In A Basic Guide to Dress Shoes – Part 1, we discussed the differences in quality between a high-quality dress shoe and low-quality dress shoe, what not to wear, and the different levels of formality of a dress shoe. Now let us continue our discussion by talking about proper fit and then we’ll put everything together and discuss the type of dress shoe you should buy. We’ll also discuss some practical options if you currently don’t have the means to purchase a high quality shoe. By the end of this guide, I am confident that you will have all the basic information you will need to make informed decisions when buying a dress shoe, and this will result in you looking sharper than the majority of men around you.
As with all shoes, they should not be too loose or too tight at any point. The front of the shoe should barely graze the toes and you should be able to just barely fit a finger between the heel and the back of the shoe. Your shoe shouldn’t be tight but it shouldn’t be slipping around your foot either. The standard shoe width is size D but with quality dress shoes, there’s a large continuum of widths: AAA/AA/A/B/C/D/E/EE/EEE/EEEE with AAA being the narrowest and EEEE being the widest. The sides of your shoes should not feel tight against your feet. If they are tight, you’ll need to move up in width size. The best way to find a pair of shoes that fits you is to get your feet measured in person at a shoe store using a Brannock device and to try on the shoes. It is important to actually try on the shoes because different shoe companies produce shoes of different fit. It is also necessary to try on shoes after you have been walking for a while because your feet tend to swell during the day.
What type of shoe should I buy?
For the most conservative environments, it would be necessary to wear a black, cap toe shoe. These tend to be considered the most formal shoe and can only be worn with suits.
With that said, if you’re buying your first dress shoe, versatility should be your goal so choose a dark brown cap toe with a quarter-brogue or half-brogue. First of all, unless you’re in an ultra-conservative setting such as you’re in courtroom trying a case, brown shoes are a perfectly acceptable colour for business environments. In addition to being acceptable in business/formal environments, brown shoes have versatility that black shoes lack. A brown shoe coupled with a quarter brogue or half brogue is formal enough to wear in business settings, but also casual enough to dress down with jeans and chinos. A benefit of the light broguing is that when worn in a business environment, it will liven up your outfit compared to the stuffy look of a super formal black cap toe.
As mentioned in part 1 of this guide, brown adds more life to your outfit and better complements other colours. The richness of brown not only matches better with more colours and textures, but it enhances them, thus producing an effect that is much more appealing to the eyes. For all these reasons, choosing a dark brown shoe with a quarter or half brogue will help you create that lean wardrobe and give you the best bang for your buck.
What are good shoes and how much do they Cost?
Shoes are one of the few items we encourage you to spend a bit more on. You should budget for around $250 for a quality pair of dress shoes. This does seem a bit high but because of the differences in quality between high quality shoes and low quality shoes, we really recommend that you spend a bit more here. The tier of high quality dress shoes begins at Allen Edmonds ($350+) and Alden ($500+) which are both American made. There are better shoes above this tier (such as Edward Green, John Lobb, etc) with better craftsmanship and quality but unless you’re balling hard, the jump in price-point to quality ratio isn’t worth it in my opinion.
As a disclaimer, let me just say that we are not affiliated with Allen Edmonds in anyway, nor do we get any kickbacks, financial compensation or anything of the sort from them. It’s just that their brand of shoes is known by shoe aficionados as a good balance between price and quality so I recommend them. I do not believe they are the best shoe available. With that said, even though they have a price point that is relatively high, the price is still reasonable and attainable for a lot of people who want a higher quality shoe. If you want to buy Aldens or if you want to buy the best of the best such as Edward Green, John Lobb, or Crockett and Jones which can cost $1000+, then that’s your prerogative.
When buying anything related to apparel wait for a sale. Allen Edmonds can be found on sale for around $220. You can also get factory directs which have very slight imperfections resulting in a cheaper shoe (~$200). Another option is buying used from Ebay where you should be able to find a pair for around $150. If you take good care of these shoes, they will last you for decades if not longer (with re-soling done every 4-6 years of course). If you have the means, I strongly urge that you don’t drop below this tier because the quality difference is vast but if you must due to financial reasons…
The next tier of shoe quality which is in between the high quality tier and the tier of absolute junk belongs to Florsheim and Johnston and Murphy. These two brands used to be made in America and were at the level of Allen Edmonds and Alden. Unfortunately, big companies took them over and began to outsource the construction of the shoes to 3rd world countries. This has lead to a drastic drop in the shoes’ quality. You can find these for $100-$175. The difference in quality between these shoes and Allen Edmonds is worth paying an extra $100. Cole Haan and Bostonians also belong to this category.
The complete crap tier of shoes are your Kenneth Coles, Dockers and the like. They use cheap corrected grain “leather” and basically glue the shoe together. The crappy shoe designs coupled with the poor craftsmanship means you shouldn’t touch these with a 10 ft pole.
I really can’t afford a pair of high quality shoes, what can I do?
It is understandable if you really don’t have the means at the moment to buy a high quality shoe but that shouldn’t prevent you from looking sharp. If you can’t fork up an extra $100, go with the middle tier quality shoes such Florsheims, Johnston and Murphy, Cole Haan and Bostonian because they make shoes with classic designs (i.e. Oxfords). As long as you stick with the shoe style recommendations made earlier in this article, you will still look sharp. Just understand that these cheaper shoes will have a much shorter life span than a high quality one. But if I were you, I’d save that extra $100, wait for a sale and get the Allen Edmonds. It really makes more sense to spend more here because the higher quality shoe will last many years longer than buying a cheap quality shoe that won’t last you at all.
There is one situation in which I would advise you to forego buying a high quality dress shoe and that’s if you need to wear the shoe for one special occasion, but you don’t believe you’ll wear it much more after that. Let’s say you MUST wear a pair of black cap toe oxfords for one particular event and you truly believe you won’t be wearing these shoes again. If that’s the case, then go ahead and buy something from the 2nd tier. It would make no sense for you to spend your hard earned money on an expensive pair of shoes if you won’t get much mileage out of them.
We often hear the phrase: “Shoes make the man.” This is obviously a bit of hyperbole but it does highlight the significance a pair of shoes has on a man’s overall appearance. Luckily for you, you’re now armed with the necessary knowledge on how to buy dress shoes. Whatever the price of shoe you buy, adhere to the advice in this article and there’ll be no reason for you not to be able to put your best foot forward.