The Only Men's Dress Shoe Guide You'll Ever Need
Here's a great quote from PutThisOn.com on how to start dressing better: "Wear nice shoes." It doesn't matter if your suit and shirts are perfectly tailored. If you aren't wearing attractive shoes then the entire outfit is ruined. Don't be the guy wearing black square toe shoes with huge rubber soles. You're better than that. Keep reading for a little bit of education on what makes a great dress shoe.
Key Characteristics of a High Quality Dress Shoe
1. Leather upper - The "upper" is the part of a shoe that cover the toes, the top of the foot, the sides of the foot, and the back of the heel. It is attached to the outsole of a shoe. Depending on the style, the upper can be cut from either a single piece or multiple pieces stitched together. Parts of a shoe's upper can include the vamp, the back, the tongue, the quarter, and the lining. Uppers can be made from a variety of materials, with the most popular being leather, satin, suede, and canvas.
High quality men's dress shoes use full-grain leather, which refers to cow hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time.
What's a patina you ask? Great question. Leather will take on a darker color as it ages and will also become suppler to the touch. This is one reason that many people prefer the look of aged leather to that of a new leather garment or accessory. The patina adds an air of being a comfortable and valued item, rather than something that just arrived from the store. The longer you own your shoes, the better the leather will look. This is another reason we recommend buying a pair of high quality dress shoes that will last for many years. Shoes as an investment, so purchase wisely.
To further differentiate between average quality and high quality dress shoes, look for full-grain leather uppers made from calfskin. Leather from older cattle will be too thick and too marked-up to make decent-looking shoes unless it is embossed or grain-corrected. Calfskin is the highest quality leather used for men's dress shoes.
2. Leather sole - The sole is the bottom part of the shoe. Also referred to as the "outsole," this is the part that comes in direct contact with the ground. Outsoles can be made of a variety of materials, including leather and rubber. However, the mark of a quality dress shoe is a leather outsole.
Leather soles will conform to your feet, making your power walk to the office that much more comfortable. Also, leather is a natural material that allows your feet to breathe. And most importantly, leather soles just look better. A dress shoe isn't quite a dress shoe unless the soles are made from leather. And don't worry about the leather wearing out, that's normal. Get the outsoles replaced annually (depending on how much you wear them) by a cobbler. If you generally take good care of your shoes, resoling will extend the life of the shoes and therefore reduce the shoe's annual cost. Think of dress shoes as an investment, not fast fashion.
3. Leather lining - The lining in better shoes is made of high-quality calfskin or natural leather, not synthetic materials. Again, this will make your shoes more comfortable and allow your feet to breathe.
4. Construction - The uppers of well-made shoes will be stitched, not glued, to the outsoles. Adhesive construction should be avoided at all costs; it will fall apart far more quickly than Goodyear/Blake constructed shoes. Goodyear/Blake constructed shoes can also be resoled. As previously mentioned, resoling will greatly prolongs the life of your shoe and reduce their annual cost of ownership.
What Types of Dress Shoes Should I Own?
For any professional that wears a suit, the most appropriate dress shoe is an oxford. Available in numerous styles, an oxford dress shoe will serve as the foundation of your dress shoe collection. Every man should own multiple pairs of oxford dress shoes to provide sufficient variety in his wardrobe. Below are types of oxfords you should own.
Cap toe - The most traditional and dressiest oxford is the cap toe. This is a basic requirement in every man's shoe collection because it is always appropriate for business wear. Wearing a navy suit? Pair it with brown or burgundy cap toes to make your suit pop. Black and burgundy will go great with a dark grey suit.
Wholecut - Think of a wholecut dress shoe as the cap toe's refined older brother. Nothing exudes style quite like a wholecut dress shoe. People will notice this shoe and note the wearer's sense of style and elegance. Appropriate for business wear but make sure you have the personality to pull it off.
Brogued shoes - I'm going to lump all shoes with broguing together. Broguing refers to the decorative perforations on the uppers. There are many different ways to style a dress shoe with broguing, and the level of broguing will determine what type of shoe is it. For example, perforations along the cap toe would render the shoe a "perforated cap toe." Broguing along the sides and cap toe, and perhaps a medallion on the toe, would make the shoe a "semi-brogue." And finally, a "wingtip" features a toe cap that comes to a point in the center, and spreads out toward the sides of the shoes, in a shape that somewhat resembles wings. This part of the shoe can be perforated with small holes around the edges, but not always.
Shoe trees - Shoe trees allow your shoes to contract and dry out to their ideal shape. Choose the less decorative unvarnished shoe trees. Here's a pro tip: there's no need to own a pair of trees for each pair of shoes. The vital time for using them is the hour or two after you have removed the shoes from your feet. After that, the shoes will have returned to their natural architecture and the trees can be removed.
Repair work - Spend a bit of time and effort in choosing a cobbler to resole or reheel your shoes. To prevent permanent damage, have all work done before it's absolutely necessary.
Suede - Use a suede eraser to rub away small blemishes. Then use a suede brush to restore the nap of the leather.
Wet shoes - Stuff soaking-wet shoes with newspaper and dry them away from direct heat. Direct heat can dry the leather too fast, causing it to crack.
Salt stains - The traditional remedy for road-salt stains is a little vinegar and water, applied sparingly.
Prevention - Wash your feet more often and wash your socks even more often, and don't wear the same pair of shoes every day. (Ideally, have three interchangeable pairs of dress shoes.) Also, use shoe trees as they will absorb perspiration, deodorize the shoes, and straighten them out after daily wear.
Cure - Change your insoles, or better, take your shoes to a cobbler to have the insoles replaced.
How to Polish a Shoe
1. Wipe your shoes down with a damp cloth to remove superficial dirt and stains.
2. Wet the welt brush and scrub out the entire welt strip.
3. If the shoes need it, carefully apply sole-edge dressing. If you get it on the uppers, it will stain them permanently. Let edge dressing dry before going any further.
4. Apply polish, using a circular rubbing motion. You don't need to slather it on. You don't need to be gentle. And the more you rub, the better. Let the polish dry. It should take about five minutes.
5. Buff the entire shoe with a polishing brush. For extra gleam, hold the shoe between your knees and buff the toe vigorously with a lint-free cloth.
You'll need the right tools — just a few, but each with a crucial purpose.
Shoe polish - Kiwi wax-based polish is as good a brand as any other. (Cream polishes, applied with a brush, may be easier to use, but they won't give you the same shine.) And you don't need every color under the sun. Black, of course; a chestnut or darker brown; and something middling or neutral for light-colored shoes.
Welt brush - Looks like a toothbrush (and you can use one in its place). It's designed to get the grit out of the welt, the seam where the shoe's upper joins the sole. You'd be amazed how much dirt gets in there.
Polishing cloth - In lint-free cotton or linen. Use the same one for putting on the polish that you use for buffing, regardless of the color you're using. And hang on to it: The longer you use the same cloth, the more it becomes suffused with rich oils and dyes.
Polishing brush - To get the high shine out of the shoe once you've got all that wax into the leather. Horsehair is recommended.
Sole dressing - The edge of the sole takes a scuffing from doorjambs and sidewalks. Restore the pristine look of your shoes with an edge dressing, applied with a small craft brush or a cotton swab.