I am a militant purist when it comes to choosing shoes to wear with a business suit – you won’t find any fashion names in my collection, only pedigree shoemakers. Men of a similar persuasion and attention to detail will know that each has its own handwriting (or should that be footprint?) and once they find one they like, they tend to stick to it, experimenting with different styles within the range.
Bastion of Jermyn Street, John Lobb, is known for its honed, lean, yet strictly British last shapes. Its handsome calf‑leather Oxford Sauntons (£695) look best in bracken tan. (If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between an Oxford and a Derby, the former’s lace-hole facings are closed off, while the latter’s splay open.) The design and quality of Lobb’s shoes are so high that even less conventional colours such as plum or pewter work well in the Philip IIs (£940). More discreet perhaps, are the clean and elegant Becketts (£940) in chestnut or black and the Redmire monk‑straps (£940) in black or claret.
Devotees of French marque JM Weston – my enduring favourite – include French political figures (Chirac, Sarkozy) and business leaders (Arnaud de Puyfontaine of Vivendi). Weston’s refined elegance is achieved through swooping lines and an old-fashioned approach to detailing, added to its meticulous selection of box-calf leathers and noble lasts. The Flore 402 one-piece (£615) is a simple, perfectly pointed shoe, while the Savile 582 Oxfords (£555) are more rounded with a lightly perforated pattern decorating the toe and sides. The Graphic Derbys (£645) are graceful and the Claridge line is a nod to a British style: the 477 Derbys (£575) and 470 Oxfords (£590) are broader and have extra punched-hole decoration. Don’t settle for black until you’ve seen the rich browns and burgundies, which look equally impeccable with a business suit.
Personally, I avoid black shoes as they reveal few of the leather’s fine qualities and do not develop a patina over time. Still, black teamed with a navy suit is pretty stylish for formal businesswear and it remains the go-to choice for many executives. “Our plain Oxfords [£995], semi-brogues [£425] and full brogues [£750] in black calf leather are our bestsellers for business,” Pierre Balesi, retail manager at George Cleverley confirms. The brand, which specialises in beautifully classic shoes, previously only offered bespoke (from £2,800), but it has recently expanded into ready‑to‑wear. For a subtle variation on a plain black shoe, there are different depths of polish. “Once a toe cap or even the entire shoe is treated with a high‑shine polish, they become that bit smarter, perfect for client or board meetings,” Balesi suggests.
Toe shape ranges from classic to contemporary. “Older clients favour a rounder toe, while younger blades are attracted to squarer, sharper shapes.” The new, square-toed Adelaide semi-brogues (£475) have a perforated crown around the facings, an interesting twist that further updates this otherwise timeless style.
Full brogues – or wingtips – have the most decoration and, as such, are the bravest of the brogues. But brave doesn’t mean brash in the hands of Edward Green. Take, for example, the beautifully conceived Malvern (£680), deftly burnished in dark oak. The brand has been experimenting artfully with colour since the 1980s and this round-toed, truly British‑looking shoe also comes in antique chestnut, dark oak and Edwardian, all subtly faded with attractive patinas. The Chelsea (£680), an Oxford with a smooth toecap, is remarkable in dark oak or bauxite (and very good teamed with a navy suit) and the Aberdeen Derby in cloud (£750) is almost vintage-looking. The more daring, dark-oak Harrogate full brogues (£760) have a suede panel and are a good choice for business in warmer climates.
Indeed, when working in hot weather, chocolate‑brown suede makes a relaxed statement – one particularly favoured by Italians, styled with navy tailoring and deep-azure shirts. Sophisticated Parisian brand Corthay has Bucy suede Oxfords (£1,170) – smart quarter brogues that are ideal for summer; the same style also comes in old-wood-patina calfskin (£1,170). Italian brand Santoni offers some other examples: its plain brown reindeer-suede lace-ups (£365) are ultra-versatile, light and perfect for travel. Santoni’s signature shoe is a double monk-strap (£504), which conveys a certain nonchalance but still works with a business suit. The brand has developed a hand-dyed leather in a gunmetal-like colour that suits the monk very well, exhibiting a dash of finesse that is super-looking with navy or brown.
While Berluti has a reputation for distinctive creative flair, a couple of its styles would suit businessmen in the market for just a hint of dandy. The very French-looking Alessandro (£1,350), a key Berluti design since the company’s inception, has an elongated, pointy shape and just three eyeholes. A new perforated version in smart Venezia leather (£1,350) is just as individual and particularly lovely. Despite being demonstrably less formal, some men feel comfortable doing business in loafers. Berluti’s famous Andy loafer (£1,350) is one option, JM Weston’s neat yet cosmopolitan 180 Moccasins (£435) – firm favourites of Mr Sarkozy’s – are another. If one considers the adage “a woman judges a man by his shoes”, perhaps Sarkozy’s style isn’t a bad one to follow.