Style Q&A: What’s the Deal with Wingtips?

The infamous dress shoe explained.

Please help out a confused teenager who enjoys reading Primer Magazine. What are Wingtip shoes and why are these shoes better and more expensive than regular dress shoes? – Jonathan

We’re glad to hear that as a young man you’ve chosen to focus on your footwear.  Many men, young and old, focus too much on building their wardrobe from the top down instead of the bottom up.  A proper wardrobe isn’t proper without proper footwear.  Forgive the repetition.

That being said, wingtips are only one of the many options a man should have in his footwear collection.  Contrary to popular belief among style novices, wingtips are actually more casual than they are formal, they shouldn’t be the first selection for a beginning dresser, and they don’t cost as much as other types of quality footwear in general.

In order to understand the value of wingtips one must understand their history.  “Wingtips” as they are most commonly referred to are actual a type of brogue.  Brogues were shoes originally worn in the Scottish Highlands which had holes or perforations punched into the leather in order to allow water to pass through the shoe without soaking into it. It is this brouging from which wingtips are formed.  The wingtip is named this way for its resemblance to the wings of a bird.

The traditional wingtip is slightly less formal than a plain and/or perforated cap toe shoe.  Its brouging produces a bulkier and less sleek appearance because it requires more than one piece of leather to be attached to another.

In the world of high quality footwear, “less is more” applies to decoration and the amount of leather used.  The more ornamentation and the more leather used to create a shoe the less formal it is.  Wingtips can use up to 3-4 different pieces of leather which means there is more chance for the leather to be imperfect as opposed to  whole cut shoe which only uses one single piece of leather which needs to be flawless since imperfections in the leather cannot be hidden.

There are several different types of brogues to choose from including semi, quarter, full (wingtip), or long.  Quarter brogues only have brouging on the toe and shoe waist.  Half brogues extend from the toe halfway back to the waist. Wingtips and long wings extend all the way around to the heel.

As you can imagine after our description of brouging, the longer the wingtip, the more casual it is.  By causal we do not mean that wingtips should be worn with shorts or that they are in the same category with sneakers.  We mean that in the category of dress shoes which are inherently more formal than casual shoes, wingtips fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to formality.

At the end of the day wingtips certainly should hold a place in the wardrobe of any well-dressed man.  It just shouldn’t be the first place.

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Grant Harris is Owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted; a Washington, DC based Image Consulting Company dedicated to solving the complex image, style & fashion issues of today's professional man. He has a healthy obsession with socks. Follow him on Twitter & Facebook.