Dear Mr. Smith: I'm looking for a nice pair of brown leather brogues. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should be looking for? And are there any rules about what colour or style of socks to wear with brown shoes?
I love brogues - the heavy leather walking shoes decorated with leather punched with a pattern of holes (sometimes called tooled leather) - and I particularly like them in shades of brown and oxblood.
Certain more dressy styles of brogues are known in the United States as wingtips because of the curved shape of the toecap.
Brogues generally connote country life and so are less formal than smooth, unpatterned lace-up shoes (generally called Oxfords).
Brogues go well with tweed suits and with jeans and sport jackets; they should never be worn with black tie.
The degree of formality changes with the layers of patterned leather, however. Look at the laces: If the two sides of the slit are sewn under the front part of the shoe and completely cover the tongue, this is "closed lacing."
If the two sides of the laced-up area are simply sewn on top of the upper, however, this is "open lacing."
In closed lacing, the tongue is a separate piece of leather; in open lacing, it is part of the upper.
Brogues with open lacing are sometimes called Bluchers, after the Prussian general who fought with Wellington at Waterloo; he apparently outfitted his soldiers with boots of a similar design.
Closed lacing is more formal than open; most heavy walking brogues have open lacing, while slick city shoes, for wear with suits, have closed lacing.
Another feature to look for is how far back the toecap extends: If it extends all the way along the side of the shoe to the heel, it is called a long wingtip. I like this design a bit more than the short wingtip, but its success depends on the manufacturer.
Brown brogues are nowadays acceptable even with dark suits, but I prefer variations on burgundy as they seem slightly more dressy. Burgundy tends to be called oxblood or cordovan in the shoe business; note that cordovan is strictly speaking a kind of leather (from horses), but it has come to mean a rich dark brown/rose colour.
Brogues are not particularly represented on the runways of the moment; indeed, they serve as an example of how easy it is to stylishly ignore current trends.
The classic shape still looks masculine and elegant no matter what contemporary fashions you pair it with. If you're going to buy a brogue, go old-school, conservative and expensive. I adore the fuddy-duddy Canadian shoe chain Dack's - your father's favourite shoe store, I'll wager - and I still wear a shiny pair of Dack's oxblood long-wing brogues (model name: "the Dufferin") that I bought around 1995. In the 15 years since, they have been resoled twice and are otherwise in fine shape.
As for socks, there are no particular rules for colour. Socks are an area of self-expression that you have to navigate yourself. When in doubt, just wear black or grey, but also go ahead and experiment with some subdued colours to prove your sensitivity.
Try wearing socks that are a shade lighter than your trousers, for instance.
I boast that I have worn pink socks with my burgundy brogues, but then such genius is why I get paid the big bucks.
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