Pairing the right shoes with a suit can often seem like the hardest part. There’s plenty that go wrong, especially when the shoes themselves aren’t exactly “formal”. So, can you wear brogue shoes with a suit?
Brogue shoes can be worn with formal suits as long as the shoes don’t look too casual. Quarter brogues are the most subtle type and usually the most appropriate. Sticking to black or brown brogue Oxfords or Derbys and avoiding suede should also help ensure that they look formal enough.
There you have it – it’s definitely possible. But there’s definitely a right way to do it. Choose the wrong pair of brogue shoes and the end result will almost always be awkward.
Follow these tips to make sure you pull it off in the most effective way possible, each and every time.
1. Make Sure It’s Appropriate
There are certain situations where wearing brogue shoes with your suit just won’t be appropriate.
The term “brogue” simply means you’ve got decorative perforations (i.e tiny holes) lining the seams.
While any dress shoe could technically be “brogue”, most brogue shoes you’ll find will either be Oxford, Derby, or monk straps.
You can have lots of brogueing or minimal brogueing – but at the end of the day, it will always be a casual feature of dress shoes.
This is where the problem could arise.
Suits are formal wear. You’ve got a matching jacket and pants made from the same roll of fabric.
Blending casual wear with formal wear can work, as long as it’s appropriate for the setting and done the right way.
Having said that, there are certain situations and dress codes where brogue shoes shouldn’t be worn with a suit, simply because they’ll look too casual.
Black-tie is the obvious one. Technically a tuxedo isn’t a suit, but it’s important to put it out there.
But there are also very formal settings (not black-tie) where you’ll be wearing a formal, dark, worsted wool suit where you’ll want to make sure the shoes are equally formal.
Dinners, balls, conferences, weddings – they could all potentially be this formal. It can vary a lot, so you’ll have to use some intuition.
But in these instances, avoid brogue shoes altogether. Stick to plain Oxfords in black or dark brown.
If the setting you’re attending doesn’t have as strict or stuffy of a dress code, brogue shoes would probably be fine.
The next step would be choosing the right level of brogueing.
2. Choose The Right Amount Of Brogueing
When wearing a suit, stick to quarter brogues ideally as they’re the most formal-looking. Semi-brogue shoes may be appropriate if they’re dark leather and the suit is on the more casual end of the spectrum. Avoid full brogue (wingtip) shoes altogether as they’ll look too casual.
Let’s go through these three categories of brogue shoes – quarter-brogue, semi-brogue, and full brogue – in a little more detail.
Quarter brogue shoes have the most subtle brogueing, making them look less casual than semi-brogues and full brogues.
Here’s a pair of quarter brogue Oxford shoes on Amazon as an example.
No matter the style of dress shoe (eg. Oxford, Derby, or monk strap), quarter brogues will have a straight and horizontal toe cap, with perforations lining the edge of it.
While this may be the only perforations you may have with quarter brogues, you can also get some subtle brogueing along the edges of the heel cap and upper as well (like in the picture above).
While the perforations are clearly visible, they aren’t as obvious.
Because of this, they’re the easiest type of brogue shoe to pair with formal wear (i.e suits).
Semi-brogue shoes (also known as half-brogues) also have a straight and horizontal toe cap, with perforations lining the edge.
But semi-brogues also have a “medallion”. The medallion is a fancy, spiraling pattern of perforations on the toe cap itself.
It’s eye-catching, but also makes the dress shoes look much more casual than quarter brogues.
This makes them a less-than-ideal choice to wear with formal suits.
Here’s a pair of semi-brogue Oxford shoes on Amazon to illustrate the point.
Full brogue shoes are the most heavily decorated type. They feature decorative perforations lining the edges, as well as a medallion on the toe cap.
However, they also feature a W-shaped, pointed toe cap, with perforations lining the edge of this toe cap as well.
The unique shape of the toe cap makes the shoes look a lot more casual and often inappropriate to wear with a formal suit.
They’ll usually look great with jeans or chinos, but avoid them if you’re wearing a suit.
3. Choose The Right Suit
Even if you’ve gone for the most subtle form of brogueing (quarter-brogues), it would still be a good idea to choose a less formal-looking suit if at all possible.
Remember, the key is to try and sync the formality levels of the shoes and the suit.
Ideally, what this would mean would be choosing a more formal-looking pair of brogue shoes and a less formal-looking suit.
Now, this may not be an option if you’ve got a pretty strict dress code. You don’t want to be turning up in a purple corduroy suit to a corporate office.
But if the dress code is more relaxed, go for a more casual suit if possible.
Features that make a suit look more “casual” include the following:
- Lighter colors
- More natural-looking shoulders with less padding
- Fabrics that are less shiny and wrinkle more easily. Cotton, linen, tweed, and flannel are examples
- Patch or flapped pockets on the jacket, as opposed to jetted
It really depends on how casual you can afford to go. Just remember that the more casual your suit looks, the more likely it’ll blend well with the brogue shoes.
4. Oxford Or Derby Shoes
When wearing a formal suit, brogue Oxford shoes or brogue Derby shoes would usually be your best option. While brogue monk straps may be OK for a more casual suit, they’ll often be too casual for a formal suit.
Oxford shoes are the most formal type of dress shoe due to their closed lacing system. In many ways, they’re the safest type of dress shoe to wear with a formal suit, as they’ll always look formal enough.
But Derby shoes are also an option when you’re wearing a suit but don’t need to look that formal.
They’re a good option for men with wider feet, as the flaps created by the open lacing system make them look a notch more casual than Oxford shoes.
Sticking with Oxford or (maybe) Derby shoes when wearing a suit should make sure that the shoes still look formal enough to wear with a suit despite the brogueing.
5. Stick To Black Or Brown
When wearing a pair of brogue shoes with a formal suit, sticking to black or dark brown brogue shoes would be your safest option as they’ll generally look more formal.
Black is the most formal color, but going that formal may not be absolutely necessary when the dress code isn’t that strict. Dark brown can also look pretty formal.
In addition, dark brown has the benefit of being versatile, as it’ll match with a wider range of suit colors.
Lighter shades of brown will usually look too casual to be worn with a formal suit, especially when you’ve got brogueing on top. But if you’re wearing a more casual suit (eg. to a casual wedding), it could be acceptable.
While this may sound restrictive, you do need to be careful with color when you’re wearing a formal, business-professional suit in any case.
Black or dark brown would usually be best when wearing a formal suit, with or without brogueing. It’s just even more important when you do have brogueing.
6. Suede Is Probably Too Casual
Suede shoes will always look more casual than shinier grains of leather like calfskin or cowhide. This is due to the rugged and napped texture of suede.
While suede shouldn’t usually ever be worn with a formal suit, it could potentially work with a more casual suit.
It’s just important to remember that brogue suede shoes will make them look even more casual. So much so, that even they’ll usually be too casual even for a more casual-looking suit.
At the end of the day, a suit will never look as casual as a pair of chinos and an Oxford shirt, for instance.
Even a “casual” suit will have a formal edge to it. So it’s important not to go too casual with the shoes.
Brogue suedes will usually fall into the category of “too casual”.
7. Avoid Spectator Shoes
When wearing a suit, avoid spectator brogue shoes.
Spectator shoes have the heel cap and toe cap a completely different color to the core body of the shoe.
What you’re left with is dress shoes consisting of two or even three different colors.
It’s eye-catching, for sure – but is a very casual feature.
It’s pretty common to find brogue spectator shoes.
But even subtle quarter brogues will be too casual to wear with a formal suit if they’re brogue spectator shoes.
Ultimately, you’ll want to avoid spectator shoes altogether when you’re wearing a suit unless the suit is very casual-looking, to begin with.
Sticking to this tip, as well as the earlier ones in this list, should help you sync the right pair of brogue shoes with your suit.
While it isn’t complicated, there’s definitely a right way to do it and a not-so-right way to do it.
Hopefully, you’re now several steps closer to making it work.