How to Interpret The Formality of Your Shoes


How to choose shoes based on the level of refinement - what to look for in shoes if you want to wear them to work vs more casually


When you think about choosing a pair of shoes, you want the shoe to work with your outfit as  whole.   When deciding which pair of shoes to wear, it’s worthwhile being able to quickly interpret the formality of the shoes.

For example, if choosing a pair of oxfords (brogues) there are different elements that all contribute to the overall formality of the shoe.


  • Leather is more formal than fabric.
  • A rubber sole is less formal than a leather sole.
  • Suede is more relaxed than a smooth leather and then a patent leather is more formal than a matte finish.


  • The more pattern in an oxford, the less formal.
  • The more obvious and larger the size of the stitching, the less formal.

How to choose your shoes based on formality - discover how to interpret the formality of the oxford shoe

Level of Refinement of Your Sneakers

Even sneakers vary in their level of refinement (or formality).

Athletic shoes are purpose made for Outdoor Leisure occasions (this is why they are a Level 3 in the Refinement Levels).  This is their purpose, their  raison d’etre.

As you remove some of the bulkiness (thick rubber soles), the loud colours, the multiple panels, and start making them from leather, one colour, a sole that is not white, the shoe becomes more formal.

Sneakers will never be a formal shoe, but they can become a Refinement Level 2 which is good for some everyday casual wear (still at the less formal end of the Level 2 spectrum).

How dressed up or down are your shoes? Are they a really casual kind of shoe only appropriate for outdoor leisure activities or are they a dressier style good for the every day?
We all need a variety of shoes in our wardrobe. Shoes that work for different occasions or events.  So even a shoe like a pump which is a naturally more formal shoe can vary from Refinement Level 1 down to Refinement Level 2.

How to choose a shoe based on formality

Elements of Pumps that Will Reduce the Formality (or Level of Refinement)

  • Pattern – multiple colours and patterns reduce formality
  • Fabric – matte fabrics, matte finish is always less formal than something with sheen or shine
  • Heel shape – the thicker and more sturdy the heel – the more it’s made for “running around” versus the slimmer and more refined the heel, the more formal (and made for sitting) it is.

Putting it All Together

How to choose shoes based on the level of refinement - what to look for in shoes if you want to wear them to work vs more casuallyOf course you always have to look at all the elements of any shoe to decide which level of refinement it fits into, and therefore the kind of outfit it works best with, and the occasions to wear it.

So a matte nubuck leather oxford with lots of pattern and obvious stitching with wider, thicker thread will be a less formal oxford than one that is made from a polished leather with hidden or close stitching in a fine thread with less holes and pattern.

The first shoe would be more of a jeans or casual shoe, the second more of an office trouser shoe.

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