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Classic styles always in fashion

Highlighting a number of shoe designs that have become the styles of choice for men looking to dress with elegance.

by Stuart Morgan

Image © | miodrag ignjatovic

For almost two centuries, the ‘classic’ shoe has been generally viewed as an essential part of men’s attire for business and other situations requiring a smart appearance. During this time, a handful of basic styles (some of which will be described in this article) – often with subtle differences – have retained their popularity. However, the names they are known as varies from country to country, as we shall see.


Often regarded as the most elegant English men’s shoe, the Oxford is a laced shoe which

The Oxford is often regarded as the most elegant English men’s shoe

features the quarters stitched underneath the vamp. Traditionally, the laces are threaded through five pairs of eyelets and fastened so that only the upper edge of the tongue is visible. Originally a half boot introduced in 1640 and worn by Oxford University students in England, ‘Oxford’ became a footwear manufacturer’s term to describe low-cut shoes. This type of footwear was being made in England around 1830 and became particularly fashionable in the 1880s.

While ‘Oxford’ is the accepted name for this shoe in the UK, it is usually referred to as ‘Balmoral’ (or ‘Bal’) in the USA, where Oxford is often used to refer to any ‘dressy’ style of lace-up shoe. In the UK, the Balmoral is a specific type of low boot which also has a closed tab, with the vamp overlaying the quarters.

Traditionally constructed from leather, Oxfords were historically plain, formal shoes. Now, however, they are available in a range of styles and materials that complement both casual and formal forms of dress.

The introduction of punching along the edges of facings and components, along with stitching and sometimes gimping (serration), creates a ‘brogue’ style of shoe. A ‘semi brogue’ has a straight cap and a ‘full brogue’ has a winged cap with extensions (wings) that run along both sides of the toe. Seen from the top, this toecap style is ‘W’ shaped and looks similar to a flying bird – hence the name. The toe cap of a full brogue incorporates additional decorative perforations in the centre of the toe cap.

The roots of modern brogues can be traced to a rudimentary shoe originating in Scotland and Ireland made from untanned hide, which was reportedly perforated to allow water to drain out when the wearer was crossing wet terrain – such as a bog. Today, the term applies to any shoe form that uses multi-part construction and perforated, serrated edges to upper components.


A ‘Gibson’ shoe (also called a ‘Derby’) has quarters that are sewn onto the top of a single-piece vamp. This construction method is also known as ‘open lacing’. The Gibson can be more comfortable than the Oxford for wearers with a wide foot or an unusually high instep. The open lacing means that a Gibson is easier to put on than an Oxford, and the gap between the two quarters is easier to adjust. As with the Oxford shoe, Gibsons are available in a variety of plain and brogued styles.

The Gibson shoe features 'open lacing'

In the USA, the Gibson shoe may also be referred to as a ‘Blücher’, named after the 19th century Prussian field marshal who ordered laced shoes of this kind to be made for his soldiers.

The Spectator was originally made from willow calf leather and white buck or reverse calf suede. The white portion was sometimes made from a mesh material, to provide better ventilation during hot weather.


A Monk shoe is similar to a Gibson in that the quarters overlay the vamp but are secured with a strap and buckle instead of laces. It is a moderately formal shoe – perhaps less formal than a full Oxford, but more so than an open Gibson (Derby). It is occasionally brogued, and is popular in suede.

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A Monk shoe is secured with strap and buckle instead of laces

Classic Loafer

The Loafer (‘Penny Loafer’ in the USA) is a type of classic slip-on shoe without fastenings, but sometimes featuring a decorative saddle bar across the apron/tongue. This shoe is so-called because of the tradition of inserting a penny coin under any bar in an attempt to bring good luck.

An example of a Loafer shoe


‘Co-respondent’ shoes – known as ‘Spectators’ in the USA – were traditionally Oxfords (but can now be Gibsons or other formal styles) produced from two contrasting colours, often with the toe and heel cap and lace panels in a darker colour than the main body of the shoe. They also often feature broguing. Common colour combinations include a white shoe body with either black or tan caps.

The term ‘Spectator’ is said to come from the shoe’s popularity with outdoor, sporting gentlemen, who favoured this style when playing golf and cricket. The first shoe of this sort was reportedly released in 1868. Two-coloured shoes soon also became popular with the spectators at these events which led to the adoption of the name.

A two-tone Oxford co-respondent

The alternative name – ‘Co-respondent’, is claimed to have arisen from a perception that despite being designed for gentlemen to wear, such shoes were often worn by the kind of person who would be cited in a divorce case (a co-respondent in English law being the term for a person named as a party to the adultery). This association was strengthened during the 1930s when King Edward VIII caused a national scandal by abdicating from the throne to marry twice-divorced Wallace Simpson, who was often seen wearing two-tone shoes.

Ever popular

Despite the popularity of trainers and other casual footwear, it appears there will always be the need for more formal dress – whether for a business appointment, a wedding or another important event. That is why footwear manufacturers are still kept busy producing these classic styles, and do not intend to stop any time soon.

How can we help?

Please contact SATRA’s footwear team ( for help with the assessment of components and finished footwear.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 14 of the July/August 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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