Marc Nolan's Guide to Dress Shoes

January 18, 2019

So you need a pair of dress shoes. Sounds simple enough, but given the saturation of the dress shoe market, there’s more to consider than just color. Dress shoes can be adorned in myriad ways – from simple cap-toes to extravagant brogue patterns, from dramatic burnishing to subtle hand painting, from eye-catching woven leather to sleek unencumbered uppers. After wading through all the different colors, styles, details, and more, dress shoes tend to fall into two categories: Oxfords and Derby shoes. Here we break down the differences between both, explain how and when to wear each, and give plenty of styling options along the way.

The Difference Between Oxfords and Derby Shoes

The uppers of both the oxford and the derby consist of two parts: the vamp and the quarters. The vamp covers the toes and instep at the front of the shoe, while the quarters wraps around the heel and meets the vamp in the middle at the arch. The notable difference between oxfords and derby shoes is their lacing systems. Oxfords have a closed lacing system, which means the eyelet tabs are attached under the vamp giving it a look of a simple “V” where the laces meet. Derby shoes have an open lacing system in which eyelet tabs are stitched on top of the vamp giving it a look of three “flaps” from the right and left eyelet tab and the shoe’s tongue.

This open system of derby shoes provides an advantage: these can be better for wider feet given the extra flexibility granted by the construction. Meanwhile, oxfords are typically the more formal dress shoe option between the two, given their sleek lines and standardly minimalist detailing.

Marc Nolan Men's Dress Shoes Brent Cap-Toe Oxfords

All About Oxfords

An oxford like Brent is the embodiment of minimalism with sleek lines on the cap-toe and where the vamp and quarters meet. In four colors, Brent fits perfectly into any wardrobe. Suits in black and charcoal are perfect pairs for Brent in black and oxblood respectively, while Brent in mahogany and chestnut make a striking match with navy suits. Brent’s uncluttered silhouette makes him the perfect dress shoe to pair with patterned suits too, such as pinstripes, plaid and window panels.

Usually, oxfords are constructed from multiple pieces of leather that are sewn or glued together. A whole-cut oxford on the other hand, is constructed with a singular large piece of leather, which gives the shoe an impeccably sleek appearance. In black or patent leather, whole-cut oxfords make perfect formal shoes for weddings, proms, and black-tie events. With a pair like Brooks, the quality calfskin leather takes center stage while full leather lining and a memory foam insole will ensure comfort. Wear Brooks with a perfectly fitted classic black suit and prepare to turn heads.

Marc Nolan Men's Shoes Gunner Black Derby Shoes

Dapper in Derby Shoes

Derby shoes have a wide range of style options given their versatility in both formal and casual environments. A pair like Jake strikes the perfect balance between work and play. Jake’s pebbled full grain leather upper features intricate stitching along the cap-toe and along the eyelet facing, Make Jake in walnut work for your 9-to-5 by pairing him with blue window panel trousers and a cable knit sweater, then wear Jake in black with cuffed dark wash denim and a bomber jacket for after hours.

For a more unique style, pick a mixed media pair like Josh which hosts a grey tweed upper and features a calfskin leather cap-toe and counter. Josh in black has a cool confidence to carry you through important meetings. Wear him with a charcoal suit and a burgundy knit tie for a look that means business. Josh in walnut has a spark of personality that will brighten up even the dullest networking event. Wear him with a navy suit and a plum pocket square to make a lasting first impression.

Last but not least, Marc Nolan’s most versatile derby shoes are the sneaker hybrids found in Jasper, Gavin and Gunner. In a range of colors and materials, these sneakers host derby silhouettes while athletic EVA rubber soles give these styles more dimension – not to mention comfort. Wear Jasper, Gavin, and Gunner with anything from track pants and a sweatshirt to trousers and a sport coat; the outfit options are endless. Perfect for morning meetings, evening strolls, nights out, and weekend getaways, these sneakers are ready to go anywhere with you.

So which style better fits your taste? Let us know in the comments below and shop all dress shoes here.


Written by Hannah Swank

Photos by Kevin Reodica

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