How to choose the right shoes for formal occasions

November 25, 2014

When choosing shoes for formal occasions, the right balance of function and fashion can make your outfit.

How to choose the right shoes for formal occasions

For men

For most formal occasions,men's shoe choices are very limited yet highly nuanced; subtlety is key. Essentially, you're either going to be wearing a pair of leather oxfords or leather derbies.

  • The only real difference between the two styles is that derbies have slightly more open laces — the leather flaps don't come to a full close in the middle.
  • Derbies used to be considered slightly more relaxed and casual, but in modern designs both can be equally formal.

The real choice comes in the details since this is where you make your statement.


  • Brown is more rustic and naturalistic for a gentlemanly look.
  • Black is very serious and versatile, for a more controlled look.
  • Navy is more modern and expressive, for a funkier look.


  • Are you looking for a more stylized shoe to contrast a very staid suit? Maybe some brogues will do. That's when there are small hole patterns in the ridges of the leather.
  • Are you looking to appear very serious, perhaps for a funeral or an important presentation? A toe-cap style might work.
  • If you want something sharper and more contemporary, try a pair of wingtips.
  • To get really bold and indulgent, try pointy toes.
  • For a more fashionable formal occasion like an awards gala, consider the new designer trend of bright sneaker soles on high-end oxfords.

Just remember: The more colour, pattern and special detailing in your outfit, the more simple and unassuming your shoes should be. The more controlled the outfit, the more room you have to contrast with eye-catching footwear.

For women

Generally, you're probably going to be wearing heels for any formal occasion, but within that, there are near-infinite options. First, how do you feel? Mood is a great place to start when you need to choose the right shoes. Your shoes should express who you want to be that day.

  • If you're feeling bold and sassy, you might want to rock some studded heels or animal prints.
  • If you want a glitzy, confident look, try rhinestones or glitter.
  • If you're feeling classy and controlled, perhaps a classic single-tone shoe will do the trick.
  • For a sophisticated yet sexy look, try patent leather.
  • For a modern, trendy feel, try two-toned colour blocking.

Naturally, the more of a statement you want to make, the louder your shoes should be, whereas subtlety and sophistication are achieved through more classic styles.

In all cases, the same goes for women as for men: The funkier the shoe, the more controlled and toned down the outfit should be as contrast.

The outfit has to go with the shoes in both style and colour, but don't be afraid to mix it up. Matching colours aren't always the best way to go. Just make sure your colour palette compliments and accentuates the shoes.

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