Every man needs a pair of shoes that they can wear with a business casual outfit.
Let’s face it, when you need to make a good impression at work, you don’t want to wear a pair of sneakers under your suit. You won’t look professional.
Fortunately, you have several types of business casual shoes to choose from.
Which one is right for you depends on how formal you want the shoes to look. (Of course, it also depends on your outfit and the occasion.)
Don’t worry though, I’ll give you some advice below.
Why Every Guy Needs a Pair (or Two) of Business Casual Shoes
If you work in a casual office, you may be thinking, “Everyone I work with wears sneakers all the time. Why do I need a pair of business casual shoes?”
But if you really want to make a strong impression and let everyone know you mean business, then keep the sneakers for off-duty style.
Besides, when you have a big presentation, or a meeting with an important client or your boss, you want to put your best foot forward. And you’ll make a better impression if that foot is wearing something classy and not your beat down Nikes.
Now, if you work in a business-casual office, you likely already have a pair of business casual shoes… At least, I hope. But if your pair is on the less formal side of the spectrum, you may consider adding a more formal pair for occasions like the ones mentioned above.
Pairing the Right Shoes with the Right Outfit
In my guide to business casual for men, I gave you four types of business casual outfits. Let’s go over each one and see which shoes you should wear with them.
1: The Suit Sans Tie
This look is as close you can get to formal without crossing that line, so you’ll want your shoes to complement that look. While all the shoes listed below can technically be worn with a suit, for a work-setting, I’d recommend completing the look with a more formal option.
2: The Odd Jacket
This look can range from formal to informal just based on whether you’re pairing your jacket with dress pants or chinos. You should coordinate your shoes accordingly. If you wear dress pants, go with something more formal. If you’re wearing chinos, go for a more casual option.
3: The Dressed-Up Knit
This look replaces your suit jacket with either a sweater or cardigan. You can truly go either way here with your shoe options.
4: The Shirt and Slacks
This is the most casual look out of the four. Now, you might think that means you should go for a more casual shoe. You can, but I’d actually suggest going for a medium-to-high formality. Because the rest of the outfit is already quite dressed down, adding a more formal shoe brings it back up a bit.
Of course, it’s not just about the outfit. You must also consider how formal an event or work environment is when deciding which shoes to select. (Then again, I’d hope you already calibrated your outfit to the formality of the event as well!)
Determining the Formality of Business Casual Shoes
So how do you determine the formality of a shoe?
Well, certain styles are traditionally more formal than others, but these are certain characteristics you can look at to determine the formality yourself.
Here are a few:
- Details & perforation: The more details and perforation a shoe has, the less formal it looks.
- Multi-Tones: When a shoe has multiple colors (even if it’s just the sole that’s a different color) they look more casual.
- Sole: The chunkier the sole, the more casual the shoe.
- Color: Black, brown and burgundy are more formal colors and are your best bet for business casual shoes. Other colors are considered more casual. (Note: lighter shades of brown are also considered more casual than darker ones.
- Leather: The more sleek and shiny the leather, the more formal it looks. The more rugged, the more casual. Suede is a more casual leather-type.
Alright, now that you know what to look for in terms of formality, let’s dive into the various shoe types…
The 7 Types of Business Casual Shoes for Men
Right now, you should already be able to pick out a good pair or men’s business casual shoes when you’re perusing a shoe store. But, I know you want an answer to that burning question. And here’s where we’re going to answer it…
What shoes are business casual?
Level of formality: High
Are oxfords business casual?
Oxfords are definitely considered formal shoes, but you can absolutely wear them in business casual outfits. They are a great option to wear with suit pants, but it doesn’t much matter what you pair those with. You can easily wear them with a suit jacket, cardigan, or just a dress shirt.
Oxfords have a “closed lacing system” which provides for a streamlined look that’s very clean and gentlemanly. You can recognize a closed lacing system by the eyelet tabs — i.e. the tabs on either side of the shoe through which the laces go.
In a closed lacing system, these will be sewn into the leather at the bottom, which keeps them closed, even when untied.
These are the most formal shoes on this list, so if you want to make a great impression, then these are the shoes for you.
Please note though, these are too formal to wear in any outfit with chinos.
Level of formality: High
The derby is a versatile shoes that can be worn with any formal outfit, but still doesn’t look out of place in a more casual outfit. You can even wear them with jeans (but of course, not in a business casual look).
This makes the derby a wiser investment for many men than the oxford, simply because you can wear them in any almost kind of outfit.
So what sets them apart exactly?
The shoes are very similar to oxfords, but derbies have an “open lacing system” as opposed to the oxford’s closed one. You’ll note that the derbies pictured are not sewn into the leather at the bottom, and thus will be able to open when untied.
Like I said, the versatility makes them a solid option for any business casual outfit, whether you’re wearing chinos, dress pants, or a suit.
Level of formality: Medium-High
Brogues are oxfords (or derbies) that have perforations or detailing on the cap of the shoe. That perforation makes this shoe slightly less formal.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t wear them in the more formal outfits, as they pair quite well with a suit as well.
Like derbies, brogues are quite versatile and you can wear them with all business casual outfits.
#4: Monk Straps
Level of formality: Medium-high
Monk straps have become wildly popular within the last decade. The straps are a detail that implies slightly less formality. But these shoes are sophisticated enough to wear with suit pants.
Monk strap shoes have a strap that goes across the vamp of the shoe and buckles into the other side.
Like derbies and brogues, you can wear these with any business casual outfit you choose, no matter which type of pants you’re wearing.
#5: Chelsea Boots
Level of formality: Medium
Chelsea boots are laceless boots with elastics on the side which makes them easy to slip on.
While traditionally they’re considered on the casual side, they’re versatile shoes that can be paired both with a suit and chinos.
Just a tip though – make sure your pants are tailored well to fit around the boots rather than pooling up on top of it, making for a sloppy lack of attention to detail that can ruin your entire look.
#6: Dress Boots
Level of formality: Medium-High
Boots typically imply less formal, but dress boots can look as formal as oxfords, derbies, or brogues, depending on the style of the boot.
These aren’t recommended for tropical climates, but if you deal with heavy winters, you might consider having a pair in your wardrobe, as they’ll keep you warmer than the aforementioned shoes during the chilly season.
Similar to Chelsea boots (or any footwear actually), they shouldn’t pool over your ankle – it bears repeating due to how tacky it is.
Level of formality: Medium
On the opposite end of the business casual spectrum is the loafer. The name implies it all – these are comfortable casual shoes meant for loafing, or aimless wandering. Does that sound very formal to you?
I didn’t think so.
However, you can wear these business casual slip-on shoes with suit pants or chinos, but just know the vibe you’re giving off is more casual and lax, especially if you opt for the sockless or ‘no-show’ sock trend. Obviously if you’re exposing your bare ankles, then you’re wandering into casual territory.
Get the Right Shoes to Rock Your Business Casual Look
Pairing the right shoes with the right outfit is more of an art than a science. As you can probably tell, there are no strict rules, and for any business casual outfit, you have several options.
It all depends on how formal (or casual) you want your overall look to be.
Ideally, you should have one formal pair and one less-formal pair, so you can switch it up. If you only have a casual pair of shoes though, you should start with a more formal pair. (This creates a more versatile wardrobe overall.)
You just learned about seven business casual shoes for men, which all make good options.
So take your pick!