Building a professional wardrobe is an investment in yourself. But beyond the suits and elegant outfits, you need dress shoes. They’re not just for the office, though. Learn more about the different types of dress shoes so that you make smart purchasing decisions and enjoy high-quality shoes that will last for the long term.
Men’s Dress Shoes
Men’s dress shoes range from snappy casual to formal. Most people reserve them for special occasions, elegant events, or professional gatherings. Manufacturers usually make dress shoes for men out of leather. They’re typically black or brown.
Although they come in limited colors, the styles are wide-ranging. Shoes may be streamlined and minimal or ornate and detailed.
There are many types of men’s dress shoes. Can you wear one pair with every dressy outfit? Do you need to purchase different styles for various events? Learn what to look for so that you can make solid purchasing decisions and select shoes that you really need and want.
Do you think that any lace-up dress shoe is an oxford? If you want to use the correct terminology, you need to know that every piece of formal men’s footwear is not an oxford.
Their closed lacing identifies oxfords. The flaps where the eyelets lie are stitched to the outside of the shoe. This enhances the streamlined appearance and is more formal.
There are different types of oxfords. The wholecut oxford is made from a single piece of leather. Simple cap oxfords are pieced together. They have a line that cuts across the toe box, separating the front of the shoe from the lacing and everything that lies behind it.
Semi-brogue oxfords have closed lacing and a cap toe. However, these are more ornate than other types. They have serrated edges and decorative eyelets. These shoes are considered to be some of the most formal today. But they were once used to walk through marshes—the water would escape through the holes in the leather.
Because these are a little less serious, you can get away with wearing them with dark jeans. You can also wear them with suits and blazers and slacks.
Wingtip oxfords are similar to semi-brogues. They’re ornate and have plenty of tiny, decorative cutouts throughout the leather. They also have a cap toe.
What makes them different is that the toe seam has a distinctive “M” shape. It defines the toes like brackets embrace words on a page. You can wear these with some semi-casual looks, such as pressed cotton slacks, dark-wash denim, and wool trousers. Some say that these aren’t suited for, well, suits. However, we think that they look sharp if you have the personality to pull them off.
Any type of oxford is ideal for wearing with:
- Formal suits
- Casual suits
- Wool trousers and a dress shirt and tie
- Pressed, tailored slacks and a dress shirt and tie
Do you want to add some personality to your oxfords? Wear them in an oxblood hue. This dark mahogany tone has hints of red in it and adds character to your wardrobe. Oxblood oxfords aren’t appropriate for black-tie or conservative affairs.
They’re perfect for date night or business meetings, though. They also look excellent with a three-piece suit.
If you need something as classy as possible for a black-tie event, consider going with patent leather oxfords. The high-gloss finish polishes up your style like nothing else.
One of the main distinctions between the derby and the oxford is the way that manufacturer designs the lacing. Derby shoes have open lacing, which means that the eyelet flaps are attached to the shoe’s upper. Because of this, they’re a little less sleek than oxfords. That means that you can wear them with more casual outfits.
Most men wear derbies with suits. However, some experts warn against this. The beauty of this shoe is that it pairs well with less formal fabrics, such as cotton, tweed, linen, and denim.
Be aware that many manufacturers refer to derbies as oxfords. Therefore, few people will notice if you use the two interchangeably.
Semi-brogue derbies are similar to semi-brogue oxfords. The trim at the seams has serrated edges, and perforations add to the decorative appeal. Because these are a busy shoe, they might compete with the slickness of your suit. Wear them with casual styles instead.
Longwing derby shoes look a little bit like wingtip oxfords. However, the wing extends to the back of the shoe, parallel to the ground. On oxfords, it ends at the mid-shoe. These casual shoes are perfect for wearing with linen or seersucker. They’re laid-back and fashionable.
Monk Strap Shoes
As we mentioned before, every men’s dress shoe is not an oxford. Nor is it a derby. Monk shoes have a completely different look. Instead of laces, they utilize a buckle closure. These are usually considered to be less prim than an oxford but more formal than a derby.
These shoes originated when monks needed to find something more durable than sandals for trekking in the mountains. They developed footwear that was similar to the sandal but had closed toes. There were no laces to get in the way, and the monks could walk in any weather without worrying about getting their feet wet.
Today, these are considered dress shoes. You would get strange looks if you used them as hiking footwear.
Single-strap monk shoes have a leather piece that crosses over the front of the foot. They clasp using one buckle on the side. The strap usually sits toward the top of the shoe, near the ankle. These shoes are exceptionally sleek and fashion-forward.
Double-strap monk shoes are a little less streamlined than their single-strap cousins. They look similar but have an extra clasp toward the toe. Some say that these are the classy version of a running shoe with a hook-and-loop closure.
Because they’re a little flashy, these shoes look best in less conservative settings. Wear them to work or a cocktail party. Single-strap monk shoes are considered to be a bit more easygoing than their counterparts. However, you can dress double-strap monk shoes down by leaving one of the buckles unclasped.
These shoes have room for decoration on the top and front because they have no laces. They’re available with lots of ornate details. You can also purchase these shoes in unadorned leather. Either way, they add pizzazz to an otherwise classic outfit, like chinos, a dress shirt, and a navy V-neck sweater.
You can find monk strap shoes in several shades, including chestnut, rich brown, and light tan. Darker colors are ideal for formal occasions. Choose a light tan to wear with jeans and other casual items. Black monk strap shoes are versatile because you can wear them with jeans or more formal slacks.
These shoes come in leather or suede. If you are wearing them outside a lot, leather will last longer.
Even though these shoes cross the line between formal and casual well, you should not wear them with shorts. They are also not dressy enough to pair with a tuxedo.
Do bucks count as dress shoes? These plain suede shoes are versatile because you don’t have to worry about matching them to your belt. Lighter tones make chinos, jeans, and summer suits look sharp. You can wear darker hues into the colder weather.
Loafers are classic and versatile. Because they don’t have laces, you can slip your feet right into them. These are ideal for a business traveler because you can wear them with a variety of outfits.
You shouldn’t wear loafers with shorts. However, you can wear them with sleek jeans, chinos, khakis, and other slacks. Some loafers are more elegant than others. They’re more formal if they don’t have tassels or other decorations on the front.
Women’s Dress Shoes
Women seem to have thousands of choices when it comes to shoes. Like men, the shapes follow a few general models. However, women’s dress shoes come in more colors and patterns than men’s.
Oxfords, brogues, derbies, and monks are available to women too. However, unless you’re wearing them with menswear, these handsome shoes are not considered to be dressy.
Although many people consider stilettos to be the epitome of the feminine shoe, these were initially created for men. Originally, Persian riding boots for men had heels. Later on, aristocratic and military men wore them. When King Louis XIV brought red heels into the court for the women to wear, men weren’t allowed to wear them at the same time.
Stilettos have some of the sharpest heels out of any women’s dress shoe. They’re typically narrow and tall. These may not be the most comfortable types of dress shoes for women, though.
Still, these shoes elongate the leg and create a streamlined look. You can pair them with casual or formal outfits. One rule of thumb, however, is to stick with longer skirts when you’re wearing stilettos to avoid looking trashy.
Kitten heels are delicate shoes with a low, subtle, feminine heel. The heel on this type of shoe is usually between about 1 and 1.5 inches. These were initially marketed as trainer heels for young women. The idea was that people could get used to walking in these before moving on to pumps or stilettos.
While kitten heels were popular from the 1950s through the 1990s, they were considered frumpy and conservative in the 2000s. Now, they’re making a comeback. Many prominent shoe designers make fashionable kitten heels.
These shoes are also practical. They’re more comfortable than tall heels but still elevate your height and elongate your legs.
Some say that the term for this shoe originated from the word “pomp.” This footwear was typically worn by men at public events and ceremonies. The heels enhanced their grandeur, making them appear taller than their counterparts. The shoes became known as pomps, and the word was eventually changed to pump.
Today, pumps are usually defined as women’s shoes with at least a kitten heel. They usually have a low-cut front and no fasteners. You can slip them on easily. These shoes are sleek and minimalist. You can pair them with many types of clothing.
They’re usually made of leather, but they can be made of synthetics or other unique materials. Patent leather is traditional and classic. Sometimes, pumps have a decoration, such as a bow or a braid around the foot opening.
You can wear pumps with short skirts and maintain a classy appearance. You can also opt for pumps when you’re wearing jeans, chinos or other more relaxed outfits.
Mules are some of the most casual dress shoes for women. They were historically worn as slippers or with casual, flowing clothes. They’ve gone in and out of style over the years.
Mules usually have an enclosed front and open heel. The heel height often designates how formal mules are.
You can find mules in almost any fabric. Depending on the material, they can be dressed up or down. Patent leather and satin can make mules more formal. In regular leather or colored suede, these shoes are ideal for the office, brunch or a semi-casual gathering.
For a fancy event, choose a kitten heel. A tall, narrow heel is another excellent option. Many mules have sturdy, chunky heels. While those are perfect for walking around comfortably or attending a casual event, they’re not well-suited for formalwear.
If you’re going to a somewhat formal event in cold weather, you can wear mules with opaque tights. However, the general guideline is that you should avoid wearing this type of shoe with sheer hose.
Flats are also too casual to wear to a dressy event. However, you can wear flat mules for the office.
Women’s Heels With Straps
Some pumps have straps or other types of closures, such as:
- Slingback – These shoes have an open heel and a narrow strap that may be elasticized and wraps around the back.
- Ankle strap – These shoes may have an open or closed heel and a strap with buckle closure that encircles the ankle.
- Mary janes – These shoes have a closed toe and heel as well as a strap that traverses the top of the foot.
- T-strap – These shoes are similar to Mary Janes. However, a vertical strap connects the horizontal strap with the vamp. The horizontal strap may be as high as the ankle or as low as the mid-foot.
Open-Toed Dress Shoes
Open-toed dress shoes are ideal for warm-weather formal events. They range from peep-toe designs, which have a small opening in the front, to sandals. Sandals may have one or more straps that cross over the foot. They usually expose all of your toes.
Sandals are not usually appropriate for formal events unless they have a heel. The material may designate their appropriateness as well. For example, you can wear patent leather sandals with fancy dresses in the summer. Plain leather sandals are better suited for casual wear.
Many women wonder if they should wear tights or pantyhose with open-toed shoes. There is no hard-and-fast rule for this. Some say that you can wear sheer hose as long as they don’t have a seam across the front of the foot. Others recommend that you never wear stockings with open-toed shoes.
Whatever you do, don’t wear stockings or tights with sandals. Those shoes are meant to be worn when the weather is warm. If you need stockings, you should choose a more formal shoe anyway.
Your toes aren’t the only things that can peep out of a shoe. D’Orsay pumps have cutouts on the inside or outside of the mid-foot. In other words, they cover your toes and heel but leave the area at the arch exposed.
These shoes can have any type of heel. They also come in flats.
Like other pumps, the d’Orsay was originally worn by men. It was a French military shoe that accommodated wider feet but provided a snug fit with a V-shaped vamp. Female aristocrats caused controversy when they adopted the style.
The d’Orsay is one of the most classic types of women’s dress shoes. Exposing the instep is sexy and flattering. These shoes can be very formal if they’re made of the right materials and have a heel.
It’s not the most practical shoe, though. As it stretches out, it can slide off of the back of your foot. To counteract that problem, manufacturers usually make the toe box extra snug. If you walk for too long in these shoes, you could get blisters.
There is a lot of crossover between styles in women’s dress shoes. For example, a sandal may also have an ankle strap. A kitten heel may have a peep toe. Men’s dress shoes tend to have less variation.
Should you follow the rules when it comes to wearing the right types of dress shoes for the occasion? It all depends on your style and personality. There is a time for flaunting your fashion. A formal executive event or funeral is not one of them.