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Men's Formal Shoes Guide

This guide aims to break down almost everything you could care to know about men’s formal shoes. Click on the navigation buttons below or simply keep scrolling to get started.


Shoes are simply a piece of clothing that we cannot do without. Hats can be avoided, wristwatches shunned, but shoes are a necessity. However, despite this, many men chose to continue to flaunt fashionable conventions with their footwear choices, and not just via the infamy of socks with sandals.


There’s numerous historical and social reasons for this. Many men simply don’t care about fashion, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s a perception that to be on the cutting-edge of fashion, one must be straddling a thin line in terms of the bank balance as well.


For many men, shoes are an afterthought. However, as this post demonstrates, the same cannot be said for women’s opinions on a man’s footwear. And, as thousands of years of history have taught us, if there’s any one single root cause of male competitiveness, it’s female attention. While men will often notice everything else about a woman before her shoes, women tend to do the opposite. As EliteDaily aptly demonstrate, a woman can infer everything from a man’s occupation, to his sense of well-being, to the size of his… wallet from his shoes.


It’s a disservice to say that the majority of men know nothing about shoes. The dreaded socks and sandals combo is so often mentioned that even the most fashion-illiterate know to avoid it. The same can be said for generally gauging formality; most men know to steer clear of flip flops at weddings and leather brogues on the beach.


For a lot of men, formal shoes are even further down the pecking order of deserved attention than casual shoes; after all, by and large they’re restricted to work wear and the occasional social engagement.


Or at least, that’s the commonly held misconception. A good, tactically chosen pair of formal shoes can break free of social shackles to work in outfits for any number of situations.



The price of men’s formal shoes varies hugely from style to style and brand to brand. As with all things, there are plenty of bargains to be had, and there are some which don’t represent value for money. For example, for those of you on a budget, we recommend avoiding 200-year old Russian Reindeer leather from the bottom of the sea.


There are some general rules that are worth heeding when it comes to price. As you’d expect, the higher the price, the better the shoes will tend to be, although as stated above this can be subject to fluctuations. You can get a sturdy pair of shoes for under £100, and a pair that will last less time for £300.


Make sure to research the brand you’re buying from. A couple of quick searches online will immediately flag up if a brand has a reputation for being particularly good - or bad - value for money. We make sure to vet all of the men’s brands we stock at Cloggs to ensure our customers can be certain they are buying quality.


Think of a formal shoes as an investment, not an ephemeral purchase. After all, the right pair can last you decades, particularly if you aren't wearing them day in, day out for work.


Also worth bearing in mind is the possibility of re-soling. While generally not worth doing with pairs from the lower end of the pricing spectrum, a pair of goodyear welted shoes can have the soles replaced repeatedly, adding years to their lifespan.



You can broadly separate suits into two stylistic widths - slim and regular. Just as it’s a good idea to match your tie width to that of your lapels, you should match your shoes to the fit of your trousers. Broader shoes can look clunky when coupled with skinny or slim fitting trousers, while slim, sharp shoes may look odd when worn with regular fitting trousers. This should be a consideration when looking at choosing which welting style you’d like (see the terminology section below).


Conventionally, black is the go-to colour for formal shoes. However, recent years have seen a complete upheaval of tradition, and it’s now no longer uncommon to see shoes - particularly those made from suede - in bright colours. While these more eye-catching shades still haven’t quite become acceptable in formal settings, their arrival has challenged the black leather monopoly and allowed brown shoes a foot in the door to the formal party.


As a general rule, black shoes tend to work with every shade of suit but for brown. However, brown shoes are certainly in vogue at the minute, and can help tone down an outfit, as well as working with more casual trousers, such as jeans or dark chinos. They tend to work best with navy, light grey or brown suits.


One tip to help pull your outfit together is synchronising your shoes with your belt. If wearing loafers or monk strap brogues, it’s generally a good idea to match the buckles on the shoe with the ones on your belt and cufflinks.


Match socks to your suit colour, not your shoes (unless you’re going for the contrast sock look, in which case match them to a secondary part of the outfit, such as tie, cufflinks or pocket square).


Unless you’re cultivating a particular look or style, try to stick to middle of the road shapes, avoiding square or extremely pointy toe boxes.


Buy for your lifestyle as well as your style. Only wear formal shoes once in a blue moon? You can spend less than someone who wears them day in, day out. Will you be wearing them outdoors frequently? Consider buying a pair with a commando sole (see terminology section below).


When it comes to trying to gauge the formality of a particular pair of shoes, it can be tricky to combine the shoe's various elements to create an overall idea of where they'd work best. With that in mind, we created the following infographic, which should help you get an overall impression:

men's shoe formality calculator infographic

You can read more about this graphic here.


As with all types of shoes, using caring products could prolong the lifetime of your shoes. Keeping your shoes looking good doesn’t have to be a time-consuming ordeal. With leather shoes, you can follow this quick ritual every week or so and add years onto their lifespan in the process:


  • Dust off any excess dirt and mud from the shoes
  • Apply a small amount of leather cleaner and/or wax polish, depending on what the shoe needs at the time
  • Spread over the entirety of the upper with a cloth
  • Allow to dry away from direct sunlight or other heat sources

If you notice your shoes beginning to look quite dry, there are various leather conditioning products which rehydrate the leather. Similarly, if you notice your shoes losing their water-repellant properties, an application of a leather protecting product will restore them.


With nubuck or suede shoes, make sure to only use products specifically designed for them. Many leather products can stain the nap of nubuck or suede shoes.


If you’re wearing dress shoes every day for work, it’s not a bad idea to have two pairs in rotation, with a rest day for each pair in between. This not only reduces the amount they’re worn, but helps give the leather time to regain its shape.


Speaking of the shoe’s shape, it’s highly recommended that - particularly with shoes with a higher price point - you invest in a shoe tree which fits inside the shoe. These will also help maintain the leather’s shape and integrity, and wooden shoe trees will also help absorb any excess moisture from the shoe.



There’s no major differences between the fit of formal dress shoes and that of any other type of footwear. The best fit will leave you with some wiggle room for your toes (around half an inch between the big toe and the end of the toe box) and will be snug around the sides of the foot and the heel without being too tight. Don't be too concerned if your dress shoes are longer than your trainers or casual shoes - the elongated toes frequently have this effect. As long as you're not tripping over them, it's not an issue.


To get the best impression of how a pair fit, try them in the evening rather than the morning. Feet naturally swell throughout the day, often to the extent where there's an entire size difference, so if they're tight in the morning, they could well be too tight by the end of the day.


Wear the same socks when first trying shoes that you would if you owned them. With dress shoes, you're likely to be wearing quite thin socks, so there's no point trying them on in thick sports socks.


Like all shoes, formal shoes may take a bit of getting used to and some time to break in. Particularly with leather shoes, you can expect a small amount of extra give as the leather softens and moulds to the shape of your foot over time. However, bear in mind that this transition will be fairly minimal. If shoes are rubbing a lot, or they're clearly too big or too small, don't attempt to break them in.


Finally, don’t forget that we operate a free, no-hassle return policy on all our stock, so there’s no risk of you getting stuck with an ill-fitting pair of shoes should you find a pair don’t fit as they should.



Brogue - The all-encompassing term for the vast majority of men’s formal shoes, brogues have historically been characterised by the decorative perforations that adorn their uppers (known as "broguing") their construction from multiple pieces of leather and their use in formal situations. Brogues come in different closure and toe cap style combinations (so for example, you can have Oxford wingtip brogues), which are explained below:



Oxford - Possibly the most common brogue substyle, the Oxford features a closed lace style, which means that the gap between the two sets of eyelets is fixed due to the vamp overlapping the quarters (more on all of these terms below). Oxfords offer a simple, classic style that is typically uncomplicated by unusual construction elements, although the design can vary significantly. They’re the ideal style for very formal situations, although their formality depends greatly on their toe cap.

Sweeney London Fellbeck

Derby - Competing with the Oxford for the title of most common style of brogue (although perhaps just losing out) is the Derby. The major differentiating factor between the two is the Derby has an open laced structure, meaning the quarters overlap the vamp, creating tabs on which the eyelets are positioned. This design gives manufacturers slightly more leeway for creative constructions, but Derby brogues can also be extremely simple.

Peter Werth Graham Derby

Blucher - Generally featuring an open laced construction, "Blucher" as a phrase is often used interchangeably with Derby shoes. The one major differentiation between the two styles is that, while the quarters overlap the vamp to form the eye stays on a Derby, on a blucher the stays are made from smaller pieces of material attached directly to the vamp, giving the shoes a plainer appearance.

Ted Baker Leam

Loafer - A moccasin construction rather than a brogue, loafers are slip-ons that are often made from leather. They can be worn in both formal and smart-casual situations, depending on the individual design. Their appropriateness in formal situations and their popularity has ebbed and flowed over several decades, but with the gradual deregulation of what constitutes "formal", they could well be here to stay this time.

Peter Werth Grint

Monk strap - Technically a loafer, the monk strap (or just monk) doesn’t feature laces, instead using either a single or double buckle strap across the top of the upper to fasten. Generally, the monk strap is equidistant between the Derby and the Oxford in terms of formality, and is extremely striking due to its relative rarity compared to the two main brogue types.

Peter Werth Brayfield

Whole cut - The most formal style of men's dress shoe, a whole cut features an upper constructed entirely from a single piece of leather, without a distinctive vamp or quarters. The lack of decorative features tends to make these only appropriate for black tie occasions. Due to their design, whole cuts feature the same closed lace design found on Oxfords.

Oliver Sweeney Gio

Toe caps - The area at the front of the shoe, on top of the toe box. The most common variations are:


Wingtip - One of the most common types of toe cap, the wingtip (also known as the full brogue due to its popularity) is the famous W shaped detailing on the front of the shoe. The toe cap extends roughly a third of the way toward the back of the shoe before meeting the sole.


Semi-brogue - Perfect for those looking for a shoe with a bit of character while not wanting to go all out with a wingtip, the semi-brogue (or half brogue) feature a straight toe cap which cuts directly across the shoe, and has some broguing (see the below section on “Design” terminology).


Quarter brogue - Identical to the semi-brogue, but with no broguing on the center of the toe cap. They may still have broguing around the edge to differentiate the cap from the rest of the vamp. Like the semi-brogue compared to the wingtip, the quarter brogue still has some decorative features, but is designed for someone looking for a more formal option.


Longwing - Confusingly also known as American brogues in the UK and English brogues in the US. Fairly unusual nowadays, the Longwing brogues tend to be Bluchers and feature a pointed toe cap which then extends the full length of the shoe.


Plain toe - Used to describe both bluchers and brogues, plain toe refers to shoes with no toe cap whatsoever.



Manufacturing

Last - Refers to both the model on which a shoe’s shape is based, and the shape of the shoe itself.


Welting - Welting refers a piece of material used in connecting the upper, but is also often used in reference to the method which is used to attach the sole to the upper of the shoe. More often than not, when someone refers to just “welting”, they mean the most common style, also known as blake construction, where the leather is curved under the insole and stitched on the inside of the shoe. This makes the shoes narrower than the below style.


Goodyear welting - The other main style of welting used in modern shoes, the key distinguishing feature of goodyear welting is that two stitches are used to anchor the upper to the sole, and the stitching runs along the outside of the shoe. Because of this external welt, goodyear welted shoes tend to be slightly broader. On the plus side, they tend to be very effective at keeping water out and can be easily re-soled.


Cementing - Also referred to simply as gluing, cementing circumvents the need for advanced stitching machines or hand-stitching by attaching the upper to the sole with an industrial strength adhesive. On the plus side, this significantly lowers the cost of the shoes, and is much more effective on rubber soles. However, it’s rarely as durable as welting, and makes re-soling extremely difficult.


Vamp - The vamp is the part of the shoe’s upper toward the front, and includes the toe cap. The vamp frequently showcases the shoe's most elaborate broguing.


Quarters - The quarters make up the back of the shoe, which then go around either side of the foot to meet the vamp, normally around the midfoot. They tend to be sewn together at the heel.


Leather sole - The most commonly used style of sole in premium formal shoes for the sole.


Commando sole - Occasionally, formal shoes are fitted with a rubber sole with a lug pattern for added grip. This is referred to as a commando sole.


Rubber sole - A standard flat rubber sole intended to imitate the classic leather sole, they can offer more traction than their leather equivalent.


Design

Closed lace - The opening style used in Oxford and Balmoral brogues, closed laces are where the vamp is sewn upon the uppers, with the shoe’s tongue a separate piece of leather.


Open lace - With this opening style, the quarters are sewn on top of the vamp, which also encompasses the tongue. Their name stems from the fact that the eyelets are placed on flaps which can be pulled apart. The distinguishing feature of Derby brogues and bluchers.


Toe cap - The distinct area at the front of the shoe, which can be distinguished by elaborate broguing or a simple stitch detailing, depending on the style of brogue.


Broguing - The technical name for the decorative markings on the leather upper of formal shoes, typically made with perforations or elaborate stitching.


Leathers

Patent - Leather which has been given a glossy finish, and is usually covered with a plastic film for added durability. Patent leather shoes - particularly in black - tend to be best saved for extremely formal situations. However, as previously mentioned, the gradual erosion of traditional boundaries has meant that some patent leather shoes can be worn with a multitude of outfits.

Patent leather

Pebble-grain - As the name suggests, pebble-grain leather features thousands of tiny bumps for a distinctive yet subtle effect. Pebble-grain tends to be reserved for more casual shoes, particularly Derbys, in-keeping with the tradition of using patent leather in extremely formal shoes. However, due to its subtlety it can be found on certain smarter shoes too.

Pebble grain leather

Full-grain - Full-grain leather is completely untreated, meaning it retains all the durability of the original hide. It also means that any natural imperfections or blemishes are left untouched. Full-grain is generally one of the most expensive types of leather due to the need to find leather which is free from any serious marks, and is thus used on high-end ranges.

Full grain leather

Top-grain - Possibly the most common type of leather used in men’s shoes, top-grain is leather which has been sanded in order to remove imperfections that make the leather ineligible to be used as full grain. As the top-grain leather is slightly lower quality than full-grain leather and lacks the same durability, it tends to be used across a huge range of shoes and price points, but still looks great thanks to the sanding process.

Top grain leather

Suede - Unlike regular leathers, suede is made from the underside of the hide, and possesses a soft, velvet-like finish. It is not waterproof unless treated with a protective substance. It is also less abrasion resistant than conventional leathers. Traditionally unusual in formal shoes, it has become popular of late thanks to the increase in brightly coloured brogues and loafers.

Suede leather

Nubuck - Nubuck is leather which has been treated in a similar manner to suede, but on the upperside of the hide. Nubuck is advantageous over suede in the sense that it is more durable and hardwearing, having been made from the exposed side of the skin. However, it still lacks the abrasion resistance of conventionally-treated leathers. Rare in men’s formal shoes.

Nubuck leather

Over the last few months, we’ve worked tirelessly to put together an unbeatable selection of men’s formal shoes. We’ve aimed to give even coverage to an expansive range of price points, styles, leather types, and just about everything else in between. Formal shoes can be bought from the following Cloggs’ brands:

Barker logo
Barker

Barker fall in the medium-high end of the price points we offer at Cloggs, and offer a terrific range of both brogues and loafers. While they do have some classic, understated designs, their most prominent lines are elaborately-brogued, two-tone Derbys, perfect for anyone wishing to stand out from the crowd. They also offer suede brogues and shoe care products.

Clarks logo
Clarks

Clarks specialise in classic, simple designs, particularly Derbys and loafers. Their shoes fall at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of price, making them perfect for testing the waters in terms of styles. With almost 200 years of shoe making heritage, you can rest assured that you're buying quality when you buy Clarks.

Cheaney logo
Cheaney

Coming in at the higher end of the prices Cloggs offer, Cheaney are world-renowned for their superb quality. We offer classic Oxfords and Derbys with a range of toe caps. Cheaney have proudly made shoes since 1886, and one look at a pair will tell you that the expertise has been put to good use.

Loake logo
Loake

Crafting boots as well as a range of predominantly Derbys, Loakes are ideal for anyone looking for dress shoes that will see just as much casual action as they will formal. They range between a medium to high price point. Loake boast a Royal Warrant of Appointment to HM The Queen, so their quality and style cannot be questioned.

Oliver Sweeney logo
Oliver Sweeney

With price points around the middle of the spectrum, Oliver Sweeney (not to be confused with Sweeney London) offer a fantastic range of largely goodyear welted boots and shoes, many of which feature either commando or Viberg soles for extra grip. They tend to use only wingtip or plain toe toe caps in their designs, making it easy to differentiate the relaxed and the formal.

Barker logo
Peter Werth

Priced slightly higher than Clarks on average, Peter Werth offer a terrific range of highly durable, often goodyear welted Derbys and monk straps. Werth are possibly the most adventurous brand on this list, thanks to their frequently elaborate broguing and their adventurous use of materials and tones.

Sweeney London logo
Sweeney London

Falling in the lower portion of our medium price points, Sweeney London are ideal for anyone with a relatively firm idea of what they’re looking for. They make a mixture of loafers, Oxfords and Derbys, as well as boots, all of which are unified by their relatively sharp features, which make them perfect for the modern trend of slim suits.

Ted Baker

Priced similarly to Sweeney London, Ted Baker require very little introduction. Their range covers all the bases in terms of styles, construction and formality, so there’s something for everyone. The one unifying factor is the small flash of blue which is present on just about every pair of Ted Baker's men's shoes.

Remember to make the most of our award winning customer service qualities and enjoy zero-hassle shopping at Cloggs. We offer fast UK delivery and free returns!



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