What Is A Cap Toe?
A cap toe is any kind of shoe that has horizontal stitching across the toe box that extends to the welt on either side, thus forming a “cap” on the toe. In some cases, the seam is holding an additional piece of leather atop the toe cap.
Like broguing, a cap toe is not a structural element, but rather an aesthetic one.
We bring this up because there is a common misconception that cap toes must be oxfords, must have laces, or some other misinformation. While it’s true that many lace-up shoes have cap toe detailing, this can also be seen on monkstraps, boots, loafers, and the like.
One could even make the argument that both semi- and quarter-brogues are cap toes as well.
In all of these cases, the construction or material from which the shoe is made is inconsequential. What makes a cap toe a cap toe is the seam across the toe box. Simple!
Construction: Does It Matter?
Because a toe cap is aesthetic and not structural, the shoe it adorns can be made any which way. They can be:
- Goodyear welted
- Blake constructed
- Open-throat bluchers
- Closed-throat oxfords
History: Where Do Cap Toes Come From?
There isn’t much research as to when cap-toe seams on shoes came into use. We do know that oxford shoes, on which toe caps are most popular, showed up at Oxford University in the early-to-mid 17th century as “Oxonians.”
It is common to refer to cap-toe oxfords as “Balmorals,” after Balmoral Castle in Scotland. There is a connection there, but further details are forthcoming from sartorial historians.
As stated above, sometimes toe caps are leather pieces sewn atop a shoe’s toe box as opposed to being just a seam of stitching. It’s reasonable to assume that this is done to provide reinforcement for the shoe’s toe box, which is the area of a shoe’s upper that gets dinged most frequently and attracts the most attention.
How Do You Wear Them?
There are dozens of different styles of shoe where a cap toe detail can show up, so it’s difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Throughout this article, you will see pictures of shoes of very different styles, all of which are cap toes. Below, for example, is the classic black cap toe Oxford:
Generally, cap toes find their way onto shoes that are more formal than they are casual. For example, a plain black cap toe oxford (sometimes referred to as a “Balmoral”) is widely considered to be the most formal of daytime business shoes. In fact, when polished to a high shine, they are considered appropriate for black-tie ensembles.
On the other hand, some of that formality can be toned down when we see these as a brown blucher, or perhaps a monk strap shoe.
Even some sneakers, such as the Converse All-Star or Jack Purcell, have cap toe details.
Because cap toe shoes are made in a wide variety of styles, versatility is one of their strong points. Cap toe loafers can be more casual, whereas cap toe oxfords approach the height of formality.
In black patent leather, the cap toe oxford is the standard black-tie shoe.
- Monkstrap or loafer: Chinos, denim, very casual suiting
- Calfskin blucher: Medium-to-light worsted wool or cotton suits, chinos, denim
- Calfskin oxford: Dark worsted suits, odd jackets and trousers, tuxedos (black only)
- Black patent leather oxford: White-or black-tie
Cap toes can be worn any time of year, any time of day. Use the time of year and time of day to narrow your choices down. We offer a few suggestions below:
- Spring: Light-colored leather or suede
- Summer: White quarter brogue
- Autumn: Tobacco or burgundy calfskin
- Winter: Black or chocolate calfskin, black patent leather (evening only)
Top Brands For Cap Toe Shoes
Because you can find a cap-toe on nearly any style of shoe under the sun, your best bet is to consider the structural elements of the shoe you want and go from there. In other words, decide if you want a blucher or a monkstrap cap-toe, think about the type of construction that would best suit your needs and budget, and make a decision on a maker to buy from using that information.
As cap toe oxfords are the most commonly known style, we’re happy to offer our preferred makers with approximate pricing here.
Buying Recommendations: Should You Own A Cap Toe?
Yes, absolutely. The beauty of a cap-toe shoe is that they’re available in many styles and colors, and their versatility is pretty astounding.
If you’re a man who wears suits, you absolutely should own at least a pair in black and a pair in brown. If you’re a guy who dresses in jeans and a blazer, you should take a look at some more casual options, such as tan blucher cap toes or suede monkstrap cap toes. If even that is too dressed up for you, pick up a pair of Chuck Taylors to wear super casually.
Make a cap toe one of the first shoes you buy as you build your collection.