The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Formal Shoes

Dressing for formal occasions or even for the office requires a good pair of men’s dress shoes. But what should you choose? Are you familiar with men’s dress shoe rules and etiquette? Our men’s formal shoes guide is here to help.

Understand the types of dress shoe available for gents, how they fit, how to wear them and care for them. You’ll be an expert in men’s formal shoes in no time.

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Types of Men’s Dress Shoes

Before selecting your perfect pair, it’s useful to understand the different men’s dress shoe styles available. Once you can narrow down the men’s formal shoe types that work for you, choosing some will be much easier.

Here’s a run through the top men’s dress shoe names and descriptions:

Oxford:

Perhaps the classic men’s dress shoe, the Oxford dates back to the 1800s when it was popular with university students in the city. It is a smart men’s shoe recognisable by its closed lacing. This is a term that means the seam that runs below the laces is sewn to the front part of the shoe. This gives a very neat and tidy look, ideal for looking smart.

Derby:

The Derby is thought to be a later development of the classic Oxford. The main difference is the open lacing, which means the seam below the lacing is not stitched to the front of the shoe. This allows the foot to move more and particularly suits those with a high instep.

Brogue:

You’ll recognise the men’s brogue by the decorative perforations on the shoe.

Loafer:

Men’s loafers are slip-on shoes that can be used to create a casual or a formal look. If you opt for loafers as dress shoes, try to pick a leather option with a dark, slimline sole. Chunky, light coloured soles and uppers in materials like suede can make loafers appear quite casual and wouldn’t wash in a business or formal setting!

Now you know the different kinds of men’s dress shoes available, you can choose which style is right for you.

Dress Shoes Toe Styles

Here are the main types of toe style for men’s formal shoes:

Plain Toes:

As simple as it sounds, some men’s dress shoes have a toe with no detailing. This gives a clean and elegant look.

Cap Toes:

Shoes with a cap toe have an extra layer of leather across the toe. The cap goes straight across the toe and may be simple or embellished.

Wingtips:

Just like a cap toe shoe but the cap has an ‘M’ shape that looks a bit like wings.

Hopefully our classic men’s dress shoes guide now has you clued up on the different types of shoe available.

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How to Wear Men’s Formal Shoes

When you need to look smart, it’s important to consider how to wear men’s dress shoes as part of your overall outfit. There are a few style rules you should follow to get it right.

Men’s Dress Shoes for Suits: if you’re in formal attire you need the shoes to match. The good news is, any of the formal shoes we’ve already discussed are suitable to wear with a suit. Your main consideration should be which colour of shoes to pair with your suit. Here are some general guidelines:

Black Suit:

Black Dress Shoes

Navy Suit:

Brown Dress Shoes

Grey Suit:

Black Dress Shoes

Light Grey Suit:

Black or Brown Dress Shoes

Men’s Dress Shoes with Jeans: when you’re trying to create a smart/casual look you might be wondering how to wear men’s dress shoes with jeans. There are a few simple rules to make sure you get it right:

  • Start with a smart pair of jeans that fit well and have a regular or slim cut. Choose a plain dark navy or black pair.
  • Select dress shoes that are slightly more casual, for example a loafer or a Derby rather than an Oxford.
  • Team with a shirt to balance the look.

Read our guide on what men’s shoes to pair with jeans

Aside from the outfit itself, you should also think about the season when choosing your formal shoes. The same rules apply all year round; however, you might prefer to make a few adjustments when wearing dress shoes in certain weather. Oxfords and Derby shoes work well as men’s dress shoes for the winter, but if the weather gets cold you might choose to opt for men’s Chelsea boots instead. When it comes to men’s dress shoes for the summer, loafers are the best choice for helping your feet stay slightly cooler.

Should Men’s Dress Shoes Have Laces?

Many of the traditional formal men’s shoes like Oxfords and Derbies have laces. Lace-up shoes do tend to look better with a suit than slip-ons, but dress shoes don’t categorically have to be laced. You could opt for a smart loafer or monk strap shoe if you prefer.

If you do choose a dress shoe with laces, then next thing to consider is what lace length is needed. This is particularly useful if you need to replace shoelaces. There’s no simple answer to the question ‘how long are men’s dress shoe laces?’ You’ll need to look at the type of formal shoe in question and consider the number of eyelets it has. Here’s a rough guide on what to go for:

Number of Eyelet Pairs Length of Shoelace
1 21 Inches
2 24 Inches
3 27 Inches
4 30 Inches
5 40 Inches
6 45 Inches
7 54 Inches

For the ultimate smart appearance, you’ll also want to consider how to lace men’s dress shoes. Oxfords traditionally have straight lacing which is also known as bar lacing. It’s best to stick to this lacing style to keep your look on point.

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How Are Men’s Dress Shoes Supposed to Fit?

Now we’ve covered the men’s dress shoes essentials, you’re ready to choose your shoes. But you’re probably wondering how men’s dress shoes should fit. The simple answer is comfortably! Here are our top tips for getting the right fit:

  1. Start by trying on your usual size of shoe but remember the style of the shoe can adjust the fit. Don’t be afraid to go up or down a size if things don’t feel right first time.
  2. Everyone’s feet are slightly different sizes. Pick the size that fits the larger foot rather than the smaller one.
  3. When buying laced men’s dress shoes, look at the shape created between the eyelets of the shoes. A wide V shape will indicate the shoes are too narrow. If the two sides are touching, then the shoes are too wide. A slight V shape is just right.
  4. Try on with the type of socks you plan to wear them with as this will affect the fit too.
  5. Feet swell later in the day, so try on in the afternoon if possible.
  6. Look out for any areas of pressure on your feet or any bunching of the leather. This indicates a fit that isn’t right for you.
  7. When you find a pair that feels just right, snap them up! A comfortable dress shoe is a great investment.

Here are some top FAQs on fitting men’s dress shoes explained:

Q: Do men’s dress shoes run big? Not as such. The fit really depends on the brand, so try on and be honest with yourself about the comfort factor.

Q: Can you stretch men’s dress shoes? If you opt for leather dress shoes they can be stretched and softened to a certain extent. However, we wouldn’t advise relying on this to make your formal shoes fit comfortably. If a little extra give is required, start by wearing the shoes in little by little to help them adjust to the shape of your feet. If you need a quicker fix, wear some thick socks, put the shoes on and hold a hairdryer to the tightest areas whilst wiggling your feet. The heat will help to stretch the leather.

Q: How tight should men’s dress shoes be? They key to this is getting gents’ formal shoes that are snug but not tight. Your feet should feel supported without any discomfort. Equally, your feet shouldn’t move around too much inside the shoe.

How to Make Men’s Dress Shoes More Comfortable

If you have found the ideal fit, making your dress shoes more comfortable shouldn’t be a concern. However, there are a few top tips for making dress shoes more comfortable if you haven’t managed to find the ultimate pair for you yet.

My dress shoes are too tight:

Try wearing in or stretching the leather to encourage a bit of give in your formal shoes. You could also try wearing with a thinner sock to give your feet a bit of wiggle room.

My dress shoes are too loose:

Insoles and heel grips are the best way to make small adjustments if your dress shoes are too loose. If the heels are rubbing due to extra room, a heel grip will make things much more comfortable. Insoles can push the foot into a better position in the shoe, adding comfort to the fit.

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Caring for Men’s Dress Shoes

Our ultimate men’s dress shoe guide wouldn’t be complete without including a few tips on looking after your shoes. Proper care for your dress shoes will help them to last longer and look sharper. There’s nothing worse than unloved formal shoes; they can quickly look past their best if they aren’t properly looked after. Here are our tips on how to care for men’s dress shoes:

How to Clean Men’s Dress Shoes

Before polishing or shining your shoes, it’s best to give them a clean to remove any dust or dirt. Simply use a brush or a damp rag and make sure any debris is cleaned from your dress shoes. Now leave to dry.

How to Polish Men’s Formal Shoes

Polishing your dress shoes is the key to making them look like new. It’s important to learn how to shine men’s dress shoes properly to get the best results. Use a shoe polish brush to apply a generous amount of shoe polish in the right colour. Let the polish dry for 15 minutes, then brush off vigorously to shine. Next, add some polish to a damp cotton wool pad and rub in to the toe and heel of the shoe. Continue in this way until your shoes are as shiny as you desire!

How Long do Men’s Dress Shoes Last?

Now you know about caring for men’s dress shoes you should be able to keep them looking great. But how long should they last? It’s actually a very difficult question to answer because there are so many factors that influence the lifespan of your formal shoes. For example:

  • What are they made from?
  • How often do you wear them?
  • How long do you wear them for?
  • How often do you clean and polish them?
  • Do you wear them indoors or outdoors?

Each of these, and many more factors, can influence how long your dress shoes will last. Ultimately, if you find a pair you love and practice good shoe care, you will prolong their life. Choose good quality materials and go to a cobbler for repairs to make the most of your best formal shoes.

By now, we hope you’re feeling confident about looking sharp for that formal occasion, whatever it may be. Don’t forget to take your time when choosing the right pair of formal shoes and check back to our men’s dress shoes guide if you ever need a helping hand.

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