For a lot of men who live casual lives with little occasion to dress up, a good pair of shoes is like a good suit: you probably only need one, but you need at least one. An important word here is good. If you’re going to have just one suit or pair of shoes for dressier occasions, make it count and make it good.
As I see it, it’s not complicated. But with the hyper-diversification of footwear, I can see how one can get confused. The fact that we’ve become so removed from any standardized dress codes and that there are so many riffs on dress shoes, so many men are at a loss when it comes to a wedding, a funeral or some other special occasion.
My personal favorite dress shoe – and the one that I think is a pretty bulletproof choice that will competently carry any man through most dress situations – is the plain black blucher or oxford. More specifically, if I had to go with just one pair of dress shoes, it would be the plain black blucher.
At first glance, the blucher and the oxford may seem the same. They’re black dress shoes with laces. But they have a distinction that has to do with the lacing system. Bluchers have an “open” lacing system with extra pieces of leather that house the eyelets. When a blucher is tied, you can see the tongue. Oxfords, on the other hand, have a “closed” lacing system where the eyelets are stitched right into the vamp, which is the upper piece of leather on the shoe. When an Oxford shoe is tied, you can’t see the tongue because it’s “closed,” like sutures.
Most consider Oxfords to be more formal than bluchers. They’re a sleeker design, for sure, and they have a distinctly dressier flair. Personally, Oxfords have never been my favorite. I’ve never been in love with their look. But with the way most men dress today, particularly American men, few would call a man out for wearing bluchers instead of Oxfords in a dressier setting. Even fewer men would care or even notice.
And since it’s your one good pair of shoes, I recommend black for the color. While some will cringe at this choice over the ubiquitous brown (which is even more casual), black is black. It goes with everything, unlike the lighter and lighter shades of brown I see these days.
If one absolutely hates black, my suggested Plan B would be a shade of brown or burgundy so dark that it looks black until you see it in direct sunlight.
As for soles, I’m a leather man when it comes to dress shoes. And if you go with a shoe with a Goodyear welt, like my Aldens and Florsheims, the shoes can be re-soled again and again. (And if you put taps under the heels and toes, you may never need to re-sole them or have the heels replaced.)
So get at least one good pair of black dress shoes, keep them shined and well-tended, and you’ll be set for life.
About those light brown shoes…
I don’t know how many others would agree, but I believe that men’s dress shoes should be darker in tone than the suit or pants worn with them. If one is wearing a light tan suit, for example, a pair of medium or dark brown shoes would be fantastic. (Observe Daniel Craig in SPECTRE.) But when the shoes are lighter than the suit, our eye is immediately drawn to the feet. Unless your shoes are an unforgettable conversation piece, why would you want that? Go dark.