe that’s right for you.