When it comes to accessories for your wedding day, shoes are one of the most important—whether you’re the bride or the groom. Brides definitely have a dizzying number of silhouettes and styles to choose from, but that doesn’t mean grooms don’t have options for their dress shoes. From oxfords and derbies to loafers and monk straps, the variety of footwear for men is vast and can accommodate a wide range of event formalities, dress codes, and personal tastes. These days you also don’t have to be limited to basic patent-leather, you can find something that has wearability way beyond the wedding. And if you’re the groom, what’s better than wearing a pair of shoes on your wedding day and then getting to carry those confident feelings into any and all future events when they’re on your feet?
“Our shoes are made in Wisconsin, and they can be rebuilt,” shares Ryan Stowe, senior director of stores for premium men’s footwear and accessories brand, Allen Edmonds. “So, especially for the groom, there can be an emotional connection to the shoes you wear for your wedding day. We see guys coming into our stores all the time to have their shoes resoled and they’ll say ‘Hey, these are my wedding shoes, they’re really important, please take care of them.’ Even just beyond the fashion and function of the shoes, there’s sentimental meaning. Finding a pair that checks the boxes on all of the above is paramount.”
We spoke with Stowe, at length, about some best practices to heed when deciding on a pair of shoes for an event as formal as a wedding—and these were his consummate pearls of wisdom.
All Dress Shoes Were Not Created Equal
When the event is white or black-tie, tuxedos are usually the preferred ensemble, with a high-shine patent leather shoe or, in rare cases, a classic opera pump to match. But since tuxedos are truly only necessary for ultra-formal weddings, suits are even more popular and fitting for affairs that run the gamut from chic garden soiree to moody, low-level-lit lofted fête. Dress shoes are certainly what you’ll need to complete your look, but don’t get confused about what styles can make the cut.
“It’s not always the best thing to buy a pair of shoes that maybe you’re only going to use once, especially if you’re going to invest money in the purchase,” cautions Stowe. Finding something that will look stellar on the wedding day and be appropriate for myriad special occasions and events to come is the ultimate goal.
The sleek and streamlined oxford is unmatched in terms of appropriate shoe silhouettes for a multitude of social scenes where suits are suggested. Quite literally, the leather shoe is a fit for the office, for date nights, and for weddings. The style has a low heel, exposed ankle, and closed-lace system, wherein the eyelet facing (the portion with grommets that hold the laces) is stitched under the quarters, the interior and exterior quarters are stitched underneath the vamp, and the tongue is sewn separately under the vamp.
You can find oxfords in several iterations, but the most common include: the plain-toe, cap-toe, and the whole-cut. Plain-toe (clean, with minimal detailing) and whole-cut oxfords (made out of a single, whole piece of leather) are the most formal, followed by the cap-toe, which features an extra piece of leather sewn over the toe box to resemble a cap. The less detail and embellishment the shoe highlights, the more formal it is. So, a clean profile in black is supremely formal.
“A trend that we’ve seen, especially post-COVID, [is] guys are really leaning toward the clean lines, no detail, [and] something that’s very versatile,” reveals Stowe. “Even if it’s a wholecut, where there’s very little pieces or seams to the upper or a basic cap-toe. Simple classics are what the majority of wedding parties are going for right now.”
Best fit for: Everyone—from the groom to his groomsmen and wedding guests.
Also a lace-up dress shoe, the derby differs from the oxford with its open-laced system. The quarters are stitched on top of the vamp (with the oxford, they’re stitched below). In layman’s terms, the open-laced construction makes for a slightly more relaxed and moveable look and feel. While you can absolutely go with a pair of solid black or brown leather derby shoes for a cleaner and more polished visage, you can also opt for a pair of suede or lighter leather derbies for a more casual wedding.
“Derbies are usually a little more casual. And I would say, if you’re a wedding guest and it’s not a black-tie or super formal dress code, then derbies could be an option—especially for a slacks and sport coat kind of event,” shares Stowe. “But if it’s a full-suit occasion, then I’d definitely default to an oxford—unless it’s a beach wedding or otherwise easygoing setting.”
Best fit for: Wedding guests.
Unlike the oxford and derby, a brogue isn’t truly its own type of shoe, it’s more of an ornamental embellishment that features an almost sawtooth, serrated design on the edges of the pieces of leather that comprise the shoe’s upper—what many brands like Allen Edmunds call ‘pinking.’ During the turn of the 19th century, farmers would perforate or puncture their shoes to allow for drainage as they worked in the wet and muddy peat moss fields.
Stowe tells Brides that although it was a much more functional beginning for the brogue detail, it has since become a way to have a little fun with dress shoes. “So, normally we’ll see the broguing done as a medallion on the toe, which, again, is a kind of a decorative design—and then a full brogue has that ‘pinking’ that extends from the toe all the way back to the heel, a half brogue is one that just has that detail on the toe and the rest of the shoe is clean,” he says. “Traditionally, we’ve seen guys gravitate toward the broguing if it’s a lighter colored shoe, so if you get something in like a really warm walnut or chestnut or British tan. That color does a better job of showing off that detail.”
Going back to the idea that the greater the embellishment, the less formal the shoe. Then, you can see where a groom or groomsmen might want to defer to their partner for a pulse check and ultimate approval. Conversely, as a guest, a brogue can be pulled off beautifully when it’s not overpowered by too many other flashy or patterned components. “Let the shoes do the talking, with a standard suit, a simple tie, and a solid shirt. Then, the shoes can really shine,” follows Stowe.
Best fit for: Grooms or groomsmen who want to add some festive flair to what’s on their feet.
Another alternative for dressier occasions, like a wedding, the monk strap shoe is not as formal as the oxford or derby, but it’s still a distinctive and trendy look worthy of any suit-wearing sir’s repertoire. Like the brogue, this style also has ancient origins that date back to the Middle Ages. European monks originally wore double-strapped sandals to do their work, but once they realized how incompatible the shoes were for traversing treacherous pathways with exposed toes, they quickly found a solution in a shoe that was covered, protected their feet, and could forge through even the most rugged terrain. The sandal evolved into a closed-toe monk strap shoe that looks similar today. This one does not have a lacing system, instead it is supported by a broad strap of leather across the vamp and fastened with either one buckle or two on the side.
“The single or double monk strap is something that’s definitely going to be memorable. So, if you’re buying a monk strap shoe and you’re wearing it to a wedding, you’re going to be the guy who had the monk strap shoe on—people are going to remember that unique look and that unique silhouette,” frames Stowe. “If you have a lot of shoes and you want something new or something extra to add to your rotation, then a monk strap is fine. You just don’t want that to be your go-to dress shoe, because it’s the one that’s sure to be remembered and before you know it, people will be saying, ‘Why do you always wear those?’”
Best fit for: Wedding guests who want to add a new shoe to their sartorial arsenal. Not to be repeated too often, though!
Once you have oxfords, derbies, and monk straps in your closet, you can add a pair of loafers as an option that straddles the lines between formal and casual attire. Most recognizably, loafers fall into a category of slip-on shoes, similar to moccasins, that don’t boast a built-in lacing system. You can find them in three popular renditions—the penny loafer, tassel loafer, and horse bit loafer—in both leather and suede fabrications. And the beauty of a loafer comes through as simplicity and ease, with a little bit of prep and charm.
“Another trend we’ve seen coming back after COVID is guys are really looking for something more in an everyday sense that’s easy-on, easy-off —so, slip-on loafers are picking up steam and they’re really at the intersection of fashion and function,” relays Stowe. “A leather tassel loafer is traditionally going to give you the most formal look. From there, you can opt for a Northeastern prep-style penny loafer, but that can look a lot more casual, especially when you get into a kind of handsewn, moccasin toe. I’d say that that might be too casual for a wedding unless, of course, it was a garden or beach wedding.” The horse bit loafer shares a lot of construction similarity to the profile of the handsewn penny loafer, but with its polished metallic horse bit detail over the top, made iconic by Italian designers like Gucci, it reads a little dressier and inevitably gives off some “sparkle.”
Plus, with loafers, you can go sockless with a tailored, no-break pant. Although it can render as more casual, sporting no socks is fun and playful, and it can modernize what might otherwise be a stodgy or too-conservative aesthetic.
Best fit for: Everyone can pull off a loafer, if the event has a casual ambiance overall. But if the event is extra formal, something like a velvet loafer can upgrade a groom’s look (making him stand out among the rest of the wedding party). Stowe relays that “A velvet loafer can replace a patent leather shoe when a black-tie wedding is concerned; just steer clear of any embroidery. A black or a deep midnight navy blue loafer will escape any Hugh Hefner, slipper territory.”
Boot (Chelsea or Chukka)
Boots are definitely something you can look at when the weather calls for it, but other than that, they don’t have the formal appeal that the rest of your dress shoe choices do. Chelsea boots, made popular by classic rock icons like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the 1960s and 70s mod-era, are tight-fitting ankle boots with stretchy side panels. In leather, they have a very sleek and polished appearance—which can work for certain types of weddings—in suede; they have a comfortable, relaxed vibe that works for the office or a night out.
Chukka boots, on the other hand, got their start nearly a century ago and refer to an ankle-high cut, uppers crafted from suede or soft calfskin, and lighter-colored rubber soles. They are undoubtedly fashionable, but less suited for a wedding when making a statement isn’t expressly a goal for the groomsmen or guests as it is for the bride or groom.
“I would not wear boots if I was in the wedding party,” concedes Stowe. “I would wear chelsea boots as a wedding guest. Chukka boots are just too casual to wear to a wedding; it feels like you’re taking what’s designed to be a casual silhouette and trying to make it more formal—when, if anything right now, people are doing the opposite: taking what’s designed to be a dress silhouette and finding ways to make it more casual.” With Chelseas, if you do it right, with attention to proper tailoring, Stowe tells BRIDES that it can look “really slick,” particularly throughout the colder seasons from September through February.
Best fit for: Wedding guests who want to dress up for the wedding with something other than traditional dress shoes. Or, a groom who has a serious eye for fashion.
Not much needs to be said for a sneaker, because it’s a look that we all know. In recent years, though, the traditional athletic shoe has gotten a seriously-fresh and studly makeover—giving business and creative industry outfits an edgy step forward. That being said, in order to pair sneakers with a suited ensemble, it should start with a slim-fit suit and razor sharp tailoring. Pants should be long enough that they stop just above the shoe, and everything from the colors of the suit and shoes to the supporting accessories should be styled simply. It’s a bold look to begin with, so it probably only makes sense for the wedding party, if not the groom, just by himself.
“Part of dressing for a wedding, as a guest, is to display the level of respect and admiration you have for the couple—if you try to dress that down too much, then it feels like you’re taking the event a lot less seriously,” warns Stowe. “If you’re part of the wedding party, and choosing sneakers at the request of the groom, then you’re going to want to prioritize a low-profile sneaker sole that isn’t too chunky and an upper that’s a solid color, mixed textures or materials here will be too distracting,” he continues. “Grooms who are interested in sneakers for their party can even look into brands that will let you customize the colors of the sole,” suggests Stowe. “A white sole will really stand out and be where everyone’s eyes go when the party is up at the altar, so if you can swap it out for a black or navy blue alternative, it blends in a lot better.”
Best fit for: Grooms or groomsmen who want to jump into sneaker styling (and have the blessing of the bride already), feet first.
Hue Cues: What Color Shoe to Match Your Suit
While there are no hard and fast rules for pairing shoes to your suit, other than the basic “wear shoes that are darker than the pants” prescription, these are the color combinations that Stowe says make the most sense and will photograph flawlessly, without fail. He also shares that if you’ll be sporting a reddish-brown shoe (which provides a rich warmth to the entire outfit), you have “license to tie some other reds into the tie or accessories above the waist, for balance.” You can do it with a belt or watch band or even some maroon stone cufflinks.
These should be paired only with black shoes.
Blue Suits (Navy, French blue, etc.)
This color pairs best with shoes in the walnut, chestnut, or English tan family.
The shade pairs best with shoes in the dark or chili-brown family.
Gray suits pair best with shoes in the lighter brown family.
Want to make sure the shoe game is on-point for your wedding day? If it’s doable for your budget, gift your crew their shoes. Stores like Allen Edmonds are happy to set up private fittings where you can choose a shoe that you like for everyone, place your order, and feel good knowing that your group aesthetic is cohesive across the board. Stowe notes that “the more you can control the outcome—by choosing the shoes yourself and gifting them to your party members to wear on your wedding day—the more consistent things are going to look.” So, yes, it might be the bride demanding a buttoned-up (or laced-up!) entourage, but if you can kill two birds with one stone by picking something perfect and giving your friends and family something they can wear on your wedding day and every day forward, then you’re golden!