What Is A Wholecut Shoe?
A wholecut shoe is defined as a shoe that uses a single piece of leather for the upper. Most commonly they are made as low-cut shoes, but there are high-end makers who craft wholecut chukkas and chelseas as well. They’re available ready-to-wear or bespoke and in a wide variety of colors and materials, and are generally more expensive than an oxford that’s otherwise the same.
Technically, a wholecut is a style of oxford because it utilizes a closed-throat lacing system. Basically, they’re oxfords made from one piece of leather.
It’s possible to find wholecut shoes with broguing details and other decoration, though one could make the argument that this defeats the purpose of a wholecut, whose lines are supposed to be ultra-clean and sleek.
Why Are Wholecut Shoes Unique?
First, we need to quickly define the word last as we’ll use it here:
last (noun): the wooden form on which the upper of a shoe is shaped. Also refers to a shoe’s silhouette (e.g. “a sleek last”)
last (verb): to manipulate shoe leather around a last so that it can be sewn to a welt or a sole.
With that out of the way, let’s proceed.
These shoes tend to be higher quality than the average oxford (and thus more expensive) for a few reasons:
- The leather must be of higher-than-average quality because you can’t sew pieces together strategically to hide imperfections. The entire piece must be flawless or discarded.
- They’re harder to last, taking more time and requiring more shoemaking expertise.
- Because they’re harder to last, they’re more common with higher-end ready-to-wear and bespoke makers. As you can imagine, this drives the price up.
It can’t be overstated that the wholecut is the most difficult style of shoe to make. Because it’s (mostly) seamless, it doesn’t have as much give when being pulled by a last machine. It’s hard to get it to lay flat on the last itself without over-stretching the leather, and it’s easy for the shoe to lose it’s shape during the lasting process.
If you appreciate workmanship, a wholecut should be the first shoe you consider.
Seams Or Seamless?
Though they’re all made from one piece of leather on the upper, not all wholecut oxfords are alike. Some of them have vertical seams running the length of the heel counter, and some don’t. What’s the difference?
- Wholecut oxfords with seams are more common and less expensive than their seamless cousins. These can be lasted by hand or by machine, but it’s always in a larger-scale manufacturing scenario.
- Seamless wholecuts can only be lasted by hand. They are of the highest quality, quite rare, and are often found only from bespoke makers.
How Do I Wear Wholecuts?
Formality – Keep Them Formal
Many menswear and shoe bloggers will say that if you had to own just one pair of shoes (a fate worse than death, we argue), a wholecut should be it. While we get where they’re coming from, we’re not sure that we agree.
Simplicity is synonymous with formality, and wholecuts are as simple as it gets. Even in their more casual versions, they look better dressed up as opposed to dressed down. Below, we provide a few examples of how to wear them for different levels of dressiness:
- Suede (light or a non-standard color, such as blue): Casual trousers, denim
- Leather (black or brown calfskin, exotic hides, with or without broguing): Suits, business professional dress codes
- Black patent leather: Tuxedo
It’s worth mentioning that a black patent wholecut oxford with a tuxedo is rare, extremely chic, and to quote Outkast’s Big Boi, “cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin’ a milkshake in a snowstorm.”
These shoes are available in a wide range of colors and materials. As such, they can be worn any time of year. We give some of our favorite examples below.
- Spring: Light-colored suede or calfskin with lots of highs and lows in the color
- Summer: Beige or light tan calfskin
- Autumn: Black, brown, or burgundy leather
- Winter: Chocolate suede, black patent for evening
The Best Wholecut Shoes
Low-end shoemakers generally won’t bother making wholecut oxfords because the manufacturing process is too expensive and doesn’t produce enough return on investment. Be prepared to invest more money than you might otherwise, but also be prepared to look sleeker than you ever have.
Final Thoughts On Wholecuts
If you are in the market for a unique dressy shoe that works wonderfully with fun suits, a business professional dress code, and evening wear, the wholecut is for you.
If you’re just starting your shoe collection, however, we advise you to hold off on buying a wholecut until you’re seven or eight shoes deep. A plain-toe or cap-toe oxford will be a more versatile option than a wholecut and we suggest starting there.