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Head to Toe: Footwear Styles for Men

You’ve got the suit, but to make your look really pop, you need to be sure your footwear matches the statement you’re trying to make. The shoes you wear can make or break a look; that’s why it’s so important to select the right footwear for it. We’re going to talk about different styles of footwear, and what looks they most complement.

Loafers: Penny, Bit, and Tassel

Loafers are among the more casual shoes on this list. They do not have any sort of lacing or fastening system; instead, they are designed to be slipped on. Thus, they are not quite suited for evening wear. There are a wide variety of loafer styles, including the penny, the bit, and the tassel.

Penny loafers rose to prominence in the 1950s, and are named for the strap of leather that runs across the forefoot, leaving a small diamond cut-out that has just enough room for a penny. In the early days of their use, many men did in fact keep a penny in that slot. One theory as to why they might have done this is because one or two pennies was all that was required to make a call in a phone-booth.

Tassel loafers are a bit flashier; they have more decorative lacing across the top, as well as a pair of tassels. To leave room for the tassels, these loafers typically have lower vamps – the vamp is the piece of leather that covers the main body of your foot (the space between the toe and the ankle). A low vamp ends closer to the toe, a high vamp ends closer to the middle of the foot, back towards the ankle. Shoes with low vamps have typically been considered to be for those of us who are up there in years, but a man of any age can rock them; just promise to avoid wearing them with full business suits. You can get away with darker denim or mismatched suit combos.

Bit loafers, originally developed by Gucci – which is why they are sometimes called Gucci loafers – have a bar of metal that runs over the top of the shoe. They were put on the market to strike a balance between comfort and style, allowing for men to wear laid-back loafers to dressier events. If you tend to dress on the more conservative side, you may want to forgo bit loafers when wearing your finest suits, but you can wear them with dark denim or odd suit and trouser combos. If you want to make a statement, however, wear them to business meetings and the like. As a general rule, though, they are not suited for tuxedos or black-tie events.

Derby/Blucher

Derbies – or Bluchers, if you prefer – are lace-up shoes, typically lower-cut. They have an open-throat lacing system. The lacing system on a shoe depends on two elements: the vamp, which we mentioned above, and the quarters. Whereas the vamp is the piece of leather that sits over the middle portion of the top of the foot, the quarters are the two sides of leather that wrap around the heel and meet at the front of the ankle, where the eyelets are placed on either side.

Open-throat lacing means that the quarters are sewn on top of the vamp, leaving the edges of the quarters exposed. Closed-throat lacing, which is found on Oxfords (which we will explore next), means that the quarters are stitched under the vamp, so the edge is not exposed.
Because of the give and stretch provided by having the edge of the quarters exposed, Derbies are great for guys with feet that are on the larger side. As a result, however, they are a bit bulkier, not as streamlined, so the open-throat lacing is better suited to more casual looks.

Oxfords

Oxfords are widely-regarded as the quintessential business shoe. They are similar in construction to a Derby shoe, in that they are lower-cut and lace up, but the key difference is that Oxfords have a closed-throat lacing system. They tend to look a bit neater, more streamlined, which is why they are so well-suited to business looks. They go best with matching suits and evening wear. They do, however, have a less forgiving fit, due to the lack of give that comes with the closed-throat lacing. Despite that, the Oxfords are the most essential dress shoe to have in your wardrobe.

Monkstraps: Single and Double

Monkstraps, by definition, are any shoe that uses a buckle closure, rather than laces. They come in a variety of styles, but the core concept remains the same. They are definitely on the flashier side, and less formal than a closed-throat lacing system, but they can be dressed up if done properly. You could wear a pair of black patent leather Monkstraps with your suit, but any other color or material is better suited to a mismatched suit combo or darker denim. The Double-Monkstrap, then, is a Monkstrap shoe that has two buckles instead of one. It is a more contemporary look, and dare we say, more daring? Some of the more conservative among us say it’s too flashy, but if you’re all about edge and setting yourself apart, the double monkstrap may be the perfect fit for you. When considering their formality, the general consensus is that the more ornamentation a shoe has, the less formal it is. As such, most consider the single to be a touch more formal than the double. It’s typically not advised to wear them to a black-tie event, or with a tuxedo, but it all depends on your level of daring and the message you want to send with your look.

Brogues

Any shoe that has decorative perforations in the leather is considered a Brogue. Despite the rule that more ornamentation means less formality, Brogues are generally considered to be more formal than Derbies, but are definitely less formal than an Oxford. They seem to occupy the sweet-spot between the two. There are a few different aesthetic elements of brogues: perforations, pinking, and medallions. Perforations are holes that have been punched in the shoe leather in a decorative pattern. Pinking is a decorative edge created by pinking shears, that results in the edge looking like a series of triangles. Medallions are similar to perforations, in that they are holes that have been punched in a decorative pattern, but medallions are limited to the toe of a shoe. Brogues, as a style, also include Wingtips, in which a perforation is cut into the vamp in a shape of birdwings. A variation on Wingtips is Longwings, where the ‘wings’ stretch all the way around the collar of the shoe. Brogues are some of the showiest styles of business footwear available to men. They identify you as someone who thinks outside the box, someone who has a flair for the flashy. They can be worn with simple suits, but there aren’t many circumstances in which it is appropriate to wear them with a tuxedo, as the ornamentation takes away from the streamlined and neat appearance of a tuxedo.

There’s a Shoe for Every Look

We’ve discussed a number of popular footwear styles in the article, but the honest truth is that there are so many more styles out there. The shoes we selected to highlight today were picked because they are typically the most commonly worn with suits, and are essential to have in your closet for all the different events you dress up for. One thing is certain: just like suits, there is no one style that is appropriate for every occasion you may find yourself at, so we’ve gone over these to allow you to build a basic footwear collection to complement a wide variety of suit styles and events. After all, a look isn’t complete when you put on a suit. It’s complete when you dress yourself up head-to-toe.
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ABOUT

Cait Lambert

Cait Lambert is a barber and freelance writer. In addition to her work in men’s grooming and lifestyle, she has also written numerous fiction pieces: two screenplays and a YA novel. She lives in San Diego, CA, with her dog, Toni. Follow her on Twitter - @caitwrites

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