Monkstraps are simply any shoe that uses a single buckle closure instead of laces or gore. Sometimes referred to as the “most advanced” dress shoe for men, the monk strap has been overshadowed in recent years by its flashier brother, the double monk. Still, it’s an indispensable element of any man’s shoe collection.
An excellent shoe to dress up or down, the single monk has a rich history and is available in leather or suede, ready-to-wear or custom, and even in boot versions.
Monk Strap History
The single monk was first spotted in 15th-century European monasteries (hence the term “monk strap”). These buckled shoes served to protect monks’ feet from the elements, and the common story is that an Englishman saw the shoes while abroad, fell in love with them, and brought them back to England. The style was popularized, and centuries later, it still sells.
Monk Shoe Construction
Ninety-eight percent of the time, you’ll see monkstraps available as a style of dress shoe or boot (the single monk sneaker, though it exists, is much rarer than it’s double monk counterpart). Different makers use different construction methods to achieve different aims such as lightness, flexibility, longevity, and others, and monk straps are not exempt from this.
You may find them Goodyear welted or Blake-constructed from higher-end makers, or you may find a cheap glued version from a budget shoe manufacturer. Their popularity is such that they’re made to sell at any price point.
Aesthetically, monks needn’t be plain. The strap itself is the the defining factor of a monk shoe, and though they’re often plain toed, they’re available with many different varieties of broguing, cap toe seams, and different buckle materials and shapes.
Though all single monks have a single buckle by definition, the placement of that buckle can vary from shoe to shoe.
Across the instep:
This is the most common strap placement. It allows the buckle and strap to remain visible while wearing trousers
Against the collar
Single monks like the one pictured above have a buckle that hugs the shoe’s collar (the part that sits just below the ankles). The buckles on these single monks are often smaller than we find on across-the-instep models, and their placement makes them more likely to be hidden by the average dress trouser.
With that said, collar-hugging monkstraps are just a tad sleeker than their vamp-spanning counterparts.
How To Wear Monkstraps
Depending on the color and material, monkstraps can be worn casually with denim or dressed up to be worn with worsted suiting.
While the shoe is indeed a classic, it’s important to remember that it’s not conservative. Shoes with buckles will always make the wearer stand out in a room where all the guys are expected to wear lace-ups, so be sure to wear these judiciously if you work in a sartorially conservative industry, like law or government.
Like double monks, single monks are less formal than closed-throat oxfords, but more formal than open-throat derbies. Because they’re available in a ton of colors and materials like leather, suede, nubuck, cordovan, and canvas, they can be worn nearly anytime and for anything.
Black patent leather versions can be worn with black-tie attire if you have the courage to move off the beaten path.
- Light-colored suede or leather (bone, beige, tan, etc.): Jeans, casual trousers
- Brown or black single monk with broguing details: Jeans, odd jackets & trousers, suits
- Black patent leather monkstrap: Tuxedo (this is debatable, to be clear)
When wearing double monkstraps, it’s common to leave the top buckle unbuckled. Whether or not this is a good style move or a misguided attempt to show sprezzatura is a different conversation for a different time, but the question remains: can you wear a single monkstrap with the buckle undone?
We say no. Wearing clothes in a way that demonstrates a casual élan is one thing, but single monks just won’t fit correctly if you don’t buckle them. Our feeling is that unbuckled single monks have a certain “walk of shame” vibe about them, and we advise you to buckle them.
As single monks are made in nearly limitless permutations of colors and materials, they can be worn any time of year. Below we offer some suggestions for colors and materials based on season.
- Spring: Tan, caramel, or nutmeg leather or suede with quarter brogue detail
- Summer: Bone or white suede cap toe single monk
- Autumn: Tobacco or chocolate leather or suede, possibly with lug sole
- Winter: Dark brown or black plain toe single monk in calfskin or cordovan
Top Monk Makers
Thankfully, single monks are available at nearly every price point, so no matter what your income, you can pick yourself up a pair. Here are some of our preferred makers:
Should You Own Monkstrap Shoes?
In a word, yes.
For most men building a dress or dress casual shoe wardrobe, a monk strap shoe can be third in line to buy, right behind an oxford and a derby. Whether or not you go with a dressy version or a more casual one is a decision to be based on the things you wear on an average day. If you’re a jeans guy, try a lighter color with some broguing details. If you’re a suits guy, pick up a darker color with a simple cap toe seam.
Either way, this is definitely a shoe that a man of style should own.