Your Guide to Men’s Formal Shoes

by Jamie

Men’s formal shoes have been around for over 100 years; there’s no doubt that, even to this day, a pair of oxfords or the likes are a staple piece in every man’s wardrobe – or at least they should be.

In history, formal shoes were commonly worn among the upper class men as a sign of status and wealth. Later on, the formal shoe became every man’s go-to shoe for most office and work related occasions. A formal shoe is seen as the classic piece that ties the whole outfit together.

Before we get into the thick of things, take a look at this handy video that shows you which pairs of shoes every man should have in his wardrobe.

Top Men’s Formal Shoes

Classic formal shoes originate from all over the world, with alterations and practical changes occurring over time to leave us with the designs we know and love. Whether they’re from the emerald isle or the rainy hills of the English countryside, each of these formal shoes has a history and a unique look that makes them the perfect accompaniment for your formal wear.

The Brogue

The brogue style is the most flexible design because it is made from multiple pieces of leather. This allows different leather and fabric combinations, known as the two-tone shoes to be created. One of the most famous wearer of the brogue was Edward the Prince of Wales in the 1930’s. However, more recently there have been some famous brogue wearers such as Jack Nicholson, Robbie Williams and Jude Law rocking the classically cool shoes.

These shoes are often seen worn with a suit, to achieve a polished, smart look. Brogues are now seen as an acceptable business shoe in black, a smart, yet relaxed option in brown or an edgy alternative with two tone coloured leathers. You can get brogues in a hobnail boot design, with the extra grip providing a perfect base if you’re trekking through cobbles or uneven ground. The best brogues are the ones that can be mixed with smart and casual outfits to create a clean, sophisticated finish.

The Oxford

The Oxford shoe, a traditional formal shoe that for years has been associated with the English aristocracy. However, the original design actually originated from Ireland and had a completely different name, ‘The Balmoral’. Depending on where you come from, the oxford shoe continues to have different names, with the U.S calling them Bal-types and the French referring to them as Richelieus.

Regardless of what name you use though, these are the epitome of elegant formal shoes, and with the amount of designs available from a wide range of retailers these really are the perfect affordable dress shoes. The Oxford shoe is the ideal style for every formal situation. Due to the sleek shoe design, many businessmen wear a black oxford to go with their suit. The Oxford shoe is perfect to be worn at weddings, christenings, job interviews and basically any formal event.

If a shoe has a simple slit in the top of the shoe, with eyelets either side that pull together with laces, then you can call it an Oxford. The Oxford come in different styles, which means that you can have Oxford toe-caps, Oxford brogues and Oxford semi-brogues.

Loafers

The loafers are the original slip-on shoes, loafers are the perfect balance between smart and casual footwear. From suede, leather, velvet or patent finishes design, loafers will add that preppy look to your outfit.

Loafers are lightweight shoes, sometimes of moccasin construction making them perfect for the warm months. They often have stitched or cemented soles, making them suitable for more everyday work shoes as they tend to be quite durable.

The name loafer relates to the action relaxing or loafing around in them. Both derivations are to do with the very relaxed nature of the shoe which is a result of the way they are made.

Chelsea Boots

The Chelsea boot is a perfect option for those days that you don’t feel like dressing up, but don’t want to look too causal with some trainers. For this reason, it’s become a contemporary favourite for many guys today. It’s a style that’s over 150 years old, however, in that time it’s appearance has dramatically changed and adapted with the going trends.

If you look at the current way of wearing the Chelsea boot, it is very much in keeping with the origins of the shoe. It’s the ideal balance of being more dressed up than a trainer, but not quite as proper as a pair of Oxfords.

Being incredibly adaptable, it suits both a businessman wanting a sturdy yet refined shoe and the casual wearer wanting a shoe that will cope with most conditions on a weekend. It works well paired with a crisp shirt, your everyday t-shirt or a cable knitted jumper. A solid wardrobe staple that every man should own a pair of.

Monk

The monk shoe or monk strap has been around for a long time. It has a history dating back to the footwear worn by monks hence the name of the shoe, usually a sandal but fastened with a buckle.

This design allows for the top of the shoe to have a simple buckle closing which some people prefer to having laces flapping around. The closed, smooth nature of the design give it a relatively formal look.

The double monk with two buckles is a little more fashionable at the moment. The Monk is also a shoe that looks really good in suede because of its mix between formal and casual.

Bucks

Bucks made their first appearance in the late 1800’s and were intended to be tennis shoes. The originals were made from Brazilian or Chinese deerskin; being made from ‘buckskin’ is where they get their name. Similar to blucher Oxfords, they look kind of like a dress shoe, but they’re made of suede and typically have a brick red sole which was introduced in the 30’s.

They’re sort of like a dressed-down formal shoe, perfect for summer. An old standby among lace-up shoes for summer wear, the white buck comes with a red rubber sole or can be worn in shades of brown, tan or buff.

Trousers Shoes Combination

When it comes to men’s formal shoes, black has traditionally been the go-to shade for most men as it tends to go with everything, and works for most occasions. In recent years, however, we have seen the evolution of bright colours and suede shoes becoming a little more acceptable as an alternative for formal events. The arrival of a plethora of bright coloured and suede shoes has challenged the conventional black leather shoe and opened the door to an abundance of different combinations.

The unwritten rule is that black shoes work with every shade of suit in your wardrobe, hence making it a popular choice. However, pairing your suits with brown, suede or two-toned shoes is certainly on trend at the moment. There are a few different trouser and shoe combinations, and this becomes especially useful when you’re dealing with formal wear. The sometimes tricky suit can be tamed with a number of formal shoes, and you’re fairly open to what colours you’d prefer to use.

Grey Trousers, Black Shoes

This is a timeless combination and one that’s easy to dress, no matter what your shape or size. No matter what grey trousers you go for, be it light or dark, black shoes are going to perfectly compliment them, and give you a clean, elegant look. You can go for a simple, uniformed look with a full grey suit, or keep it more casual with a white oxford shirt paired with dark grey trouser and black shoes.

Brown Shoes, Grey Trousers

This is a slightly less common combination, but one that’s able to add a little more colour and brightness to a grey suit. If you’ve got a light grey pair of trousers and you’re worried that something as dark as black is going to be too strong a contrast then a pair of brown shoes is a great alternative. The rich colour of the brown, no matter what tone you go for, is going to balance out the cool tone of the grey and bring out a warmness to your look.

Blue Trousers Black Shoes

A navy suit is a classic piece, and is easily dressed up with a variety of shoes. Black shoes are just as versatile as the suit itself, and the two blend together perfectly, creating a crisp neat look that’s ideal for formal summer events, where a black suit is going to be a little too heavy. Don’t worry about a light blue suit being too much of a contrast when paired with black shoes, as blue is one of those colours that can blend with a lot of different tones and still hold its own.

Blue Trousers Brown Shoes

If you still feel that the contrast between blue and black is too striking, and you’d rather go for a more subtle look, then brown is a great match with blue and creates a neat, clean blend. Whether you’re going for a classic navy suit, or something a little lighter, you can match your shoes to the right tone, going for a lighter pair of shoes, such as suede loafers, with a light suit, or more striking dark brown brogues with a navy suit. You can also brighten up a dark suit with lighter brown shoes, but it’s best to balance this out with something like a white shirt, so the contrast doesn’t look too stark.

Black Trousers Black Shoes

The classic combination, and one that’s pretty much a fail safe option for formal wear. Black coats and brown shoes go together perfectly, so it makes sense that black trousers will match just as well. Keep things simple with a pair of mat black shoes, or go for some stylish sophistication with some patent or waxed leather lace-ups.

Brown Shoes with Black Jacket

Now, we’d never recommend matching a pair of brown shoes with black trousers. It’s just not a great combination and can make you look disproportionate and create an awkward contrast. Instead, however, it’s good to keep your trousers either in a shade or blue or grey, and, if you’re set on adding some black to your outfit, throw on a black jacket. This is ideal for smart casual outfits, where perfect matches don’t matter as much, as you can easily pair some raw denim jeans with a neat black blazer, and complete the look with some neat brown shoes.

What Colour Shoes with Brown Trousers

When black and grey suits seem too dull, and navy suits too simple, then the less conventional brown suit can become your new best friend. Its light, eye catching look can help ground your outfit, and is a great option for summer occasions. However, along with its positives, brown trousers have a few negatives, and one of them is that they’re a little trickier to match with shoes than their navy and grey cousins. Depending on the tone of brown trousers you’re going for though, there are ways to compliment them with the right shoes.

If you’re going for a light tan brown, clean white trainers will actually help bring out a light balance and complement the warm tone. The best trainers would be ones that are slim fitted, with minimal lacing, to create a neat finish. You could also go for a matching look by pairing your brown trousers with brown shoes. As long as the shoes are a shade darker than your trousers, the look won’t look too similar and will instead add a clean, neat look to your outfit.

Wearing Shoes Without Socks

It’s a debated topic, and one that’s never fully been resolved. For certain shoes like Chelsea boots, there’s really no need not to wear socks, and going sockless can just lead to sweaty feet and an uncomfortable fit. However, for other shoes such a low rise monk shoes and loafers, that little corner of sock can make all the difference between a rocking the formal look and completely missing the mark. The worst shoes for wearing without socks would be anything made from a tough leather, with a binding lace up designs, as this is just encouraging your feet to sweat, so try to keep your feet protected with some good socks for these kind of designs. There are a few ways you can get away with no socks, even in the summer, but it requires a little more planning and care than simply slipping on some comfy loafers.

  • Make sure you never wear the same shoes two days in a row. You’re going to sweat. That’s inevitable, so give your shoes a break in between wear to air out a little.
  • Slip a cedar shoe tree into your shoes after each wear. Not only do shoe trees help keep your footwear in shape, but cedar has useful properties that helps absorb excess moisture, i.e your sweat.
  • Sprinkle a little talc or foot power into your shoes before you put them on. Talcum absorbs sweat, and the baking soda in foot powder helps neutralise any odour

If however the idea of sockless shoes isn’t really up your street, there are handy invisible socks, which will keep your feet and shoes protected, but won’t peek out through the edge of your shoes. Invisible socks can also be referred to as trainer socks, and can be found in most stores for no more than a cup of coffee.

Best English Shoes

There’s a number of places to get a good pair of brogues, but if you’re looking for true English craftsmanship your choices become a little more limited. With so many shoes created in various places around the world, it’s hard to find good formal shoes that are designed and made solely in England. For the best brogues, loafers and boots you need true attention to detail, and British shoes mean quality as well as tradition. So here are some traditional English brands that are still kicking today.

  1. Loake – Founded in 1880 in Northamptionshire, Loake creates beautiful handmade shoes in the same Goodyear welted construction process that they perfected over the years.
  2. Barker – Also founded in 1880, Barker became renowned for their quality shoes, helped created army boots in WW1, and is seen as the ideal brand for sleek, English dress shoes.
  3. Cheaney – Founded in 1886, the Cheaney brand was awarded the Queen’s Award to Industry in 1966, and has continued to design and manufacture quality shoes for over five generations.
  4. George Cleverley – After an extensive 38 years working at a top British shoemakers’ in London, George Cleverley decided to set up his own business, opening up his own shop in Mayfair, London, and quickly gaining acclaim for his high quality products and signature twist on classic designs.
  5. Trickers – Founded in 1829, Trickers originally provided quality footwear for country estate owners and were popular for their hardwearing, sturdy boots. Over time they expanded their collection, creating more elegant designs covered with intricate detailing and with a high quality finish.

Best Men’s Shoes Under £100

Handmade, English brand formal shoes are all well and good, and if you’ve rolling in it there’s no reason not to splash out a grab yourself a few pairs. However, if you missed that promotion, or you just don’t fancy emptying your wallet or a pair of shoes, there are a good range of quality formal shoes that you can get for under £100. Here are the best ones on our site right now.

1. Hudson Piere Suede Tassle Loafer Navy

These soft navy suede loafers are ideal for both formal and casual occasions, and their slim line designs will compliment a number of outfits. The tassels help give them a unique twist and they’d look great paired them with a dark grey suit for a smart look with a casual edge.

2. Hudson Houghton Two Chukka Boot – £89

These sleek brown boots are classic and versatile, and have a clean, simple finish. The rich, high shine leather will perfectly compliment a formal navy suit, as well as more casual jeans and T-shirts outfits.

3. Dr Martens Wingtip Brogue – £99.90

The intricate detailing and high shine leather of these brogue shoes adds an extra boost of elegance and style to the classic design, and the thick, chunky soles means you can easily match it with more casual outfits as well as formal suits.

Further Reading: A History of Formal Shoes

The early 1920s, saw the beginning of dress shoes. During 1920s to the 1950s, all men’s shoes had the same style and colour scheme. Unlike the function for the formal shoes today, laced up formal shoes were the most practical while boots were worn for work, sneakers for sports, sandals in the summer, and loafers for at home.

When it came to colour choices, there were quite limited. The colour palette for formal shoes only ranged from brown, black, white or a two tone combination. With a little knowledge, it’s actually pretty easy to tell what decade a dress shoe belongs to due to its different details. The shape of the toe, thickness of the heel, and decorative details define each era.

World War II affected men’s formal shoe wear terribly because leather was in such short supply for civilians, men’s shoes were very expensive to purchase. A pair of leather Oxford shoes was the same amount as half a family’s ration stamp for an entire month – come to think of it, for a decent pair of shoes these day’s it can very quickly veer up to those prices!

Men’s Formal Shoes

  • Know your essentials: Oxfords, brogues, loafers and monk strap shoes.
  • Chelsea boots are also perfect for formal occasions and give your look a fresh touch.
  • Make sure you get your colour palettes right when combining shoes and suits or trousers.

On That Note

A quality pair of shoes will not only have you looking stylish, but will give you a confidence boost. A pair of shoes can make or break an outfit, as stated previously. It doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing suit in the world, if you have bad shoes.

In every man’s wardrobe, it is important to have a few pairs of reliable formal shoes that will come in use for occasions such as weddings, balls, office, christenings, funerals, job interviews etc. Whether for business or for that hot date, nothing will make you look more successful or sexy then a great pair of shoes.

If you’re struggling to figure out what to wear with a pair of formal shoes, then keep it simple and classic. For beginners, it is important to go for base shades like white, black or grey for your shirt, and then work from there. Team it with a classic suit or a chino for a casual look this season.

Feature image from Pinterest

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