Even for men who live in trainers, there’s a frisson that comes with stepping into ‘proper’ shoes. Particularly when they’re as storied as brogues. The style’s distinctive perforations were originally designed as an escape valve for bog water, favoured by Irish farmers who spent half their work day stomping through submerged fields.
For much of its life, it stayed firmly in the country; appropriate for hikes, never in town. But in the 1930s the Prince of Wales adopted the style for golf, pairing his with a grey lounge suit. The holes were suddenly seen as decorative, not practical, and the brogue became a flamboyant staple in jazz clubs.
Although broguing is most common on Oxford shoes, because the moniker refers to the perforations, not the construction, examples are almost limitless. British traditional shoemaker Grenson even teamed up with New Balance for a brogued sneaker, all holey, caramel leather, but with a running shoe’s midsole and shape. This variety has helped the brogue become your wardrobe’s most versatile shoe; depending on the construction and level of decoration (as a rule of thumb, the busier the toe cap, the less formal the shoe), it wears with everything from a suit to shorts, everywhere from the office to beer gardens.
But that versatility comes with picking the right pair. “Look for real leather linings and uppers wherever possible,” says Steffan Stafhill, founder of Northern Cobbler. “Synthetic materials won’t react to heat and sweat, meaning they’re less likely to mould to your shape and less likely to be comfortable in the long run.”
You also want Goodyear-welting, a method of attaching the sole to the upper that leaves a tell-tale stitch mark where they meet. As well as making your brogues more durable, it also means a cobbler can easily switch the soles out when they get too worn. Vital, considering a decent pair should last long enough to hand down to your kids.
That longevity and versatility means it’s worth investing – no other pair of shoes in your wardrobe will get as many outings wear or last as long, which brings the cost-per-wear down to pence.
Here are 10 styles worthy of your hard-earned.
Hackett Full Suede Brogues
Most brogues are made from calf leather, but depending how formal you want to go you can swap the tried and tested out for a suede variation.
As previously mentioned, the perforations were originally used to provide drainage, but a suede pair is probably not best suited to treading the marshes.
Available at Hackett, priced £375.
Paul Smith Lincoln Brogues
Brown isn’t just for town, but also the office. Team your trusty navy two-piece with dark brown (not tan) shoes, such as these beautifully made brogues by Paul Smith, for a boardroom-appropriate look.
Available at Paul Smith, priced £310.
Grenson was the first shoemaker to use the Goodyear-welted construction technique, but here it’s the Archie model, with its contrasting rubber wedge sole, that gets our attention.
Despite the contemporary update, the style holds on to all the details of a classic brogue.
Available at Grenson, priced £250.
Armando Cabral Wingtip Brogues
Want to get in on the brogue game without giving up your casual lean? Hunt out a pair that fuse the upper of a classic brogue with the spongy rubber sole of a sneaker, in the same vein as Mr Armando Cabral.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £345.
Thom Browne Longwing Brogue
Less formal than standard smooth leather, but no less natty, grained leather offers a tactile take on the standard brogue.
Thom Browne uses a longwing style, where the broguing on the toe extends round to the back. The brand’s signature tri-colour even makes an appearance as a heel pull.
Available at END, priced £829.
Marks & Spencer Derby Brogue
While dress shoes are often rightly referred to as investment pieces, department store offerings – like these from high street stalwart Marks & Spencer – aren’t to be overlooked.
Winning on both style and price, there’s no reason not to buy a pair in every colour.
Available at Marks & Spencer, priced £59.
Northern Cobbler Hoki 2
The first brogues most men own are often tan in colour. However, graduate to a sleeker black version and benefit from easy pairings with both dark denim and suits.
Known for its shoe-come-coffee shop set-up in Leicester, Northern Cobbler uses premium tanned leather with a hand-stained finish.
Available at Northern Cobbler, priced £195.
River Island Leather And Denim Brogues
Stand out from the crowd by incorporating textures and colours into your footwear game. River Island has made the unlikely pairing of leather and denim with its two-tone offering. Though stylish, perhaps not quite suit-worthy.
Available at River Island, priced £55.
Base London Hi-Shine Brogues
No longer just for eveningwear, high-shine brogues take the footwear style out of the country and into the city.
Base London’s pair incorporates subtle use of colour with its green laces and red heel detailing. Always use a shoe horn when putting on to avoid excess creasing.
Available at ASOS, priced £70.
Ted Baker Leather Brogue Trainers
For those yet to jump on the suits and sneakers trend (and judging by our comments section, there’s a lot of you) this Ted Baker hybrid should ease your transition.
Equal parts formal brogue and sleek trainer, it goes anywhere you’d wear either. Just make sure you keep them clean.
Available at Ted Baker, priced £95.