The Brogue is widely regarded to be one of the most iconic shoe designs for men. With a unique style that can be easily identified by looking at the surface of the shoe, the first thing to note is that the term ‘brogue’ refers to the holes punched into the leather. The more holes that are on the shoe, the more brogueing it has.
Using this simple classification, any footwear with brogueing can be considered a brogue. By contrast, an Oxford shoe is so designated by its lacing. So while brogues can be Oxfords, and vice versa, they do not necessarily have to be. You can have a brogue with the lacing style of a Derby instead.
The exact history of the brogue is not quite clear. All indications suggest the earliest origins of the shoe trace back to Ireland and Scotland at some point prior to the mid-to-late 16th century. The original shoes were outdoor footwear for the country. They were designed to wear when traversing boggy or damp terrain, with the holes enabling water that got into the shoe to escape so that the foot of the wearer could dry more quickly. They were made with untanned leather and were not very ornate at all.
When the word 'brogue' came into use in the late 16th century, it was derived from the Gaelic 'brog', referring to shoes in general. It wasn't until broguing came to refer to the perforations and serrations in shoe leather that brogues became a specific style of shoe. That transition occurred somewhere in the early 20th century.
The first modern brogues were typically reserved as country footwear for men. However, the style caught on among city folk as well. Edward, the Prince of Wales deserves some credit for having made the shoes popular among Brits during the 1930s.
The term 'brogue' as it applies to shoes refers to broguing. What is a broguing? It is the decorative perforations and serrated edges purposely added to shoe leather to create a specific look. The perforations are essentially holes while the edges are the unfinished edges of the leather created during the cutting process.
All brogues sport at least minimal perforations on the top edge of the toe cap. The edges of the leather are also serrated and unfinished. Some styles of brogues also include additional decorative perforating at the centre of the toe cap as well. This is known as a medallion.
Also note that perforations and serrated edges may be found along the top edge of the quarter, running from the tongue just back to the heel. This broguing really has no other purpose beyond decoration.
Needless to say that the brogue has evolved over the last 100 years. There are three primary styles of brogue along with additional styles within those three. As you read through the descriptions, remember that a brogue is defined by its toe cap and decorative broguing.
The most fancy kind of brogue is the full brogue, or wingtip shoe. The first thing you notice about it is the overly large toe cap with a wingtip extension that may or may not extend the entire length of the shoot. This design makes the toe cap look like the letter 'W' with swooping wings. Done right, this kind of toe cap looks exquisite. It offers plenty of surface area for intricate broguing.
Next is the semi or half brogue. Like their full brogue cousins, these have a rather large toe cap in relation to the rest of the shoe. However, half brogues do not have the wingtip extensions. They have broguing at least along the top of the toe cap. Some have decorative broguing in the centre and others also include broguing along the top of the quarter.
Finally we have quarter brogues. These are the simplest of all brogues with perforations only on the upper edge of the toe cap. There is no medallion or any other broguing on the shoe.
In addition to these three main categories, there are several other different styles of brogues:
There are, of course a whole lot of variations of brogues in the modern era. The one thing to note is that any shoe marketed as a brogue without decorative perforations is not a true brogue. The brogue designation refers to a shoe's broguing rather than other design elements such as its toe cap.
The earliest versions of brogues were intended as casual country shoes. However, they have become a smart and fashionable choice these days and are versatile enough to wear almost anywhere. They can be worn in business, social, and casual settings as the perfect complement to nearly every style. Brown or tan brogues are usually considered more casual, offering a relaxed but smart look, with black brogues seen as an acceptable business shoe. With that being said, there are generally accepted rules about the decorative perforations.
The more perforations a brogue shows, the less formal the shoes are. As such, you would probably not wear a full or longwing brogue with a tuxedo or three-piece suit. The most formal settings call for a semi-or quarter brogue. Furthermore, brogues are not usually considered appropriate for black tie affairs.
Outside of these few rules, brogues can be worn in just about any situation. They are comfortable walking shoes that can be part of a business suit or worn on a family outing with casual trousers and a polo shirt.
At Herring we have made our own bespoke ranges of brogues for many years and the two-tone is the core of our in-house designs. Similarly our own Herring tweed brogues are easy to wear with many colours, incorporating greens, browns, reds and blue.