I recently took out all my shoes to give them a nice care session.
With social distancing and lockdown due to COVID-19, we’ve all got a little extra time on our hands, so I thought why not use it towards my shoes – they were missing me anyway 😉
While putting them back though, I realized that I instinctively keep my formal and casual shoes separate. The more I looked at them, the more I observed distinct patterns between the two groups
These patterns can quickly help you identify a pair of shoes as formal or casual, which is the first step towards thoughtful and dress-code appropriate style.
The 5 main differences between formal and casual shoes are in their structure, lacing, material, colour, and sole material. Formal shoes are sleek in shape and dark in colour, made out of leather with a distinct heel. On the other hand, casual shoes are bulkier and made out of fabric or leather, with usually a flat rubber sole. Both formal and casual shoes can be laced or laceless – but when present, laces are thicker in casual shoes
Before we get into the differences though, check out the list below.
For your quick reference, I’ve already grouped commonly known shoe styles in their respective categories.
This will be helpful because when you read about those 5 factors later on and compare them with the list, there may be lots of tiny ‘aha!’ moments.
And those are always nice 🙂
Formal And Casual Shoes Categorized
Formal shoes are also called dress shoes as they can be worn when ‘dressing up’ – suits, blazers, shirts, trousers, etc. Due to their elegant looks they are the best fit for a business / formal setting where conventions and conformity matter, like the office, weddings, or funerals
Casual shoes, on the other hand, are for more relaxed (informal) occasions where personal expression and comfort are more important: like watching a cricket game or having drinks with your buddies.
Wherever you’re going, it is important to select the right shoes to match the formality of the event. Let this table guide you
|Formal Shoes||Casual Shoes|
|Oxfords / Bluchers||Sneakers|
|Monk Strap||Boat & Driving shoes|
|Leather Loafers||Chukka Boots|
|Chelsea Boots||Non-leather Loafers|
Even though a shoe style can broadly be considered either formal or casual, there are certain nuances that can cause ambiguities.
As you can see, loafers are on both sides even though traditionally they are dress shoes. Formality is a spectrum: between two pairs of shoes, there will always be one that is more formal than the other.
For e.g. Oxfords are more formal than Derby shoes but based on the detailing and the material the reverse might also be true.
Keep this in mind when you need to choose between two or more shoes from the same category. More details on formal and semi-formal shoes are covered here
Difference Between Casual And Formal Shoes
These are the 5 factors that decide whether a pair of shoes are formal or casual:
The first major difference between formal and casual shoes is their structure. Structure means the way the shoes are built, their shape and the overall look
As formal shoes are meant for (obviously) formal occasions, they are compact and sleek in shape. Formality requires shoes to be presentable but not overbearing.
Dressy shoes should also share traits with other dressy clothing items like suits, pants, and shirts – sharp lines and clean edges – so that the overall outfit is much more harmonious and cohesive
To achieve this, dress shoes are constructed over wooden lasts that are specially made to mimic a foot, giving us the streamlined structures that look great and match all other formal wear
You must’ve seen those famous Italian shoes – the chiseled toe and the narrow shape is what makes them such a favourite among sartorial enthusiasts
Contrast this with casual shoes like Sneakers and Espadrilles, which tend to be bulkier in shape with less structure.
Boat shoes are a great example – with a little extra room for comfort around the toes and the soft shape that gives off the perfect relaxed vibe. Just like dress shoes complement formal wear, the soft features of casual shoes complement casual outfits
Lacing and Number of Eyelets
Checking the shoelaces is another method of separating formal and casual shoes. Typically, formal shoes will have thin and round waxed cotton shoelaces to keep up with the subtle look, while casual shoes have thicker laces that may be flat or round
Some people do put on flat laces on formal shoes. While it is indeed okay to do that, it’s the exception and not the norm.
Besides, flat laces that are sold for formal shoes will still be thinner than those used on casual shoes – simply because the eyelets are smaller
Talking about eyelets, their number makes a difference in the formality as well. Formal shoes usually have 5-6 pairs of eyelets (when laced) but for casual shoes there is no general trend
Some casual shoes like Chukka boots and boat shoes have 2-3 eyelet pairs, whereas sneakers and boots may have 6 or more pairs of eyelets.
On both formal and casual sides, we also have shoes with no lacing system – Loafers, Chelsea boots, Espadrilles, etc. In this case, the rest of the tips can be referred to consider them in the right group
Formal shoes will be made only out of leather. Faux leather or Vegan leather works too – as long it is leather or looks like leather and satisfies all the other criteria you can say that the shoes are formal 😛
Many shoes come in suede as well. Although suede is made from leather, in my opinion, its texture makes it lean towards the casual side.
I wouldn’t wear a pair of suede loafers or brogues with formal pants; I’d rather match them with denim or dress it down further with shorts
Casual shoes could be either in fabric, leather, or some variation of leather (suede / nubuck). Shoes like sneakers, when made in leather, can move up the formality scale (still on the casual side though)
Dress shoes come in dark colours, most of the bright and vibrant shades are reserved for casual shoes
The reasoning behind this is the same – we need formal shoes to be subtle while still being presentable.
Common colour options for formal shoes are black, medium to dark brown and oxblood. Light brown / Tan is a debatable – personally I love a good tan colour on shoe and would still consider it as a formal shoe, although a little lower on the spectrum after all the dark colours
On the other hand, casual shoes can get as vibrant as possible. There are oranges, blues, yellows, reds, turquoises; the list of colours is endless. I own a pair of dark red sneakers and they’re one of my favourites – would totally recommend you to have a fun colour in your shoe closet to mix it up
And yes, dark colours work for casual shoes as well. Black sneakers are a famous example loved by so many people. Navy blue suede Chukka boots are another great choice for a casual shoe in a darker shade
The colour white deserves a special mention in this section – spectator shoes are two-toned formal shoes that are iconic for the dark – white combination.
When used on its own though, white is a casual colour – cue classic white sneakers
Just like the upper material, traditionally formal shoes will have leather soles while casual shoes have rubber soles
This is not a distinct point of difference though i.e. All formal shoe styles listed in the above table can also be made with rubber soles. Usually, the choice of sole material depends on other factors like durability, comfort, weather resistance, etc.
However, one constant and clear difference I’ve found between dress shoes and casual shoes is the type and look of sole rather than its material.
Formal shoes almost always will have a separate heel part on the sole, whereas casual shoes have flat soles (or with a slight heel drop, but not a clear heel part)
Chukka boots and other casual boots are the exceptions here as their soles can, at times, be similar to that of dress shoes
The soles differ in the width as well. Thicker and chunkier soles are more common for casual shoes and formal shoes will have thinner soles. In fact, shoemakers even try to make the part of the sole that extends beyond the sides as thin as possible
[BONUS] Shoes That Work As Both Formal And Casual
By now you might’ve realized that even though there are clear differences between formal and casual shoes, there is some overlap as well.
This overlap gives way to a neutral zone of sorts where some shoes could either be casual or formal based on the rest of the outfit.
It is interesting to see how this versatility comes into play. if you take the less formal dress shoes and the dressier casual shoes and combine them, you get another group of shoes that can work for both situations
Obviously, they won’t be appropriate for black tie or other super formal events. But otherwise, you could use this to your advantage 😉
Here are some options:
Tan Wingtip Derbies
The tan colour and wingtip brogueing moves these shoes closer to the lower end on the formal side.
Pair them with dark denim or chinos – Blue goes wonderfully with tan and is my favourite combination
Or wear these with dress pants with a tucked in dress shirt during the day to have the perfect balanced look of relaxed but professional
Ah, White Sneakers are such a classic.
I realized the true potential of white sneakers only recently; once I got over the initial overwhelm (due to the stark contrast of white with other colours) I’ve been using them more and more
If you could only have one sneaker for life, it should be white
Wear these with any casual outfit – including shorts – white goes with everything
Or show-off your trendy side by wearing white sneakers and a t-shirt with a blazer to dress it down. I haven’t tried this look yet so I don’t have any opinions on it, but the idea definitely seems interesting
Leather Penny Loafers
Another classic. If you could only have one loafer for life, then…… you know what I mean 😀
Note that I have mentioned leather loafers and not seude. Suede Penny Loafers, although gorgeous, may not go with many work outfits
Leather, on the other hand, will obviously match well with dress pants. And for those casual times, go for that sockless look and rock these with a pair of jeans or chinos
Understand The Rules, Then Go Break Them
Style rules are laid out to guide us when confused, so it is important to completely understand these differences first.
With a good working knowledge of which shoes can be categorized as formal or casual, you can then begin to experiment with what you like.
You’ll never know if it works unless you’ve tried it; some of the most inspirational style bloggers I follow have recommended breaking the rules once in a while (only if you know what you’re doing)
Maybe you’ll start the next style trend 🙂
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As formal shoes are meant for (obviously) formal occasions, they are compact and sleek in shape. Formality requires shoes to be presentable but not overbearing. Contrast this with casual shoes like Sneakers and Espadrilles, which tend to be bulkier in shape with less structure.What is a casual shoe? ›
Let's talk about Casual shoes.
Casual Shoes is one type of footwear. It is characterized by sturdy leather uppers, non-leather outsoles, and a wide profile. Some designs of dress shoes can be worn on a gender basis. Usually, it is used for daily casual use. There are a variety of casual shoes in the market.
Generally, a shoe's true formality is a function of three things: style, material, and color. For instance, a black patent leather oxford is more formal than a brown calfskin oxford. Similarly, a black patent leather Venetian loafer is more formal than a black calfskin oxford.What is the difference between casual and formal wear? ›
While formal shirts are generally quite fitted and have long tails, casual shirts are shorter and cut to give a little more room. This is because unlike formal shirts, they are usually left untucked and worn more casually.What is the difference between casual and formal style? ›
Key Difference – Casual vs Formal Wear
The key difference between casual and formal wear is that casual wear emphasises comfort and informality whereas formal wear emphasises elegance and formality.
In the same way that minimalist sweatshirts are now suitable office wear, it's perfectly acceptable to do sneakers with formal. It's not as simple as just chucking on a pair of Converse, but as long as you follow a few simple rules, it's an easy look to pull off.What are the benefits of casual shoes? ›
Goes with everything: Casual shoes have the potential to match with every and any outfit one wants to wear. Easy to maintain: Casual shoes are easy to maintain without much of a hassle when it comes to cleaning or storing. Cost effective: The worth of the shoes is extremely essential to make a content shoe purchase.Can I wear formal shoes casually? ›
Perfect for wearing to office, formal shoes can go well with semi-casual and even casual wear. Over the years, formal shoes have undergone several changes that make them easy to wear.What shoes can you wear to a formal? ›
Today, loafers, boots, and oxfords can all be used as formal shoes for men. It's pretty much anything goes, as long as the men's formal shoes you choose match the occasion and the suit you are wearing. If you are wearing a tux then we still recommend tuxedo shoes. For dress suits, the list is longer.Can I wear casual shoes with formal pants? ›
While canvas shoes definitely complement a pair of jeans, formal trousers can also be teamed up with sneakers now. Keep your formal looks simple with a basic sneaker which will give an edge to formal wear. Classic black and white can be particularly effective in sustaining your formal look.
Dress sneakers are formal shoes that combine comfort and style - increasing your wardrobe options.Can I wear sneakers for formals? ›
A good pair of white sneakers is acceptable in formal and informal settings. Navy blues and neutral browns are also good colours for a formal sneaker outfit. You could opt for a pant suit and pair it with sneakers.What makes formal wear? ›
In western countries, a "formal" or white tie dress code typically means tailcoats for men and evening dresses for women. The most formal dress for women is a full-length ball or evening gown with evening gloves. Some white tie functions also request that the women wear long gloves past the elbow.What are the 6 types of casual attire? ›
- Active Casual. (page 12, Casual Power, for detailed photos)
- Rugged Casual. (page 13, Casual Power, for detailed photos)
- Sporty Casual. page 14-15, Casual Power, for detailed photos.
- Smart Casual. (page 16, Casual Power, for illustrations & photos)
- Dressy Casual. ...
- Business Casual.
Smart casual is generally a middle ground between being too casual and too formal - that is neat, conventional, but relatively informal in style. One of the big difference between smart casual and casual is generally the removal of jeans from the protocol, instead replacing them with nicer chinos or slacks.What is the difference between casual and informal attire? ›
While casual is "informal" in the sense of "not formal", informal wear traditionally refers to a Western dress code associated with suits—a step below semi-formal wear—thus being more formal than casual attire.What is the difference between casual and professional? ›
So if "business professional" means a suit for both men and women at one organization, then "business casual" may be dress pants or skirts without the jacket or tie (for men).What is in between casual and semi-formal? ›
A small step above semi-formal, though not as formal as black-tie optional or black-tie, cocktail attire is a popular dress code choice. It's a balance between elegant and comfortable and typically more formal than a day wedding but more casual than a night celebration.Do formal shoes go with jeans? ›
Make sure you are wearing the right type of jeans
Opt for the dressier variety. Distressed jeans, jeans with holes, and jeans with a lighter wash are all ultra-casual and will NEVER go well with dress shoes. Instead, opt for denim that fits well in the waist and the hips.
Dress boots will always be more casual than standard dress shoes. In certain formal environments, dress boots may be slightly too casual, even when paired with a suit.
Bellies, boat shoes, boots, brogues, clogs, driving shoes, corporate casuals, espadrilles, high tops, loafers, moccasin, and slip-on sneakers are the different casual shoes for guys. Q.What are 5 reasons for wearing shoes? ›
1. Shoes Prevent Foot Problems
- Ingrown toenails.
- Fungal nail infections.
- Athlete's foot.
Sports shoes are another must-have in your footwear collection. These are designed to provide maximum comfort, stability, and grip in every way so you cannot miss out on them. As one aspect required in daily wear shoes is durability, sports shoes fit perfectly as they are well equipped to endure heavy wear and tear.Can you wear formal shoes without socks? ›
Without wearing socks, excessive moisture in your dress shoes will cause the leather to prematurely wear. Given that your dress shoes are likely the most expensive shoes in your closet, be sure to always wear socks with them.Should you wear socks with formal shoes? ›
Dress Shoes should always be worn with dress socks. It is not OK to wear sports socks of any colour, even black, with business shoes. Sports socks are usually ribbed and made of a heavier cotton material and the bulkiness of the heavier fabric tends to make it bunch over the dress shoe.Are shoes with laces formal? ›
There's a case to be made that shoes can't really be considered classically formal if they lack shoelaces. Lace-up shoes are certainly designed for formality, and that's easy to see in the Batta from Belvedere.Can I wear jeans for formal? ›
In order to make sure your jeans are formal enough, you will want to lean toward formal and classy with your choice of shirt and jacket. A crisp dress shirt is always a good choice when paired with jeans, add a sporty button-up shirt can add a dash of personality to a more casual business office.Should formal shoes be tight or loose? ›
The shoes should feel comfortable without feeling tight. If they feel tight, loosen the laces and try again. If the laces are as loose as they can be, and the shoes are still too tight, try a wide width.What is acceptable for formal wear? ›
Formal wear will almost always include a dark colored suit (tuxedo) and bow tie, whereas semi-formal dress for men is a bit more flexible. Try a lighter colored suit, or a blazer and slacks with a sharp belt. Semi-formal wear can include a tie, but doesn't always have to, and shoes can be smart or relaxed.Why formal shoes are not comfortable? ›
The most pronounced difference between dress shoes and everyday footwear is simply that most dress shoes are created with (sometimes) rigid leathers. They're almost always classic in style and fit and you'd be walking on a leather sole which is most often, not very comfortable.
If you thought that formal shoes can't be worn with t-shirts, you need to amend that thought right now because wearing black shoes with a tee looks absolutely trendy. Pair a tapered trouser with it and you are good to go. If not a trouser, then even a pair of denims to get that black-on-black look on point.Which formal shoes are best with jeans? ›
A few dress shoes to consider wearing with these jeans would be derbies, monk straps, loafers, or even brogues. Desert boots or chukka boots could also be considered for more casual occasions.
If you wind up wearing a suit, or even a blazer and pants for a semi-formal dress code, feel free to keep things casual with the footwear choice. Try out a suede loafer in a shade or blue, or a smart pair of patterned sneakers to make a simple look more intricate.What kind of shoes to wear with a dress? ›
Ankle-length dresses can be paired with flat shoes, but longer floor-length dresses should be worn with heels. Maxi dresses are known for comfort though, so choose shoes that you would be the most comfortable in. Wedges: Wedges are a great match with maxi dresses, especially if you're on the shorter side.Are jeans OK for casual dress? ›
T-shirts, jeans and trainers: all are allowed under a casual dress code. The key principle is that you should only wear clean clothing without any ragged or visibly damaged areas. Flip-flops, shorts or baggy clothing such as sweatpants or hoodies are not entirely welcome.Can white shoes be formal? ›
Create formal looks with white oxfords.
In some cases, they are the perfect solution to a particular formal look. For instance, patent leather white oxfords look great with wedding attire when the groom isn't wearing the traditional black tux.
Plain Toe – These feature no design on the front of the shoe and are often worn during formal events. However, the lack of decorations makes them great for everyday use. You can even go casual and pair them with jeans. Cap Toe – Another popular option for formal occasions.Can I wear Crocs on formal? ›
Save your Crocs for casual outfits only.
For this reason, it's best to avoid wearing them with button-down shirts, slacks, formal blouses, and anything else that's remotely dressy.
Can you wear flats to a formal wedding? Yes! You absolutely can! This is where you can pick flats that are beautifully enhanced with lace, ribbons, bows, pearls, and rhinestones.Can I wear sandals on formal clothes? ›
In answer to questions like, can you wear sandals to the office or can you wear sandals to an interview, we say yes absolutely! You just have to think about the overall vibe of your outfit and the type of sandal you choose here is key.
Choose a classic color like black, navy, blue or white to streamline your business formal attire.How do you look formal? ›
- For men: Formal suit, dress shirt, dress shoes, tie. Sometimes dressy slacks and sport coat are acceptable alternatives for a business suit. ...
- For women: business suit with skirt, blazer, blouse, dress shoes. Pants are also acceptable.
Formal Texture. The smoother and often the shinier the fabric, the more formal it generally is. A textured basketweave fabric would be more likely to appear on a sports coat than a classic suit, and corduroy would make for casual trousers, not dress pants.Can I wear formal shoes with jeans? ›
Yes, You Can Wear Dress Shoes with Jeans…
Here, we'll cover what most men get wrong about wearing dress shoes and jeans, how you can pull it off, and why the rest of your outfit matters as well.
Wearing comfortable shoes can help in working all day long without any pain. Formal attire gives you confidence as well as grace. It makes your entire appearance elegant. Talking about the formal look, we only pay attention to clothing and sometimes neglect footwear, which is also important.Is jeans casual formal? ›
Jeans are usually considered business casual, with some exceptions. Business casual jeans should be clean and in good condition, free of any tears, fading or fraying. Avoid bright-colored jeans or styles that have flashy details, in favor of classic styles that you can pair with accessories or layers as needed.Which formal shoes go with jeans? ›
A few dress shoes to consider wearing with these jeans would be derbies, monk straps, loafers, or even brogues. Desert boots or chukka boots could also be considered for more casual occasions.
You can't wear dress shoes if you're wearing jeans that are loose or feature a relaxed style. You don't want any "puffing" around your legs while you're wearing something so formal. Regular-fit or slim-fit is the way to go. Keep in mind that how your jeans fit you should also be considered.