Men's dress and formal shoes can be hard to buy because, unlike women's shoes, they simply cannot be matched exactly to the outfit. But if you know what to look for, you can easily select one or two pairs that will go well with the rest of your wardrobe. The good news is that men's wardrobes tend have less variety in color and style. Men's dress clothes are pants and possibly a jacket. Our men's guide to business shoes and formal shoes will help you make the right choices for fancy feet.
The Right Shoe Material
The majority of dress shoes for men are made out of leather. This is because leather material looks the most sophisticated and offers the best combination of flexibility, longevity and exquisite looks. A pair of shoes made out of full grain or top leather is the most durable and achieves the highest shine. Dress shoes of other colors than natural are often made out of "corrected grain leather." This leather is buffed with an artificial grain to cover the natural imperfections in the leather.
Dress shoes are often made of suede, which is a napped leather finish that treated to be softer than top-grain leather. This is a durable material that many more "casual" shoes for work or semi-formal events are made out of. Other leathers used to make casual shoes are pebble grain, which is full-grain leather that has a brail-like pattern to hide imperfections,
Some cheaper dress shoes use ultra-suede, which is a microfiber knockoff of suede. This material is more stain resistant, but is less durable, but is still used in many kinds of shoes that could be considered "casual dress."
Dress Shoe Colors
The color really determines how formal your footwear is. A black shoe is considered more formal than a brown or beige shoe. However, brown shoes work well when you are wearing brown or other neutral clothes. Also, the sleeker the shine or finish on the shoe, the more formal the shoe is considered. And even if it goes against common sense, the less ornate the design of the shoe, the more formal the shoe is considered. In other words, simpler is fancier.
Leather shoes come in a variety of colors. Here are some of the most popular ones, along with what they are best for:
- Basic black business shoes are a good all-around choice for most people.
- Brown can be worn with apparel in various shades of browns and neutrals.
- Chestnut can be worn with any earth tones.
- Burgundy looks good with dark colors and with a variety of grays and muted earth tones.
- Navy blue shoes are a more casual option that works with most suits (except black) and with chinos or khakis.
A highly shined black shoe with little design would be appropriate for a black tie event and a light colored shoe with a design may be appropriate for church or work.
You may want to build your wardrobe with a pair of black dress or work shoes and a pair of brown, especially if you wear neutrals and earth tones. From there you can build with more colors or styles based on your preferences.
So Many Dress Shoe Styles
There are a number of options for formal men's shoes out there. But if you want a good everyday dress shoe you can hardly go wrong with, consider the diverse style of the oxford shoe. The oxford shoe comes in a variety of styles for different work or social situations:
Wingtips, or brogues, are a common type of oxford and looks like a bird spreading its wings. Layers of leather have perforated patterns that outline the details of the shoe. You can also get a half-brogue or quarter-brogue.
Bluchers look like they were sewn together in segments and give an opportunity to show off different color and texture styles.
Balmorals are sleek and streamlined, and in black, can stand in place of the Italian loafer for formality.
Cap toe oxfords are less formal and can be used as a formal shoe when the style is not decorated or as an everyday oxford with decorations.
Saddle oxfords have a saddle-shape of leather. They can be worn in dual dark and light colors by the daring.
Kilties have a tongue with fringed leather. They are often seen as the perfect school shoe as they can be worn easily with most boy's school uniforms.
Other options for men include:
- Derby shoes have open laces and a more robust, rustic look that can also be paired with jeans or khakis.
- Monk strap shoes have a single or double buckle instead of laces, a prominent detail that stands out at semi-formal functions.
- Loafers, or slip-on's, are a more laid-back dress shoe for casual Fridays and look smart during everyday activities.
So What Shoes Should I Wear?
The dress shoe style one chooses and the price one should pay is determined by when and how often you use them. You may consider renting a pair of formal wear shoes for a one-time event such as a wedding, particularly when wearing a tuxedo. This is especially true if the footwear is for a child or teenager, as they will have outgrown the shoes long before they attend another formal event.
This can also be true of "Easter shoes". I have purchased my children's Easter shoes at the children's consignment shop as they will only be worn for a few hours on a holiday. Our church encourages youths to be casual the rest of the year, so they do not get the mileage out of converting their Easter shoes to Sunday shoes. Your Easter shoes can also be passed on to cousins or neighbors who may also only have little use for special-occasion dress shoes.
A good school shoe for boys before they hit the fashion-conscious stage is often a suede running shoe or hiking shoe. They can be treated to be more water-resistant than a leather loafer and generally fair well on the playground. They tend to look nicer in darker colors than plain tennis shoes. Overall, they are a practical compromise between a play and a dress shoe for younger boys.
Most men should invest in two pairs of casual dress shoes for work. Switching your everyday dress shoes will extend the life of both pairs and keep both broken-in and comfortable to wear. It is also better for your feet to alternate shoes and give each pair an "off day." It is also probably safe to have a more expensive "Italian leather" pair of shoes in your closet for unexpected formal events and special dates. Italian loafers are especially timeless in their style and, in a black tone, will do for most formal events.
A little insight and a sense of your own style can help take the fear out of shopping for dress shoes for most men.