Brogue shoes date back to 16th-century Ireland, drawing their name from the Gaelic word “bróg.” A favorite working shoe of Scottish gamekeepers, farmers and other outdoorsmen, the characteristic perforations were designed to be practical rather than ornamental: the holes let water drain out while walking through wet bogs.
Fast-forward to the ‘Roaring 1920s’ and brogues rocketed into fashion with jazzy two-toned styles. In the 1930s, soon-to-be King Edward VIII of England was seen wearing brogues on the golf course, and by the 1960s, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Elvis Presley – was rocking a pair on stage. Leather brogues have remained a men’s fashion staple ever since – here’s everything you need to know about this versatile shoe.
What is a brogue shoe?
Brogues are defined by their distinctive pattern of decorative holes, known as broguing. Whether they’re Oxfords (closed lacing panel) or Bluchers (open lacing panel) or even Monk Strap shoes doesn’t matter – it’s the ornamental pattern of holes that give this shoe its name.
There are three basic styles of brogue: the quarter-brogue, semi-brogue and full brogue. Full brogues are sometimes referred to as “wingtips”. Generally speaking, the level of perforation determines the level of formality. The fewer the holes – the more formal the shoe.
The quarter-brogue: simple and elegant
The quarter-brogue is the most formal as it features the least amount of decorative perforation – just one line of holes over the toe cap and another around the vamp. There should be no additional perforations on the toe of the shoe.
Black leather quarter-brogues excel in formal situations where you want your shoes to be subtle, rather than showy. They’re the perfect match for a dark suit in black, charcoal or navy. If you’re going for a more casual look, try quarter-brogues in brown leather or suede, and pair them with wool-rich pants and a crisp country shirt.
The semi-brogue: smart and stylish
With additional broguing on the toe and heel, semi-brogue shoes strike the perfect balance between professional elegance and sartorial exuberance.
Still relatively formal, semi-brogues are most at home in business casual or smart casual settings. Wear them with a business suit, or if your workplace is more casual, pair them with chinos or moleskins. Wearing jeans at the weekend? Semi-brogues in tan leather or suede make a stylish statement with indigo jeans.
The full brogue: striking and fun
Full-brogue shoes feature a toe cap line that forms a stylized “W” shape, with long arms that sweep back along the body of the shoe. It’s this iconic “W” that gives full-brogues their nickname of “wingtips.”
The most flamboyant wingtips feature panels of contrasting leather, suede or tweed – a style reminiscent of ‘spectator’ brogues of the 1920s. These jazzy shoes are perfect for a day at the races, weddings and other celebrations – and they’re designed for those who want to be noticed, not those who prefer to blend in!
Prefer to tone it down a notch? A pair of wingtips in oxblood, black or brown leather is eminently suitable for smart casual occasions – say dinner at the golf club or a night at the theatre. Wear yours with moleskin pants and a tweed jacket for a stylish heritage vibe, or with a pair of denim jeans for a cool, contemporary edge.
Don’t forget brogue boots
There’s one more option in your arsenal of brogues for all occasions: the brogue boot.
Featuring the same wingtip perforations as full-brogues, these boots have a chunkier rubber sole for sturdiness and comfort. Brogue boots are the ideal choice for Fall and Winter months, and look great with corduroy pants and a Tattersall shirt. As with all brogues, a jacket and tie will dress your boots up very nicely, while a plain shirt or rugged sweater will dress them down.