A Guide to Dress Shoes

A crash course in men’s dress shoes.

Dress shoes are staple style which have been a must own in men’s wardrobes for centuries.They are timeless and a good dress shoe can be a wonder of aesthetics. It is a complex topic if you delve deeply into it, with a number of styles and a small library of terminology. Today, we will go through a crash course in dress shoes; covering the anatomy of a shoe, overall styles, toe styles, fastening systems and common materials used.

Anatomy of a Dress Shoe

To better understand the differences between dress shoes, it is important to understand some of the terms referring to different parts of the shoe. Here is an infographic to help you out:

Construction Materials


Sturdy and resilient, leather is the most popular material used to construct a dress shoe. Lasts a long time if well cared for, usually rugged and resistant to weather. There are many different grades and colours of leather, which further popularises it. You can learn how to care for leather shoes with this guide.


A softer, often more casual material; suede is a subcategory of leather but has a noticeably different look and feel. It is much less resilient to the elements and requires more delicate care, which makes it a less versatile and higher maintenance choice of fabric; resulting in it being less popular than leather. They are best as indoor shoes or worn in clean places on days with no rain.

Basic Shoe Types and Characteristics

There are three main types of leather shoe; the Oxford style, Derby style (sometimes also called Blucher) and a loafer style. Some may argue that a monk strap is its own style of shoe, but it is my belief that the monk strap is a fastening system applied to a Derby style shoe rather than being its own style.


The Oxford is known as the standard when it comes to formal dress shoes. You can recognise the difference between an Oxford and a Derby quite simply by looking at the facings and the gap between the laces. At a glance, the Oxford is the one with a closed lacing system; there is no gap between the facings. The other major difference is also present in this area; the Oxford facings are sewn beneath the vamp, which gives the shoe a cleaner silhouette. This is what denotes the Oxford as being the more formal of popular dress shoe types.


Unlike the Oxford, the notable sign of a Derby shoe is an open lacing system; there is a visible gap between the facings where the laces tighten. The facings themselves are also usually sewn on top of the vamp rather than underneath it, giving the Derby a slightly more casual vibe.

What is the difference between a derby and a Blucher?

These two names are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference! The devil’s in the details; the facing of a Derby is an extension of the quarter, while on a Blucher the facings are made by sewing separate pieces of leather on top of the vamp.


Loafers are characterised by the absence of laces; they are a slip on shoe. This naturally makes them a more casual choice, but they are often worn with suits and are prominent in business casual outfits. I will go more in depth on different types of loafers in a future article.

Most Common Toe Types

Cap Toe

The cap toe is named simply for what it is, a toe that is sewn on over the vamp in a cap-like fashion.


The wingtip is a type of toe seen on brogued shoes which resembles a winged shape (like you might draw a simple bird). See the below image for an example.

Common Fastening Systems

The shoe can be fastened traditionally with laces, buckles or slip-on construction.


Laces are the most common, and most traditional method of fastening. They are threaded through a series of eyelets to pull the facings together across the tongue. The number of eyelets on a shoe is usually denoted by counting the pairings of eyelets rather than the total, so a shoe with 5 pairs of eyelets is known as a 5 eyelet shoe. The number of eyelets on dress shoes usually ranges from 2 to 5.

Monk Straps

Monk straps are named after their namesakes; monks! The story goes that European monks traditionally wore sandals, but this was not practical during the winter. So, they adapted the dress shoe and replaced the lacing system with straps; with this the monk strap was born.

The monk strap is technically a Derby style shoe with one facing overlapping the other, as the facing is sewn on top of the vamp. This design detail is my reasoning for categorising the monk strap as a subcategory of Derby shoes rather than being their own style.


Seen pretty much exclusively in loafer shoes, it is as the name says; the shoe simply slips onto your foot without any other form of fastening. This is sometimes done by sewing elastic between the tongue and the quarters, or perhaps just by using somewhat stretchy leather.


Brogues are patterned perforations which – legend has it – were first invented to help the water run off of the shoe easier, in much the same way as tread works for automobile tyres. These days, they are used mostly to liven up the aesthetic appeal of the shoe.

Austerity Brogue

This term is used simply to denote the absence of any broguing. It is not technically a ‘brogue’ since it does not actually contain any broguing.

Half Brogue

This could perhaps be considered the ‘normal’ brogue, as it is the most common. It features a brogue across the toe cap and the lines of the quarters.

Full Brogue

A full brogue is the most flashy type of brogue. This style takes the half brogue and adds artistic extras, which may come in the form of toe broguing or extra patterns added elsewhere on the shoe. The wingtip design is considered a full brogue.

Quick quiz!

Are the above shoes an Oxford or a Derby style? Make sure to look carefully at the lace gap!

That’s that!

Now you are better equipped with some knowledge about dress shoes, and the wealth of information surrounding them. Go forth and explore!

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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