The brogue is a men’s dress shoe that has pinking and perforations as design elements on the upper. Ever so slightly less formal than a balmoral but more formal than your average blucher, it’s a classic shoe with a rich history.
It has a place in every man’s closet.
If you don’t own a pair of brogues, go pick some up once you’re done reading this article.
What Is A Brogue?
A brogue is any shoe that has perforations in the leather.
“Brogue” is the modern-day English spelling of the Gaelic word “bròg,” which translates to “shoe.” Centuries ago, brogues were worn by Scottish and Irish peasants, and the holes (known as “broguing” or perforations) were functional, existing to allow the shoes to drain water after crossing a river or marsh.
They were made of untanned leather, had no heels, and often had fur attached.
Nowadays, the only similarity is the presence of the perforations, which are purely aesthetic. The perforations are often surrounded by “pinking” which is leather cut in a repeating “V” pattern. While very common, pinking isn’t a prerequisite for a brogue to be defined as such.
Pinking, Perforations, & Medallions
These are technical terms that you need to understand to have a discussion about brogues:
- Pinking: Cuts in a material that make the finished edge look like a series of triangles next to each other. In tailoring, the tool used to achieve this is called a set of pinking shears.
- Perforations: Holes in shoe leather. In modern brogues, the holes do not puncture all the way through the material.
- Medallion: The decorative set of perforations on the toe of certain brogues.
Here’s an easy-to-understand visual representation:
Brogues Versus Wingtips
In the United States, it’s common to refer to a brogue as a “wingtip.” While the terms overlap an overwhelming majority of the time, they are not one and the same. “Wingtip” refers to stitching on a shoe’s upper that resembles the open wings of a bird; it has nothing to do with perforations.
Broguing is often arranged in a wingtip pattern, hence the prevalence of the error.
The graphic at the top of this article is, technically, a full brogue. A shoe with a wingtip pattern but no broguing is called an austerity brogue. We don’t know why this term exists because it describes a non-brogue as a brogue, but we don’t make all the rules.
In a nutshell: Wingtips often don’t have broguing, and brogues may or may not be arranged in a wingtip pattern.
How Many Different Brogue Styles Are There?
A fully comprehensive list of every style brogue ever made is beyond the scope of any one article. Broguing is an aesthetic detail as opposed to a structural one, so it’s seen on a wide variety of shoes and in countless style permutations. While very common on lace-ups (you’ll see both bluchers and oxfords in the graphics below), broguing is also found on monk straps, boots, and even sneakers.
Full brogues are what most of us think of when we hear the terms “brogue” or “wingtip.” It has a medallion at the toe, broguing arranged in a wingtip pattern, and more perforations around the quarters, throat, and heel counter.
Also known as a half-brogue, a semi brogue has a perforated and pinked cap-toe detail along with a medallion at the toe.
Technically more formal than a semi-brogue, the quarter brogue is basically a cap toe in which the cap has perforations. There’s no medallion on the toe.
We like to call this a “wingtip” because there’s technically no broguing. This is simply a shoe on whose toe there’s stitching arranged in the shape of a bird’s wings.
A blind brogue is an otherwise full brogue that has no medallion at the toe.
This is another type of full brogue that’s so popular, it deserves its own space. The perforations are arranged in such a way that we still have a wing pattern on the toe, but they span the full sides of the shoe and meet at the heel counter in the back. Florsheim is a popular maker of this model in the States.
The only brogue that’s appropriate for evening wear, this is worn as part of Highland Dress along with a kilt. This shoe has no tongue and very long laces that end up tying just below the calf. This type of brogue bears more resemblance to the bròg from olden days than any other style.
As these are evening shoes, they should ideally be black.
How To Wear Brogues
The most important aesthetic element to keep in mind with a brogue is proportion. Models from classic British makers are often heavier and chunkier than your average dress shoe and thus look better with heavy fabrics like flannel, tweed, and denim. Think country suits or odd jackets and trousers. Boot versions play particularly nicely with these fabrics.
There’s a fair amount of debate as to whether brogues are appropriate with worsted suiting. A good rule of thumb is that there’s an inverse proportional relationship between ornamentation and formality. Full brogues are less formal than semi-brogues, which are less formal than quarter brogues. The only exception to this rule is the Ghillie brogue, which is considered formal evening footwear in Scotland.
Above we see button boots with a medallion paired with light grey trousers.
Use your best judgement on a case-by-case basis, but we feel that slimmer models pair perfectly well with worsted suits, regardless of the level of broguing.
In black or dark brown leather, they’re dressy enough for any business scenario and muted enough even for a funeral. In dark-colored suede, they’re smart enough to wear with a worsted suit and stylish enough for jeans. In a light-colored leather or suede, they’re perfect for summertime wear with chinos and other casual trousers.
- Sneaker: Jeans, shorts
- Light-colored suede: chinos, light jeans, casual trousers
- Dark suede or leather: heavy fabrics like tweed, flannel, and denim.
- Ghillie: Highland Dress (traditional Scottish formal evening wear)
When To Wear Brogue Shoes
Thankfully, men have the opportunity to wear this style of shoe all year round. We’ve suggested some different styles of brogue to try based on season below.
- Spring: Light brown longwings (pictured above), medium brown leather semi-brogues
- Summer: White nubuck semi-brogues, beige quarter brogues
- Autumn: Burgundy lace-up boots, dark brown leather full brogues
- Winter: Chocolate suede full brogues, black quarter brogues
A Note On Exotic Leathers
Generally speaking, we are not crazy about brogues made from exotic skins like alligator, ostrich, crocodile, or lizard. Our reasoning is that these skins bring their own visual interest to the table as it is, and adding a bunch of perforations and a toe medallion would be overkill.
It’s most likely that you would only run into this issue if you were having a pair custom made for yourself; there aren’t many exotic-skin brogues on the ready-to-wear market that we know of.
Where To Buy Wingtips
Like any popular shoe, brogues can be purchased from a wide range of makers. You can spend $50 on the cheapest pair ever, or you can spend $5000 on fully bespoke ones that are perforated to your exact specifications. Here are some that we like in a wide range of price points and styles:
Our Last Word On Brogues
When building a shoe collection, it’s important to cover all your basics first and branch out from there. Brogues offer a unique opportunity to hit both of those categories.
For most men, a pair of brogues makes sense as a third shoe, right after you’ve acquired a basic black oxford and brown derby. It also makes sense as a tenth shoe, when you pick up a pair of ankle-height semi-brogue boots to round out your budding collection.
No matter where they fall in your rotation, brogues will offer you permanent style.