Men’s formal shoes come in different variations. While some are a bit casual, others are entirely formal.
Here, we have carefully listed and defined every type and styles of men’s formal dress shoes to help you understand what they are and how to use them.
An Oxford shoe is one with a closed lacing system. The ‘facing’ (the leather eyelet tab) is sewn under the vamp.
The vamp of a shoe is the center part of the shoe’s upper that covers the top of the foot and appears at the front.
Oxford shoe is one of the most popular styles of dress shoes known. And in the category of formal lace-up shoes, there are just Oxford and Derby.
This style of shoe was first seen in Scotland and Ireland. In 1800, it gained popularity at Oxford University.
They are cut smaller than the foot hence it may not be a good option for someone with wide feet. Nevertheless, with its closed lacing, it leaves a sleek appearance.
With this, some people say comfortably that Oxfords are the most formal dress shoes.
Oxford shoes are also known as Balmoral (after the Balmoral Castle in Scotland).
Derby shoes are yet another type of dress shoes that should not only grace your wardrobe but hug your feet.
Unlike Oxford, Derby has an open lacing system. Here, the leather eyelet panel is sewn over the vamp. This creates a sort of distinct wings of leather placed sideways, and a tongue of leather in-between.
This style was first seen in the 1850s and was initially used as sporting and hunting boots. Today, you can rock a shoe styled in this form for formal occasions.
In America, Derby shoes are sometimes referred to as ‘Blucher’. But technically, a blucher is different.
It is a shoe style in which only the eyelet tab is the only part sewn over a one-piece vamp.
On the series of formal shoes, Derby follows Oxford. However, it is a bit casual and can wear Derby shoes on a suit, jeans, and even chinos.
The contemporary Brogue shoes are those ones with decorative perforations on them. These perforations are also known as “broguing”. A brogue can either be an Oxford or Derby, depending on the lacing system employed.
This style of shoe originated in Ireland and Scotland. Moreover, the name ‘Brogue’ is from the Gaelic bróg which means ‘leg covering’ or simply, shoe.
In its early days, this style of the shoe came with sturdy leather for safety, and actual perforations to drain water off the feet of users, (usually men) in wet terrain.
Therefore, it was inappropriate to wear them to formal or social occasions. But as modernisation and modifications came, doors opened for distinctive styling and unique personalities given by this shoe.
Although it is very formal like plain a Derby or Oxford, you can still wear them to formal events and look smart.
4. Monk Strap
A Monk Strap is a type of formal shoe without a lace-up system but secured on the feet by one or more buckles and straps. However, it is a dashing alternative to Oxford and Derby shoes.
On the scale of formality, the Monk Strap shoe lies somewhere between Oxford and Derby. The shoe can come as a single strap, double or triple straps.
Those with three straps might appear crowded and one with a single strap may be undermined. Therefore, a double strap can give you a balanced feature of the style.
Monk Straps originated in the 15th century among the European monks, hence the name. They invented the shoe as an alternative to sandals; to cover their feet but still retain the feature of the monk’s sandals.
The style has evolved and now, we can use them as both formal and informal/casual shoes.
Loafers are those lace-less shoes designed as a slip-on. As such, you can easily wear or remove them.
If you are that man who loves to look dressy and smart but do not have all the time to lace a shoe, or strap your legs with buckles, then getting a loafer would be the best option.
Most types of loafers are low cut and expose the ankle. Some also come in a fashionable way, while some retain a formal look. The classic loafers for formal occasions include penny loafers, Tassels, or even Gucci.
However, you can enjoy a formal spree in it as it can go with different kinds of dress, but not shorts (of course that’s casual already).
Alas! A loafer is not Mocassin although they may have some similarities.
A loafer has a heel, and its upper does not have any detail. Usually, a piece of leather called Saddle is crossed on the upper. Moccasins do not have saddle.
Furthermore, there is no clear history of loafers. As a matter of fact, there has been a clash in the history of loafers. While some believe it started in 1926 in the royal house of England with King George VI, some say it started with the 1800s Scandinavia.
But one thing is sure: loafers came in some time ago. We are sure about that.
Chukka boots are ankle-high shoes made with an upper material of either suede or calfskin. These shoes also feature either a rubber or a leather sole. Just like Derby, Chukka boots have the open lacing system with a pair of two or three eyelets.
While it remains one of those types of formal shoes you should have in your wardrobe, the leather Chukkas appear more casual than their suede counterparts. So, make your choice based on how you hope to use it.
This type of shoe was first worn as desert boots by the British soldiers during World War 2. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Chukka remained a casual shoe. In the 21st century, the case is not the same.
7. Chelsea Boots
As Chukka, a Chelsea Boot is ankle-high and a close-fitting boot. It is characterized by an elastic side panel with a fabric or leather pull tab behind; features that allow for easy wearing. Some variations, however, make use of zip closure instead of the conventional elasticated gusset.
This comfortable and sleek footwear can go with a suit, jacket on jeans (for casual), or shirt on chinos.
J. Spark-Hall, the shoemaker of Queen Victoria is credited to have designed this boot. Then, the Queen wore it around. It was also used by others, both men and women for horse riding and walking.
Today, the shoe has moved from being just a casual shoe to a men’s formal dress shoe. In the UK, Chelsea boot is also known as Dealer boot.
Design attributes of men’s formal shoes
Having explored the different types of dress shoes available, we can now comfortably look at different kinds of details or designs these shoes can come with.
Wingtip shoes are those with embroidery shaped like a wing ( as M or W, depending on how you’re viewing the shoe). Mostly, they come as Brogue.
The design stretches from the toe cap to the side of the shoe. Although they are less dressy than the likes of Oxford and Derby, you’re permitted to flex them in business environments.
Some shoes, mostly Derby are coated with an extra layer of leather in the toe box area. Shoes with this kind of design are called Cap Toe. This attribute makes them more versatile and suitable in a formal setting.
Plain toe shoes do not come with brogues nor cap toe. They are simple, sleek, and very formal. Derby, Oxford, or boots with this design are the most appropriate dress shoes for the office.
Shoes with decorative perforations only on the toe cap are referred to as semi-brogue. They do not feature the wingtip design but come only as cap toe Derby or Oxford.
Quarter brogue shoes do not have their decorative perforations on the center on the toe cap. Rather, they appear close to the point the vamp joins the top cap and/or vamp joins the lace eyelet tab.
A full brogue is rather a combination of semi brogue and the wingtip design. Perforations appear on the center of the toe cap and along the wing running along the side of the shoe.
This design is closest to a full brogue. But here, the brogue runs along the entire shoe and doesn’t stop halfway as in the former. Basically, this type of shoe is not intended for casual events.
A shoe made with a single piece of leather, without major joinery is referred to as a whole cut. They appear neat, sleek, and are mostly plain toe. Stepping into a Whole Cut Oxford pair of shoes for a formal occasion may be a dream come through.
With regard to shoes, a tassel is a bell-shaped bunch of leather pieces held together at one end. They are usually attached to a loafer. While some people consider it an unnecessary add-on, it can give a classic to a slip-on designed shoe.
A Kiltie shoe is one that has a plate of fringed leather attached to its vamp. This decorative piece can be attached to loafers, boots, and any kind of shoe.
Which formal shoes are best?
With the descriptions above, I can say that the best type of formal shoe you can have is Oxford. It will be a near-perfect shoe if it is a black Whole Cut Oxford.
Monk Straps follow, then Derby, boots, and loafers on the series of most formal dress shoes.
Can I wear a loafer for a wedding?
Yes, you can, especially without socks. But you should be choosy with the type of dress you wear with it. Well-fitted ankle-length chinos can be a casual option to take.
Can I wear a loafer with a suit?
Yes, loafers go well with a suit. Their sleek appearance and the exposed ankle makes you look gentle, yet trendy or stylish.
What is the difference between casual and formal shoes?
A casual shoe is one that you can comfortably wear all day alongside any outfit of your choice. On the other hand, formal shoes aren’t regular shoes per se, but those you can wear to your office, or formal occasions and events to give you a smart look.
Can you wear brogues on jeans?
Brogues tilt more toward the casual shoe category. However, you can comfortably wear them with straight leg jeans, slim-fit jeans, or skinny fit jeans.
Why are formal shoes so uncomfortable?
Well, some dress shoes could be uncomfortable due to its material and design. These shoes are made with leather, and sometimes a rubber sole and a flat leather insole, unlike sneakers which have EVA midsole and foam cushioning.
You can improve the comfort of your shoe by replacing the insole; maybe, buy a more foamy one.
What is the best formal shoe brands?
There are many high-quality shoe brands in the world today. It is challenging or rather unjust to mention one as the best.
However, we have review the top 10 dress shoe brands in one of our post. Some of them include Edward Green, Hermès, Allen Edmonds, Cole Haan and so on.
The Bottom Line
In summary, men’s dress shoe styles are oxford, derby, loafer, chukka boot, chelsea boot, and monk strap.
Aside from the formal boots, other styles above can be a brogue. Generally, the brogue feature reduces how formal a dress shoe is.
So, plain toe, cap toe, and whole cut oxfords are the most formal kinds of dress shoes. Go ahead and enjoy the styles.