Dress Shoes 101


There’s been a lot of interest among guys in dress shoes lately. Loafers are getting rocked at red carpet events, while big name brands for lace-ups, like Alden, are making it fashionable for guys to rock monk straps on their feet again. It’s not easy to keep everything straight however, so let’s hit you with a little dress shoes 101, so you can know just what the difference between a balmoral and a brogue is.


Most high quality men’s dress shoes are made of leather, but some guys try to pass other stuff off as the good stuff. Things like “alum-tanned leather” and “Rawhide” are basically synthetics that have just barely enough dead animal in them to pass off as leather.

The best shoe companies like to use something called shell cordovan – a kind of leather taken from just under the hide, near the rump of a horse. It’s tougher, shinier, and more durable than any other kind of leather. That’s what you want. Top quality dress shoes also tend to be leather soled – that’s what gives them their distinctive clack-clack when you’re walking. If your dress shoe squeaks when you walk – you’ve been taken for a ride.

There used to be simple rules of thumb for matching suits to dress shoes. It was that darker suits went with black shoes, and lighter ones go with brown ones. That rule’s sort of fallen by the wayside, and a lot of stylish gents now like to wear brown during the day, and black at night.

But if you’re still confused – black shoes work best with black, dark grey, and navy suits, while brown shoes work best on navy suits, and anything lighter coloured.


Most dress shoes guys buy are meant for work.   Most guys tend to call all lace-up dress shoes Oxfords (or Balmorals in Scotland).  That’s not always technically correct, but hey, we’re taking this one step at a time. Lace up leather shoes you’re buying for work should ideally have no fancy designs on the toe, or along the sides. This is business, right? The crazy thing is, the plainer the shoe, the more luxurious is is – since it’s uncommon to get leather that good without flaws. Why cover it up with designs?

Square Toed Shoes
We can’t emphasize enough how much you should avoid these. Here’s the thing. Round toes? Those are harder to make. They require a larger piece of leather, and require that leather to be shaped. Square toes? Those are made using scrap leather, and are usually machined together like a t-shirt. If that sounds cheap – that’s because it is.


These are basically any “dress shoes” you see that are slip on. Once upon a time, they were considered casual shoes that you couldn’t wear in an office – but times have changed. Unless you decide to go the Kanye West route, and rock gold spiked loafers, you should be able to wear most to work without a problem.


Wing Tips
Wingtips or brogues are lace-ups with a W-design punched into the leather on the toe – giving them that distinctive wingtip. The rule used to be that they were effectively casual shoes that gentlemen would wear when they visited the countryside – but that sentence alone tells you just how outdated the idea is. If you like a pair, wear them – just remember they’re way flashier than plain toe dress shoes, and should be treated that way.  Tone down other elements to maintain a sense of balance.


Monk Strap
GQ’s latest fashion fascination in the last year and a half or so has been with the monk strap shoe – a kind of flashy Italian-esque shoe. It’s not laced, but isn’t a loafer either – it features a buckled strap to keep it strapped. It’s a very flashy choice, but if that’s your style, you should definitely give them a try.


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