Oxfords, not brogues

Still of Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service
Still of Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service

What every guy should know about his shoes

By Ed Appleby, Illustrator

In Kingsmen, which you should watch if you haven’t, Colin Firth’s character Galahad tells his young protégé “Oxfords, not brogues,” when describing what shoes he should wear. The thing is, he later says the brogues he was indicating are technically also oxfords (it’s just a matter of decorative stitching). Shoes are confusing.

You get a lot of terminology thrown around when you look at men’s fashion in general. Strange European words that make you sound like some stuffed shirt-tailor from London. That’s why many men dress like colour-blind couch potatoes, and have one pair of worn-out sneakers that they wear for everything. Today, I’m going to give you a little clarity when it comes to those hunks of leather and rubber that you wear on your feet to prevent you from falling down when you step on a bottle cap.

The oxford, or balmoral, is a leather dress shoe with lacing built into the shoe itself. It is the base from which every other shoe will be compared, and it can be worn even in the highest dress occasions. Everyone should have one nice plain black pair of oxfords, if only for weddings and funerals.

The derby and blucher are the casual compatriots to the oxford. You can identify the derby by the fact that the laces are not built into the shoe itself but are stitched on, giving the top a little bit of a flap. Originally a shoe for hunting, it was designed to let water seep out if the wearer’s feet got wet. These were originally more appropriate for more semi-formal occasions, but have since been deemed acceptable at any time, from casual to black tie.

The monk strap does away with laces in favour of a buckled patch that goes over the top of the shoe. Having a more daring and unique a design, they can still be worn for formal occasions, but not black tie.

Finally, the loafer just says, “Screw it,” to the concept of laces entirely. The penny loafer is the most popular form, and is so called because you can tuck a penny into the strap over the top of the shoe. There are also the more casual driving moccasins, which are so comfortable they can even be worn without socks.

The brogue can be used to describe any shoe with a pattern of little holes and designs in the leather. This adds weight to the shoe and, like the derby, was originally used to aerate the foot. Any brogue shoe is considered more casual than its plainer cousin. One very elaborate type of brogue is the wing tip, which has a design with a pointed pattern on the toe that tapers back towards the heel; this design is always on a derby and can be two toned if you play golf or swing dance.

Finally, keep an eye on the quality of your shoe. The easiest way is to look at the sole. High quality shoes have leather, not rubber, soles—and are stitched rather than glued.