Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget: A Black Tie Guide

Our Black Tie Guide continues to help you find all the elements of an eveningwear ensemble. Today, we discuss finding the right shoes — at the right price.

Part 3: Formal Footwear

I don’t want to introduce hyperbole, but wearing bad shoes can take the sharp look of a tuxedo and throw it in the Dumpster. Few things are as disappointing as seeing a gentleman going to extraordinary lengths to wear a tuxedo to only see he’s slipped on a pair of cheap, sport-hybrid, corrected-grain, bicycle-toed “dress shoes”. 

Here’s some basic guidance on what to look for in formal footwear:

  • Black calf leather (patent leather optional)
  • Laced shoes should be balmorals; no blüchers
  • Plain-toe and cap-toes are acceptable; avoid brouging and wingtips
  • Opera pumps are an acceptable slip-on; avoid loafers

Some traditionalists would consider opera pumps as the only footwear choice for black tie (Jesse is a fan), but I can sympathize with those of you who have hesitation. Unless you find a way to score a pair cheaply (or you have disposable income), it’s probably not a good purchase as you can’t really wear it outside of formal events. As someone who only finds an excuse once a year to don black tie, it’s probably not practical. 

If you’re looking for a pair, Shipton & Heneage has two options for $245. And Brooks Brothers has their pair for around $450.

For most men, you probably will find the black cap-toe oxford to be the most accessible and affordable option. The cap-toe shoe will be versatile in the rest of your wardrobe for when you wear a regular suit, making it a better value purchase. 

The Allen Edmonds Park Avenue frequently turns up on eBay for prices below $150 — if not significantly cheaper. You can sometimes find them new and on sale at around $200, too. A retail budget option would be Charles Tyrwhitt, which has a full-grain cap-toe oxford for around $150. 

If you’re able to find it, the plain-toe oxford, in my mind, is a preferred option for footwear. Not so formal that it can’t be worn with a regular suit, but the cleaner, sleek look fits better with the tuxedo. You can see Fred Astaire’s pair (given as a gift to Dick Clark for his 50th birthday) above. One can only hope they dance in a tuxedo so often that their shoes look so well worn. 

The cheapest plain-toe oxford I can find is also from Charles Tyrwhitt, at around $200 in patent leather. For around $260 you can get patent leather pairs from Herring or Shipton & Heneage. My favorite though has to be from Kent Wang, whose $350 plain-toe balmorals aren’t patent leather, letting you wear them with a suit.

If you choose to go the laced shoe route, then you should consider buying a pair of black silk shoelaces, like on Astaire’s pair above. I only know of two places you can buy them: from George Cleverley (you’ll have to e-mail them) or from A Suitable Wardrobe’s online store. The cost is about $40 either way, but they definitely elevate the look of even a simple cap-toe shoe to something much more formal. 

-Kiyoshi

House Shoes
Although it’s very much a cultural issue, I prefer having separate shoes for when I’m at home. You can change between shoes at the porch, and doing so will ensure that you don’t track in filth. Indoor shoes can also provide your feet with support and, at the same time, be more comfortable than lace ups.
There are a variety of options. On the more “formal” side, there are Prince Albert slippers, which are typically velvet and have quilted silk linings. The English aristocracy used to wear these when they received people into their homes. They were worn with tuxedos and smoking jackets, but in the past few decades, they’ve migrated to the more casual side of the spectrum. I think they look quite smart with a pair of casual trousers, button up shirt, and a sweater. Black is the most traditional color, but brown, navy, and British racing green work nicely as well. I like them plain, but if you get an emblem, I suggest that it be of something with personal relevance (e.g. your initials, a sport you play, or a school you attended). You can buy such slippers from Brooks Brothers, Stubbs & Wooton, Broadland, Bowhill & Elliot, and Shipton & Heneage. You’ll also find that most major English shoemakers have them for sale.
For more casual options, there are Grecian, mule, and moccasin-styled slippers. These typically come in leather and sometimes have sheepskin lining. I think such slippers look best with a heel cup, but the mule style will be easier to take on and off. Drapers of Glastonbury makes really excellent models, and Pediwear has them for pretty attractive prices. You can also get some handsome ones at Brooks Brothers, Morlands, Jeremy Law, and Mr. Porter.
Some American men may want even more casual options still. For those men, I’d recommend LL Bean, Lands End, and Ralph Lauren. I personally don’t find those styles to be as attractive, but they can look more suitable if you wear jeans or sweatpants at home. You can also check out Muji (both the European and American webshops). They have slippers at extremely affordable prices.
Finally, two additional pairs I think you should consider are the travel and bath slipper. If you travel a lot, a pair of travel slippers can be nice for when you’re at the hotel. They’re also wonderful for long flights since your feet swell during air travel. La Portegna makes some really handsome ones, but as I’ve written before, their shipping is a bit high. I’ve been told, however, that they’re working on expanding their US distribution. The other pair of slippers you may need are terry cotton bath slippers. These should be worn underneath a bathrobe when you’re heading off to the shower. Having a separate pair helps ensure that you don’t stick damp feet into your lounge slippers, which can be bad for both your feet and your shoes. If you buy nice slippers, you might as well make sure they last.
(pictured above: Derek Rose Gower slippers)

House Shoes

Although it’s very much a cultural issue, I prefer having separate shoes for when I’m at home. You can change between shoes at the porch, and doing so will ensure that you don’t track in filth. Indoor shoes can also provide your feet with support and, at the same time, be more comfortable than lace ups.

There are a variety of options. On the more “formal” side, there are Prince Albert slippers, which are typically velvet and have quilted silk linings. The English aristocracy used to wear these when they received people into their homes. They were worn with tuxedos and smoking jackets, but in the past few decades, they’ve migrated to the more casual side of the spectrum. I think they look quite smart with a pair of casual trousers, button up shirt, and a sweater. Black is the most traditional color, but brown, navy, and British racing green work nicely as well. I like them plain, but if you get an emblem, I suggest that it be of something with personal relevance (e.g. your initials, a sport you play, or a school you attended). You can buy such slippers from Brooks Brothers, Stubbs & Wooton, Broadland, Bowhill & Elliot, and Shipton & Heneage. You’ll also find that most major English shoemakers have them for sale.

For more casual options, there are Grecian, mule, and moccasin-styled slippers. These typically come in leather and sometimes have sheepskin lining. I think such slippers look best with a heel cup, but the mule style will be easier to take on and off. Drapers of Glastonbury makes really excellent models, and Pediwear has them for pretty attractive prices. You can also get some handsome ones at Brooks Brothers, Morlands, Jeremy Law, and Mr. Porter.

Some American men may want even more casual options still. For those men, I’d recommend LL Bean, Lands End, and Ralph Lauren. I personally don’t find those styles to be as attractive, but they can look more suitable if you wear jeans or sweatpants at home. You can also check out Muji (both the European and American webshops). They have slippers at extremely affordable prices.

Finally, two additional pairs I think you should consider are the travel and bath slipper. If you travel a lot, a pair of travel slippers can be nice for when you’re at the hotel. They’re also wonderful for long flights since your feet swell during air travel. La Portegna makes some really handsome ones, but as I’ve written before, their shipping is a bit high. I’ve been told, however, that they’re working on expanding their US distribution. The other pair of slippers you may need are terry cotton bath slippers. These should be worn underneath a bathrobe when you’re heading off to the shower. Having a separate pair helps ensure that you don’t stick damp feet into your lounge slippers, which can be bad for both your feet and your shoes. If you buy nice slippers, you might as well make sure they last.

(pictured above: Derek Rose Gower slippers)