A good pair of brogues is one of the most versatile styles available and can work across various formalities; understanding the nuances that can be found within this classic style will give you confidence in wearing them with an array of outfits.
What are brogues?
‘Brogue’ refers simply to the perforated decorations that follow the stitching of a shoe or boot. Traditionally, these holes were a practical addition which allowed water to escape when walking through muddy terrain, though these days are purely aesthetic. Around the turn of the 18th Century, this was the preferred shoe for the countryside and favoured by those toiling the land – as such, they were seen as a shoe for the working class and rarely seen in ‘high society’.
Thankfully, this elitist mindset started to relax at the beginning of the 20th Century thanks to jazz-age hedonism and the popularity of two-tone brogues, or ‘spectators’, becoming a distinctive fashion item and seen on feet all over the country – since then, both smart and casual brogues have become as synonymous with British culture as Pie & Mash and moaning about the weather.
Dressing up brogues
Whereas some attitudes may change, many don’t: in strictly formal circles such as black and white tie dress codes, brogues would not be appropriate due to their historically casual heritage – you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.
However, brogues can fit in nicely with classic tailoring and smarter clothing outside of this code; the aspects to consider here are material and colour. In a business setting, a black calf leather brogue is as formal as this style gets and would look great with darker colours such as grey and navy, as well as formal skirts.
If your workplace is a little more lenient, or for events such as weddings, you don’t have to opt for black. Burgundy brogues will work with almost any colour, but navy clothing is a perfect match. Dark brown brogues would also work well – both colours give an added depth of interest to a classic look in a formal setting.
Shoes become less formal when they have more brogue detailing, therefore a quarter or semi-brogue would be a sleeker and smarter look when trying to pair brogues with tailoring. Similarly, oxfords are more formal than derbies, so opt for the former if you’re looking to impress.
If you don’t know your wingtips from your semi-brogues, you can find a guide to brogue variations here:
Smart casual brogue styling
‘Smart casual’ is a somewhat problematic dress code due to its vague definition; for the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve ditched the suit in favour of separate trousers or skirt with an open-necked shirt, or cotton trousers with a blazer on top. The good news is that the same brogues that worked for your formal clothing can also work here, which is a testament to the brogue’s versatility.
However, this dress code allows for more freedom of expression in terms of colour. A mid brown shoe, such as our Dark Leaf or Mahogany Grain, would benefit almost any colour and adds a vibrant touch to an outfit that may not have worked in a more formal setting.
With lighter colour trousers or skirts, it makes sense that you can go lighter with the shoes, just be sure to keep them nicely polished to retain their appearance.
This is also where spectator shoes come into their own: too bold for formal business occasions, these incredible shoes will elevate your style when paired with clothing on the casual side. It’s a nice idea to correspond the tone the outfit with one of the colours of the shoe, allowing the contrast colour to pop. Popular amongst vintage style lovers, they’re sure to garner many compliments and should be a joy to wear.
Tweed clothing is a no-brainer when it comes to styling with brogues, as they both have very similar backgrounds and were often paired together to take on the harsh conditions of the Great British countryside. Smooth or grain leather options can both work here depending on the occasion, and it’s often the case that dark leaf or mahogany grain shoes tone in very nicely with the base tones of tweed.
Casual brogue styling
This is where brogues really come into their own. When people talk of an ‘everyday shoe’ (not that we advocate that… let’s say ‘every other day’), a good pair of brogues are often the first choice. As mentioned previously, a wingtip brogue would be the most casual option, especially when combined with robust rubber soles to offer more durability and weather resistance.
Grain leathers will also do a great job at disguising imperfections, lending itself perfectly to a more rugged style. A solid pair of brogues goes together with denim all year round, as well as chinos and cords in the colder months. A shoe like this will dress up casual clothing and is a sleeker alternative to trainers.
Suede is also a fantastic way of dressing down a style with its unparalleled comfort and easy aftercare.
Another avenue to consider, especially if you’re hard on your shoes, is a brogue boot. The pinnacle of country wear, this style taps into our rich history as a bootmaker and will look after you regardless of weather or terrain.
With a design as varied as brogues, it’s easy to get swept up in the ‘dos and don’ts’ and terminology. It’s worth remembering that you will look good if you feel good – trying different styles to determine what you like is the only way to make sure you get it right. Once you find your style, brogues will easily find their way into your rotation and will stay classy for years to come.