Men's Talk: What Is A Dress Shoe?

What exactly is a dress shoe? A smart shoe? A slipper? And do I need one?
mens talk what is a dress shoe

This is one question I have been asked on numerous occasions. A lot of men use the term, but don't even know what it means. Some think it's a smart shoe or a slipper. Some men don't even know they need one. Well this article will help you understand what a dress shoe is and if you should have one in your closet.

By its American definition, a dress shoe is anything that’s not a sneaker, boot or any style of footwear that exposes your feet – which means a brogue, a Derby, an Oxford or a monk-strap shoe. A dress shoe is a shoe to be worn at smart casual or more formal events. A dress shoe is typically contrasted to an athletic shoe. Dress shoes are worn by many as their standard daily shoes and are widely used in dance, for parties, and for special occasions.

But the average Briton will tell you these are ‘smart shoes’, and in the UK, a ‘dress shoe’ means something you’d wear to a black-tie ball or similarly formal event – like a patent plain-toe Oxford, for example. In which case, a dress shoe is strictly speaking a highly polished – or patent – black plain-toe or cap-toe Oxford. And yes, you need one. (Two, actually, if at all possible.) 

Types of dress shoes

1. Oxford

Formal lace-up shoes can be split into two sorts: Derbies and Oxfords. Both include a vamp – the front of the shoe attached to the quarters (the upper section that covers the sides and back), a low heel and often a Goodyear welt construction. With Oxfords, the “facing” (where the eyelets are located) is sewn under the vamp. A closed lace gives a sleeker appearance, so a decent pair of black plain-toe Oxfords is your go-to dress shoe 

2. Derby

Derbies have open laces (the facing is open at the bottom), giving a more robust and versatile feel – the trusty Land Rover to the elegant Audi A8 Oxford. They come in colours ranging from Cognac and oxblood to other reds and browns (and we like to wear brown in town à la Mr Jarvis Cocker) and can be teamed with a suit, jeans or chinos.

3. Brogue

If we were really picking holes – literally in this case – we would say that brogue refers to a detail: the perforations designed to drain water from the feet of our Gaelic ancestors. However, whether in an Oxford or Derby style – a brogue is very much a shoe in its own right.

4. Monk Strap

With its bold buckle, this shoe sits comfortably between an Oxford and a Derby in terms of formality, and as a rakish alternative to a lace-up. Single monks are more understated and timeless (try chocolate brown suede), while the two straps of a double monk exude a military feel – and are usually designed with a toecap.

The details on dress shoes

Plain Toe

Simplicity usually defines elegance. The cleanest example of a shoe, and often the most formal – whether an Oxford, Derby or Chelsea boot – means no toecap or brogue detail.

Cap Toe

This is an extra piece of leather on the toe resulting in a more versatile shoe, especially with a Derby. A cap-toe Oxford is acceptable formal attire but most likely seen on well-heeled businessmen.


Featuring a pointed toe cap that extends along each side of the shoe, these are a less dressy incarnation of the Derby and Oxford (but still business appropriate, in our opinion). From a bird’s-eye view the toe is shaped like a “W” (or an “M”, depending on how you’re admiring your shoes).

Semi Brogue

A Derby or Oxford with a perforated, and often serrated, toecap edge, with decorative perforations in the centre of the toe cap. Note: no “W” design.

Full Brogue

Is it a style, or is it a detail? Here it is defined simply: the combination of a semi-brogue and a classic wingtip

Quarter Brogue
The same as the semi-brogue but without perforations in the centre of the toe cap.

Longwing Brogues

The more outlandish relative of the wingtip, these shoes feature a pointed toe cap with broguing that runs the full length of the shoe, meeting at the centre seam of the heel.

Whole Cut

An uppercut from one single piece of leather, this makes for the ultimate elegant shoe and something you could easily get married to… or in, should we say.

Round Toe

Quite simply, this is when the front of the upper is rounded – giving an appearance that is neither square nor pointed.

Chisel Toe

Slightly rarer than our friend above, a square-toed shoe has a bit more bite. It can look irreverently elegant on an Oxford (George Cleverley does it well) or make a Chelsea boot that little bit meaner.


This is a tongue of fringed leather affixed onto the vamp of a shoe, which can make your feet look like forms of cephalopod. From monk straps to loafers to chukkas, a kiltie can be attached to many a shoe – but, like adding accessories to your iPhone, you may want to keep it to a subtle minimum, if at all.

The Leather and Construction

See the article: Men's Talk:4 Things To Look For In A Good Pair Of Men's Shoes

The Sole

Single Leather
Leather is the most elegant material for well-made dress shoes and a single layer result in a sleeker, neater feel, which suits the nature of a plain Oxford, for example

Double Leather
More protective and warmer, although potentially less comfortable, double leather soles are more robust and rustic.

Rubber Sole
Perhaps not the most sophisticated choice, rubber soles provide extra grip in exchange for less breathability.


Jemimah Abimbola Posts

I am passionate about writing, I love to read and am also a big foodie.