Welcome to the first post in the Dapper Shoe Series! Today we’ll examine what makes oxfords, balmorals, blüchers, derbies and monk straps different. Then, we’ll take a look at exactly what it means to be a brogue or a spectator and finally, we’ll finish up with a look at how ladies can enjoy these styles too.
Not too long ago I would have identified all of these shoes as simply “men’s
shoes” or perhaps “men’s dress shoes.” However, it turns out these classic styles (1) aren’t all the same and (2) are the origin for some beautiful women’s shoes as well!
Before we dive into all details, let’s get a common language going with…
Basic Shoe Anatomy
Shoes are first divided into two pieces: the “sole” and the “upper.”
The sole: the part of the shoe that directly touches the ground (the “outsole”) and
on its other side, directly touches the bottom of your foot (the “insole”).
Stylistically, there isn’t much to be said about the sole as it’s not meant
to be seen often so I won’t say anything more about it in this article.*
The upper: an apropos name as it refers to everything on top of the sole.
The upper is further divided, largely according to the boundaries of the separate
pieces of leather sewn together to make the upper. This glossary covers many
of the common areas, but the most important for our purposes today are:
- Vamp: The part covering the top of the arch of the foot, from the toes or
cap (if present) back around the top and side of the foot to where
it meets the “quarters.”
- Quarters: The rear of the shoe covering the heel and wrapping around the side usually up to the lacings.
- Lacings: The area designed to have shoe laces pulled through small holes called “eyelets” and tightened (i.e., “laced”) to bind the shoe to the foot.
- Tongue: A piece of leather that shields the foot from the discomfort of having the under side of the lacings rubbing against it.
Besides differences in color and the presence or absence of perforations (i.e.,
“broguing” — more on that later), what most differentiates the shoes pictured above
is the style of lacings.
When both sides of the lacings start at the same point at the top of the vamp and form a straight line up towards the ankle (when laced), they are called “closed” lacings. Popular closed-lacings styles are the “Oxford” and the “Balmoral.” You’ll notice a difference between the two if you take a look at the quarters (on the oxford) versus the single piece of leather wrapping all the way around the shoe on the balmora.
Alternatively, when the lacings start on each side and are drawn towards the center by the laces, they are said to be “open” lacings. Two popular styles of open lacings are the “Derby” and the “Blücher.” Once again, the quarter seam can help you spot the difference if you want to impress some friends at parties (or more clearly communicate to a retailer what you are looking for).
Finally, shoes that have done away with laces and replaced them with one or more straps and buckles are called “monk strap” shoes. They’re colloquially referred to by the number of straps and buckles, so those with only one strap and buckle are called “single monks” while those with two straps and buckles are called “double monks,” etc.
Regardless of the style of lacings, if the shoe has perforations in the upper and/or
along its edges, it is said to have “broguing” and is therefore called a “brogue.”
Brogues largely come in a few styles named after how much broguing each has.
When more than one material or color is used in the upper of a brogue shoe, they are called “spectators.” You’ll most commonly find them full brogue and are a personal favorite of mine
These classic styles are not just for men. There have been popular takes on
them for women as far back as the 19th century. They experienced quite a bit
of fanfare starting in the 1920s and perhaps even more so in the 1940s.
Thankfully for me, the 2010s fashion has seen a resurgence in their popularity. Women’s versions can often introduce more exotic colors and higher heels, but maintain the same classic characteristics described above. I have never been a huge fan of shoes (that was always my mother’s interest), but I have always had a soft spot for these styles. Though I never felt misunderstood in the declaring oxfords were my favorite shoe of all time, I’ve since learned I adore a number of styles. Having the right words has helped me track down more shoes in the same vein which brings me to…
Where would ladies shop for such a style?
You can always get lucky at your favorite shoe store, but I’ve found the most luck perusing the internet. My favorite retailer is a Spanish company named Carmina (all the pictures of ladies shoes above are their creations). While they do sell shoes at some stores in the US, I haven’t found any that sell their women’s shoes. I have had quite a bit of success ordering them through their website. With an easy return policy and helpful staff via email, I’ve found a few pairs I couldn’t imagine my wardrobe without.
Next time in our shoe series, we’ll take a look at how Dapper Husband and I have incorporated a few of the above styles of shoes into our wardrobe and how you can do the same.
Please comment below, what style of shoes are your favorite? Do you own any of the above styles and when (and with what) do you wear them?
Thanks for visiting!
*Let me know via your favorite method (comments, twitter, etc) and we can dive deeper into the sole of the shoe in a future post if you’re interested.