When you want to look your best, the details matter from head to toe. That’s why finding the perfect pair of dress shoes can help you put your best foot forward, no matter the destination.
Whether you’re heading out to an evening cocktail party or an important board meeting, understanding the different types of dress shoes can help you slip on an outfit that makes you look and feel your most confident. In this article, we’ll take a look at a number of popular dress shoe styles so you can start exploring how to add them to your wardrobe and elevate your style.
Classic Elegance: Oxfords
The Oxford dress shoe—also called the Balmoral dress shoe—is a quintessential aspect of any closet. Worn by men, women, and gender-fluid people alike, these sleek and stylish dress shoes can help you instantly level up your look. Easy to dress up or dress down, their versatility is only one of the many reasons they’ve maintained popularity since their emergence in the 1800s.
If their name sounds familiar, your assumptions are probably correct: many think this iconic dress shoe got its name at Oxford University.1 Initially popular among the student body, Oxfords (then called the Oxonian boot) originally featured higher heels, but as they adjusted the shoes for comfort, they later gained the lower heels and lacing we now know and love.
If you’re looking for the shoe to wear to a night at the opera or a day at the office, Oxfords are just the piece to help you spruce up your look. When crafting your outfit, consider the many types of Oxford shoes, including:
- Cap toe Oxfords
- Plain toe Oxfords
- One-piece Oxfords
- Wingtip Oxfords
Perfect for a formal occasion, a pair like the Alfina Oxford is just as easy to dress down with a pair of linen pants and a casual button-up or a flowy, pleated skirt.
Sophisticated Comfort: Loafers
Another closet must-have, loafers exude comfort and sophistication, making them the perfect choice for prioritizing your foot health and showcasing your style. Their lack of laces makes them easy to slip off and on, and their low height ensures they’ll offer your feet the support they need all day long.
While they’re now a wardrobe staple, the history of loafers may surprise you. Leather slip-ons worn by Norwegian fishermen originally inspired the designer of the loafer, Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger, who also used aspects of designs from the Iroquois moccasin to create this classic and comfortable dress shoe.2
Both men and women typically don this style of dress shoe, and they coordinate just as well with a pair of well-loved jeans as they do a pair of pressed slacks. Although they’re typically available in leather and suede, this popular dress shoe style is available in a range of colors and fabrics, making it easy to integrate them into any outfit.
Elevating Formal Attire: Derby Shoes
Like the Oxford, the derby shoe—also called the blucher—is another popular laced dress shoe that makes an elegant addition to formal wear. While they may look like an Oxford, there’s one primary difference between the two: their lacing structure.
While Oxfords feature a closed lacing system, with eyelet tabs stitched under the vamp of the shoe, derbies have an open lacing system, with eyelet tabs located on top of the shoe vamp.
With this in mind, you may be wondering how to lace dress shoes like the classic derby shoe. What does this mean for your first time slipping a pair on? The derby’s open lacing system makes the dress shoe a bit more adjustable, which can allow more comfort and flexibility if you have high arches. You can wear derbies the same way you would Oxfords, ready for an interview, executive meeting, or Friday night dinner.
Sleek and Sharp: Brogue Shoes
With their intricate detailing and leatherwork, brogue shoes are sure to turn heads as you walk in style to the billiards club on Friday night. Another low, leather dress shoe, like the Oxford and the derby, the brogue stands out from the rest because of its decorative perforations lining its exterior.
Traditional Scottish and Irish boots first displayed these leather patterns, although their purpose was to let water escape the footwear during wet seasons.3 While you may not plan on walking through wetlands and marshes in your new leather dress shoes, these sleek designs still feature the same delicate leather perforations.
Since Oxfords and derbies differ because of their lacing system, this means that Oxfords can also be brogues, if they include the leather detailing and have closed lacing. In the same vein, brogues can also be Oxfords, although not all of them are, because only some brogues have a closed lacing system.
Graceful and Feminine: Pumps
There’s no better finishing touch to a feminine ensemble than a pair of pumps. This beloved style is popular with women around the world, making them a necessity in your closet for cocktail hours, weddings, and date nights.
When you want to elevate your favorite dress or show off a brand-new skirt, there’s nothing like a classic pair of pumps to offer the length and style you’re looking for. You can recognize a pair of pumps by their sleek simplicity, since they’re high heels that are free from zippers or clasps, and feature a low-cut front.
Their graceful features make them easy to style, pairing well with high-waisted dress pants, pantsuits, and even jeans. No matter where you’re headed, you can elevate your look (and your height) with a pair of pumps like the Carmel Heel.
Dapper and Suave: Monk Strap Shoes
Monk strap shoes are a low, leather dress shoe that makes any ensemble look suave. While they’re similar in shape and design to other popular men’s dress shoes, like Oxfords and Derbies, monk strap shoes don’t feature any eyelets or laces.
Instead, as their name suggests, they have a thick leather strap that lays across the vamp and is secured with a single or double metal buckle. These buckles replace the need for a lacing system, although the straps are usually adjustable or supported by elastic, making it easy to tailor their fit to your foot.
Their design allows you to add a touch of elegance to your outfit, making them a versatile part of your wardrobe. They pair well with a suit or dress pants when you’re heading to a formal event, or you can throw them on with a pair of slacks and you’re ready for Sunday brunch.
Elevated Heels: Court Shoes
Another elegant heel choice, court shoes characteristically feature a short to medium-length heel (think kitten heel and above), a low-cut front, and a closed toe. They’re a sleek and comfortable addition to your shoe collection, capable of elevating dresses, pants, and skirts—whether you’re heading to work or out for drinks.
What’s fun about these eye-catching shoes are the heel widths, patterns, and materials they feature. Many court shoes have block heels, which not only make them a statement piece but offer your feet more support than other types of high heels.
Since they’re not as high as other heels, court shoes are easier to wear throughout the day and night, but still offer the length and femininity you know and love from a pair of heels.
Sartorial Statement: Chelsea Boots
A fashion staple for both men and women, Chelsea boots, like the Rhiannon Ankle Boot, are the perfect dress shoe when you want to go from a Friday morning meeting to a Friday night brewery. Typically characterized by their lack of laces, these pull-on boots are usually available in leather and suede, and feature elastic side panels that make them easy to slip on and off.
These ankle-high boots got their name because of their popularity in the mid-19th century by Queen Victoria.4 However, they gained even more attention in Chelsea, a fashion-forward corner of London, throughout the 1950s and 60s, worn by many British band members from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.4
Today, this popular dress shoe maintains its rock n’ roll flair, offering sleek style and comfort whether you’re a fashion aficionado or business professional wanting to add some edge to your ensemble.
Embracing Fashion Diversity: Dress Shoe Styles for Men and Women
Boring dress shoes are a thing of the past. Whether you’re interested in understated elegance or want to make a statement, there’s an endless array of shoes, heels, and boots for you to check out.
Oxfords and Derbies offer a more masculine flair while pumps and court shoes add a level of refined femininity to any outfit. Diversify your closet and mix and match these styles so you’re ready to step into any room with the right dress shoe types.
Find Dress Shoes for Any Occasion With Vionic
When you’re interested in finding types of dress shoes that complete your personal style, it’s crucial to know their features, details, and designs to help you craft the perfect look. While an elegant and sophisticated appearance is crucial, so is taking care of your feet. That’s why at Vionic, all of our shoes feature the latest Vio-Motion Technology.
Whether you’re looking for shoes for work or a pair for the summer wedding circuit, treat your feet with the support they deserve.
Gone are the days of sacrificing style for comfort. Enter the latest era of footwear and find dress shoes with built-in orthotics at Vionic.
- Collins, Jack. “The Oxford Shoe Guide.” Gentleman’s Gazette. https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/oxford-shoes-guide/
- Etoroma, Charles. “A Brief History of the Loafer.” Port Magazine. 12 April, 2022.https://www.port-magazine.com/fashion/an-brief-history-of-the-loafer/
- “Brogue Shoes.” ShoeIQ. https://shoeiq.com/brogues/
- Barker, Christian. “Elastic Fantastic: The History of the Chelsea Boot.” The Rake. November 2021.https://therake.com/stories/style/history-chelsea-boot/