Step out with confidence in the right shoe for every occasionImage source: Samuel Windsor
Looking for formal shoes for work, a wedding, graduation or other official event? It's helpful to know exactly which shoes are suitable for what occasions. That's why we've come up with this handy guide to choosing formal shoes. We've covered all the main types of formal footwear including advice on style, comfort and formality rating.
The archetypal formal shoes, Oxfords were originally invented by students at the eponymous university during the 19th century. Bored of traditional boots, they created an ankle boot with a laced side slit. Over time, the boot became a shoe and the laces migrated to the top, but an Oxford is still an Oxford because the facing - the leather panels containing the eyelets - are stitched under the vamp - the front of the shoe.
Oxfords usually feature a plain cap toe, and when polished to a deep shine represent the smartest of smart formal shoes. Wear these with your suit, or with wool rich pants; if you're ever in doubt as to the dress code - Oxfords are the best way to play it safe. Wearing your suit? Go for a high quality leather pair in black, oxblood or dark brown.
Polished black leather Oxfords are the most formal of formal shoesImage source: Classic Oxford shoe from Samuel Windsor
The difference between Oxfords and Derbys is the way that the laces fasten. Derbys feature eyelet facings stitched to the top of the vamp, giving the lacing an open aspect rather than a neat slit. While not quite as smart as Oxfords, Derbys do have their advantages. If for example, you have very wide feet, or your feet tend to swell in hot stuffy rooms, a Derby offers a greater range of adjustment.
You can wear Derbys with your suit - only the truly sniffy will object - but really, Derbys belong at the very smart end of smart casual. For relaxed office attire, wear them with wool rich pants, a smart shirt and a cashmere sweater or cardigan. Or go for the same pants with a tweed jacket, Tattersall shirt and tie. Brown Derbys look great worn this way.
Derbys can be laced more loosely than Oxfords, if requiredImage source: Brown leather Derbys from Samuel Windsor
Just to confuse the issue, we have brogues, which can be either Oxfords or Derbys. That's because broguing refers to the decorative holes some formal shoes have, rather than their construction. Originally, the perforations were there to allow water to drain out. Now they're there because they look great - but not all brogues are the same...
Choose from quarter brogues, semi-brogues and full brogues (also referred to as wingtips). Confused? Don't be. The greater the number of perforations, the less formal the shoes. Oxford quarter brogues only have holes over the edge of the toe cap, and are perfectly acceptable to wear with your suit. Semi-brogues have decorative edging on all the panels, but are also suitable to wear to work as long as the pattern isn't too busy.
Full brogues or wingtips are flamboyant shoes with a swept back toe cap which looks like a "w". These heavily perforated shoes are best suited to smart casual use. Go for contrasting leathers and you get "spectator brogues" which, as the name suggests, are a great choice for a day at the races. Still not sure which brogue style to go for? Read our "What brogue" article to help you decide.
Full Oxford brogues in black leather are a flamboyant yet formal shoeImage source: Wingtip brogues from Samuel Windsor
The only slip-ons which work as formal shoes - horsebit loafers, tasselled loafers, or penny loafers are an elegant choice to wear with your suit. These shoes - which were originally developed from the footwear of Norwegian fishermen - can, however, be tricky to get right.
If you're going for loafers you need to consider your silhouette as a whole, and particularly the cut of your suit or pants. That's because loafers are a slim, low profile shoe - if you wear them with pants which have too loose a cut, they can easily look a bit lost - and your feet look disproportionately dainty.
That said, loafers are much cooler than heavy lace ups, making them a superb summer option, and ideal if your feet are prone to swelling or if you struggle with laces.
Black leather penny loafers are a stylish option Image source: Penny loafers from Samuel Windsor
Originally the footwear of choice for medieval monks, today's monk shoes are formal shoes with a difference, featuring single or double buckles rather than traditional laces. They're a formal shoe for the slightly daring dapper man about town - you can definitely wear them with a suit, as long as you select a suitable style and colour.
Black, oxblood and deep brown leather monk shoes make good office wear, but you should avoid extremes like long or pointed toe caps - these are shoes for hipsters and punks, not professionals like you.
These versatile shoes also work with more casual wear, including denim and moleskin pants.
An oxblood monk shoe is a smart addition to any man's wardrobeImage source: Prestige twin monk shoe from Samuel Windsor
Now you know what fits where on the scale of formal shoe selection, you should have everything you need to help you make the right choice.