Written by Ben Evans
I’ve lived with my (now) wife for almost five years. Whenever a fancy envelope shows up at our house with curly writing on the outside I get cold sweats because I know what lies in those sealed edges: a wedding invitation.
How far away it is?
A black-tie affair? Shit, I'll need a tux.
Wait a minute… I thought they broke up?
All questions that dart through my brain before I remind myself that there will be a gleaming open bar at the end of this obligatory tunnel. A tunnel, I might add, that cannot be trekked without a pair of comfortable, stylish leather dress shoes.
As an adult, formal functions pop up like pimples on the forehead of a pubescent gamer with bangs and an appetite for bacon grease, so by golly you've got to be prepared.
High-end brands are somewhat irrelevant when it comes to formal shoes. Sure, you can spring for a pair of conspicuous Guccis and let everyone know what’s up, but generally I see formal shoes as anonymous variations of quality.
Quality usually goes hand in hand with comfort, which for me is most important or I wouldn't be able to maintain my balance while Tito’s fuels what some (or just me) might call dance moves.
And since this is an article about must-haves and not an article about spending-your-life's-savings-so-you-look-appropriate-twice-a-year, get a lasting pair that offers the best bang for you buck.
Allen Edmonds is best in quality for its price tag and by far the most highly recommended formal shoe brand under $400.
Made in the USA, the welted soles allow for clean reconstruction when re-soled so they'll basically last forever. The leathers used are top notch and, best of all, the mid-sole is made of cork which molds to your foot for maximum comfort and padding.
Remember, these are an investment and you’re a big boy now so treat yourself.
Magnanni, made in Spain, is another highly-rated brand that offers excellent value and comfort for the price.
The simplest way to quickly identify quality of any formal shoe is by noting where they were manufactured. Shoes made in America (Allen Edmonds) or Europe (Paul Smith and Magnanni) are typically more well-made than those made in Asia.
The second simplest quality indicator is whether or not the sole is made from leather. Leather is ideal since it wears at a slower rate and can more easily be replaced as it is likely stitched - instead of glued - to the body of the shoe.
Whether you like clean seams or perforated "brogue" details, monk-straps or lace-ups (lace-up terminology: oxford, derby or blucher), you really can't go wrong. Just make sure they're not too casual like the ones below - mainly due to the color combo.
Between black and brown, color is sort of a toss up. Both are versatile and can be worn with navy, grey or beige. However, black suits (read: formal suits) and all tuxedos should only be worn with black shoes.
Whatever style you choose, bear in mind that a slender, narrow toe is crucial. To get the fit right on that make sure the ball of your foot (the widest part of your toe knuckles) hits at the widest part of the shoe. Size up or down to get it there.
If the shoe still feels tight, many brands also have width options: "D" being for normal feet and "E" or "EE" for those like me who have... let's just say "big boned" feet.
It's a good idea to go to a store and get measured up before splurging.
At a slightly lower price, I personally recommend Johnston & Murphy, particularly their "Handcrafted in Italy" line. I have two pairs (loafers, and a cap toe oxford), both of which I wore to my own wedding. I received a ton of compliments on them, and I could not have been more comfortable.
There is a wide range of quality within J&M so just check the country of origin and the sole for stitching - ideally the sole is at least partially leather.