“Want to know if a guy is well–dressed? Look down.” —George Frazier
I recall a wedding I attended, one meant to be quite nice. The besuited officiant stood before the bride and groom to perform the ceremony. Although his tie was questionable, it was the shoes that destroyed him. He wore brown kiltie loafers, the sort of thing one probably ought not to wear at all, but certainly not when officiating a wedding. Had he only chosen converse sneakers he could have excused it by being “hip.”
Black captoes is what our sartorially challenged officiant was missing. They will handle any level of formality you might need in most any situation save for black tie (some bend the rules and will make do with a cap toe even there). From board meeting to Sunday services to funeral to wedding (whether attending or officiating), black captoes will see you through.
We’re talking about what is known as a balmoral, or oxford, which has “closed” lacing as opposed to the blucher, or derby, which has “open” lacing. The bal is more formal and
thus more appropriate with a suit. Bluchers are better with blazers, sportcoats and casual wear.
A good rule of thumb when choosing dress oxfords is the more brogueing–the decorative holes punched in the leather–the less formal the shoes are. Thus there is a continuum from plain straight tip through quarter brogue (and beyond the captoe to “full brogue,” or wingtip). For your first–and perhaps only–pair of black captoes it is best to purchase either a straight cap (no brogueing at all) or a punch cap (a line of brogueing across the cap, but no medallion on the toe). If given a choice, I would choose the punch cap, which maintains a high formality level but gives the shoes a bit more interest.
For the man who wears a suit every day, multiple pairs of dress shoes are necessary. But many of you only wear a suit once, or maybe twice, each week. One pair of dress shoes could well be all that is necessary (although perhaps not all that are desired), and with light wear and proper care can last you for years and even decades.
The most iconic American captoe is the Park Avenue by Wisconsin maker Allen Edmonds. A number of American Presidents have been inaugurated in Park Avenues supplied by AE (save for our current president who regrettably, and inexplicably, chose a split toe blucher). Though one might go into sticker shock at their price, remember they are American made of quality leather. They can be resoled, and honestly could last you your entire working career. Be aware they, and their punch cap cousin the Fifth Avenue (really, a better looking shoe than the Park Avenue), can sometimes be found from AE as seconds or gently used on ebay.
A temptation is to choose a cheaper path, but you’ll end up with offshore made shoes with corrected grain leather. Corrected grain leather has been “plasticized” to give it a uniform appearance, but it’s generally unpleasant stuff that will age horribly. Quality calfskin gets better with age. Corrected grain leather will crease and wear badly.
If you’re hitting the thrift and consignment circuit, look for Allen Edmonds, Alden, Florsheim, Cole-Haan, Brooks Brothers/Peal and made in USA or made in England (Italian made can also sometimes sneak in, but is not always a reliable indicator of quality). This can be a rewarding route to pursue, but it does require some skill, quite a bit of persistence and even more luck.
Black captoes are a crucial part of your basic kit. Buy quality, even if it hurts a bit. You will always look right, and your shoes will last on and on.