As a student, I am often faced with a serious dilemma; food or clothes. Sadly, staying alive has to take priority so I am forced to browse, but not touch, wish but not have – unfortunately touching and wishing makes it harder to walk away. Perhaps the thing I suffer from most however, which I’m sure also afflicts many of you, is a love of shoes. So far I have managed to keep it under control and I believe I will be able to continue to do so in the foreseeable future (as I’ve said, food is more important).

However, there is one type of shoe that I crave more than any other; I find myself inexplicably drawn to them, I cannot walk past a shoe shop without gazing longingly at the offerings on display, and make people around me uncomfortable as I stand there twitching with desire. Whether boot or dress shoe, full, semi, quarter or closed, the brogue is undoubtedly a fashion icon, one which we should all embrace and I for one think that anyone who doesn’t own at least one pair should stop reading right now and buy a pair.

The Origins Of The Brogue

Firstly I would like to apologise profusely, for the quite frankly lewd imagery put forth in that introductory paragraph, most distasteful and certainly not befitting any description of the brogue. Secondly, I think its time for a very short history lesson… Originating in Scotland and Ireland, the brogue we know today was first used, in its most rudimentary form, as a walking shoe. Made of un-tanned leather, the perforations were very useful for drainage when traversing a bog or other such soggy terrain. Traditionally considered an outdoor shoe, they have experienced quite a transformation, being now suitable for almost any occasion. See, short history lesson, verging on an advert. Nevertheless, press on we shall.

Brogue Types and Picks

As with many styles of formal shoe, brogues are surprisingly versatile, suiting both casual and smarter attire. The term Oxford is thrown around a lot when discussing brogues and to many of you it might mean absolutely nothing. What it essentially describes is the closure of the shoe; the construction of the lace holes and vamps, originating from Oxford University. It is from this that we get the different styles – full or wingtip, semi, quarter and longwing.

The full brogue is fairly self explanatory, the most iconic style, with serrated and perforated seams and edges and the patterned toe cap (wingtip is used more frequently in America). The semi brogue has the same patterned toe cap but only has a serrated and perforated edge along the toe cap rather than on all the seams and edges. The quarter brogue has no toe cap pattern, just the serrated and perforated edge at the toe cap. Longwings are now much less popular, and not often seen.

The issue with brogues is that different styles tend to better suit certain looks or outfits. Ask anyone (read: opposite sex) what they look at first in an outfit and I can guarantee that most, if not all of them will say the shoes. I know I do it, I know my friends do it and I even know my Mum does it, so it’s always important to get it right. I’ll get this bit out of the way first, but I’m sure if you are considering brogues or have some now, you already do this fastidiously – polish your damn shoes, polish them like there’s no tomorrow, as if your life depends on it. Unless they’re distressed versions from All Saints or made of suede then leather shoes are meant to be squeaky clean and shiny.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the whole pointy brogue, it just doesn’t seem right to me, but if they float your boat, fair enough. The best thing to do with them is pair with skinny or slim jeans in preferably a black or dark wash (straight cut or anything larger will swamp the slim profile of the shoe), a shirt or polo and cardigan. I would also stick to black or dark brown, as they work with most looks, will transcend trends and aren’t too showy. The whole point of brogues being used in this way is to smarten up an otherwise fairly casual look.

As brogues come in 3 main differing styles, there are plenty to choose from. The majority will be leather; patent or otherwise and either black, dark brown or tan. However, there has also been a big increase in the number of suede styles. This takes the shoe into a whole other dimension, the material makes them a much more casual piece of footwear, and they are now available in a wide range of different colours from blues to cream, green to red, almost any you fancy. Suede also makes them a seasonally transitional item.

Traditionally brogues are A/W wear, designed for the colder months, but while you can still wear them during the warmer months (I shall certainly be wearing mine) the leather makes them a little unsuitable, and they don’t necessarily reflect the stripped back, casual styles of the S/S season. With suede, they become much more suitable; they are less formal, lighter, and the influx of coloured styles can make them a real statement piece, reflecting much closer the warmer colour pallets. But how could you wear them? Whilst they suit the warmer weather much better than leather varieties, by no means are they exclusive. If you want to inject a shot of colour into your winter outfits then they are perfect, just make sure you use a suitable suede protector on them. Team with rolled up chinos (if you can bare it), denim shirt or thick jumper and your winter coat for a great bohemian look – maybe even chuck in a paisley scarf or neckerchief to finish it off.

But what about the more traditional leather varieties? Should you want to have some in your arsenal, a lot depends on your personal choice, the same as with any fashion purchase. If you wish to keep it classic, stick to the full Oxford brogue in dark tan/brown or black, and use with slim or straight jeans, a crisp shirt and structured blazer for an easy, mature and sophisticated casual look. One thing to remember however is that the slimmer the trouser, the slimmer you will want your brogue, as some pieces can be very chunky. In fact a lot of the more traditionally made or styled shoes can be quite big, so these with skinny jeans are a no.

You can of course add them into your work attire, and what better way to introduce some variation and individuality than by wearing some classic brogues. I would personally avoid the two tone spectator brogues that are on the market though, as they are perhaps a little too garish for the office. Personally I would use a semi or quarter brogue with any work wear as a full style may be a somewhat too busy and fiddly, altering the whole look of your carefully chosen suit. However if the pattern and colour is subtle and flows nicely then a full brogue pattern shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Standard suit rules still apply however.

You could of course wear brogue boots, these as a matter of fact are my personal favourites, certainly if you are wearing skinny jeans and would prefer cleaner lines in your outfit (I’m thinking mod or indie looks) then use boots as you avoid the break at the hem of the jean and top of the shoe. The boot styles also tend to be a bit slimmer in design, perfect for the slimmer cut jean. If you wish to create that bohemian, utility or preppy look then standard shoes are your best bet, as they offer a much more rugged and complex shape, especially if rolled up without any socks. Colours are again your personal choice; a lot of designers are starting to introduce more colours in their offerings, not only in suede but leather. You have to ask yourself – just how much of a statement do I wish them to make and how versatile do I want them to be.

Readers View

So what do we think?

  • The next/current ‘must have’ footwear style or a flash in the pan?
  • Are you a fan of brogues?
  • What is your favourite style?
  • Are you a current owner? Describe your experiences.

Let us know in the comments below.