Let's just say, for the sake of an entertaining anecdote, that you've been invited to speak at a political fundraiser in your city. Your tuxedo is laid out perfectly on your bed, all of your cufflinks match, your white dress shirt is ironed and pressed, and after countless YouTube videos and a bottle of wine, you have mastered the careful art of properly tying a bow tie. You're all set to head out the door until you peek into your closet and notice that the one pair of raggedy black dress shoes poking out of a pile of Nikes, flip flops, and Chuck Taylors are faded, scuffed, and no longer fit, even with the most creative applications of a shoehorn. Panicking and running out of options, you contemplate calling in sick to the event, frantically knocking on your neighbors' doors asking to borrow a pair of patent leather shoes, or sprinting to the nearest shoe store to pick up a pair of passable black loafers just in time to catch the next train.
Well, if you ever find yourself in this aforementioned pickle, we can't really help you, short of waving a magic wand or building a time machine. But what we can do is give you advice on how to avoid this predicament altogether; as the saying goes, prophylactic measures are always better than treatment for any situation.
If you are starting to build a wardrobe with various tuxedos, suits, pastel sport coats, and other formal evening ensembles, having a decent selection of shoes on hand can be equally important, especially as your rotation of clothes becomes more sophisticated. Many people new to the world of suits and tuxedos are under the assumption that any old dress shoe will do just fine, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Different dress shoes have varying degrees of appropriateness, and this is largely dependent upon the type of clothing as well as the overall ambiance of an event. In this article, we will give you all the style tools you'll need to pick the right shoes for the right outfit every single time.
A Brief Word On Belts And Shoes
Before we even begin to delve into the many different shoe styles available for formal—as well as informal—attire, the following rule can never be stressed enough: Belts should always match the color of your shoes and vice versa. It is unclear from where this rule originated, but it's something that we all just do, almost instinctively. With the exception of the most informal gatherings among friends and grocery shopping after rolling out of bed, black shoes should pair with a black belt, brown shoes with a brown belt, burgundy shoes with a burgundy belt, and so on. This rule is especially important when wearing suits of any kind. But you'll find this rule a very easy one to follow, as black is one of the most common colors for formal wear when it comes to belts and shoes. This also marks a perfect segue into discussing the quintessential formal shoe that is patent leather.
Patent leather shoes are the gold standard for pairing with a tuxedo, and you'll be hard-pressed to find any shoe store that doesn't carry them. Patent leather shoes are characterized by a high-gloss coating that gives the shoes a shiny appearance, and this is normally achieved with plastics or flaxseed oil. In the past, it was common for patent leather shoes to come with very smooth and extremely slippery soles. This feature is obviously not ideal, and many men familiar with formal attire would purposely scuff the bottoms of these shoes to prevent slipping and subsequent potential serious injury. However, many patent leather shoes nowadays come with a gripped surface built into the soles; this is usually rubber or synthetic material with tiny ridges embedded into the sole that removes the need for scuffing the shoes before wearing them. Regardless of what type of sole comes with your patent leather shoes, just make sure that you can walk on them without feeling like you're skating on a freshly polished ice rink.
While patent leather shoes are most commonly associated with the tuxedo, they can also be worn with other suits. Keep in mind, however, that if you opt for patent leather with anything other than a tuxedo, the event should be on the more formal side. The black glossy finish is sometimes too much for pairings with a summer suit in light pastel colors, for example.
One more interesting tidbit about patent leather shoes is that in recent years, they have been increasingly worn with informal wear such as jeans and polo shirts. While certainly more unconventional in style, this is a trend that likely arose out of the perceived narrow use of patent leather shoes in order to broaden and maximize their utility. As informal dress codes have rules that are very loose, wearing patent leather shoes with jeans is one way to make a subtle fashion statement, and the increased comfort of patent leather shoes over the years won't leave your feet sore after a long night of socializing.
Loafers, or dress shoes that slip on with ease, are some of the most versatile and comfortable shoe styles out there. In some social circles, black loafers are perfectly acceptable to wear with tuxedos, and they are certainly given the seal of approval for most—if not all—suit types. Loafers can be an especially superb choice if you are in a hurry, as you won't be wasting any time untangling shoelaces at the last minute. Use caution, however, with suede loafers. These are generally considered more informal than their fully leather counterparts.
One of the best things about loafers is that they can also be worn with informal clothing, so if you ever feel like going out on the town after work in something more comfortable than the full suit you wore to the office, you won't have to worry about changing your shoes whether you decide to go with slacks or a decent pair of jeans. While black is the most common and highest-selling color for loafers, various shades of brown, burgundy, tan, and even mahogany are widely available. If you have more than just a few suits in your closet, consider keeping a few loafers of different colors on hand, as they will maximize the combinations your wardrobe can provide.
If you are going to an event that requires long periods of standing such as political fundraisers, weddings, or charity events, Oxfords may be the superior choice, as the extra support they provide can make you feel like you're walking on air. Just like loafers, Oxfords are considered a very common shoe variety appropriate for both formal and informal events. The Oxford style is characterized by eyelets that are positioned underneath the vamp of the shoe. This position of the eyelets is referred to as closed lacing and is considered more formal than the open lacing found in Derby shoes or bluchers. Oxfords make a great match for both tuxedos and suits, but if you choose to wear Oxfords with a tuxedo, make sure that they are polished and black at the very least.
In contrast to the closed lacing of Oxfords, Derby shoes have open lacing, or eyelets that are fastened above the vamp of the shoe. While the Derby style is seen as less formal than the Oxford, it is considered by many to be more comfortable and more breathable. Derby shoes can be paired with all types of suits, including those associated with rigid formal wear as well as more casual options for the office or outdoor events.
One of the best aspects of Derby-style shoes is that they can match with an array of formal and informal dress codes. Whether you need a full three-piece suit or you're just going to an informal business meeting that requires a pair of khakis, Derby shoes are comfortable, come in several colors and style variations, and have the benefit of lasting many years without experiencing any premature wear and tear. Even when suits or khakis are not required, you can easily throw on a pair of Derby shoes with a pair of jeans if you want to have a casual night out. Derby shoes in casual settings such as this will still convey an elevated sense of style that would be absent with a pair of gym shoes, flip flops, or driving shoes.
Cap Toe or Plain Toe
In the realm of formal wear, the terms cap toe and plain toe get thrown around quite often. While the presence of a cap toe doesn't really change the level of comfort of a shoe all that much, it is more or less a style preference for most people. Cap toe shoes are considered to be more stylish and formal, but plain toe shoes can project a sleek sense of style just as well, especially if you're going for a look that is more modern and minimalist. In terms of suit styles, cap toe shoes will pair better with American- and British-style suits, while plain toe leather shoes work very nicely with the sleek and tapered contoured style of the Italian suit. Cap toe and plain toe varieties are usually available with most shoe styles, including Oxfords and Derbies.
A Note On "Fringe" Styles and A Recap
While we've covered the basics in terms of matching shoe styles with suits, you've learned that most formal shoe styles can pair well with the majority of suit types, with tuxedos having a little more of a rigid standard. In some very informal settings, you may come across some men who might be wearing a suit, khakis, or a sport coat while rocking a pair of top-siders (boat shoes) or even some Chuck Taylors. While boat shoes may get a pass sometimes, the latter is usually not acceptable by any standards of formality, and it is nearly on par with the fashion faux pas of wearing sneakers or gym shoes with anything more formal than a pair of jeans. It's one thing to try out your aspirations of being a trailblazing trendsetter by wearing a pair of patent leather shoes with a pair of jeans, but by wearing sneakers with a suit or even a pair of khakis, you'll just end up looking ridiculous. So while this rule is pretty cut-and-dry, if you're unsure of what type of shoe to wear to your next formal event, it is always best to err on the side of formality rather than dressing down.
At Enzo Custom, we not only pride ourselves in making tailored custom suits of the highest quality, but also in providing our combined knowledge of making sure your entire ensemble for your next formal event or business meeting is up to high standards, from your cufflinks all the way down to your toes.