Open and Closed-laced Men’s Dress Shoes


The foundation’s cornerstone: shoes are the foundation, shoe style is the cornerstone

Here are two terms not well known outside of fashion enthusiast circles. This is must-know information for any man who ever plans to buy dress shoes.

Men’s Dress Shoes are Important

“…Momma always said that there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they goin’. Where they been. I’ve worn lots of shoes.”

Wisdom indeed lies in Forrest Gump’s words about shoes: there is a lot you can tell about a person by what they choose to wear on their feet. Not just what Momma said, “where they goin’, where they been;” but also a thing or two about them as a person.

When it comes to dress shoes, however, that insight is magnified significantly through a man’s footwear. The following is the least a man should know about dress shoes.

Not only to a man’s dress shoes tell folks where you’re going and where you’ve been, they tell everyone who sees you how much you know about men’s style and fashion and they project an important image about how you, the well-dressed gentleman, want to be perceived as a man.

A Man's Guide To Style

Open vs. Closed

Lace-up dress shoes are our focus here. We won’t be discussing slip-ons or monkstrap dress shoes because they are in a different category of men’s dress shoes than the laced kind. First, however, we must define two important shoe terms:

  • Vamp. The vamp is part of the upper that covers your toes and instep. Front to middle of the upper.
  • Quarters. The quarters meet the vamp mid-foot and wrap around the heel. Middle to back of the upper.

Here is the difference between open- and closed-laced shoes: open-laced shoes have the quarters sewn on top of the vamp, and closed-laced shoes have the vamp sewn on top of the quarters. This is probably difficult to visualize, so have a look at the photo below, then read on.

Notice the shoe on the right – the part of the shoe with the laces can “flap up,” while the closed-laced shoe on the left seems to have the lace part sewn down. Source: Style Forum

See how on the brown shoe the vamp (front) covers the quarters (back piece), and on the black shoe, the opposite is true. Here are another few photos with closeups of the seams where the vamp and quarters meet.

Top – open lacing Bottom – closed lacing

open lace shoes men's black dress shoes

Open-laced Dress Shoes

Open-laced shoes are a fantastic choice for many occasions. They go with woolen fabric men’s custom suits (tweeds, for example) and business casual environments. Nowadays more open-laced shoes are making their way into business, so look around and see what others are wearing in your workplace.

Additionally, some men find these to be more comfortable than closed-lace shoes because the lacing can allow much-needed expansion of the upper. If you seem to be one of these men, try wider shoes first. Open-laced dress shoes are less formal than closed-laced dress shoes, but make no mistake, they have their place in your closet and on your feet.

Cordovan open-laced dress shoes Source:

Closed-laced Dress Shoes

Closed-laced dress shoes, as has been said, are the more formal choice of the two. Wear closed-laced dress shoes with worsted fabric suits. Sometimes, these dress shoes can double as formal shoes. Traditional formal shoes are patent leather, but once you’re more familiar with fashion, you’ll find those times when your other black dress shoes will work as well.

If you could only have one pair of dress shoes, they should be closed-laced with some brogueing (decoration – see brown and black shoe photo above). The shoes should be black, or perhaps cordovan, for versatility. You will feel especially classy wearing a pair of closed-laced dress shoes.

Terms are Useful for Shopping and Identifying Dress Shoes

Closed and open lacing are important terms to know. We must note, however, that these are qualities of shoes, not styles. Open lacing is a quality of Blucher shoes, also called derby shoes. Closed lacing is a quality of Balmoral shoes, sometimes called oxfords. Oxford is sometimes used as a blanket term for all men’s lace up dress shoes.

Whether starting a wardrobe or starting a wardrobe over, a man’s dress shoes are the best place to start, and, with this knowledge, probably the easiest. Make sure that you condition and polish your dress shoes throughout your relationship with them.

Keep this information in the front of your mind when shoe shopping for yourself, when helping friends pick shoes, and when sizing up a well-dressed man. Armed with this simple information, you will be able to express your own style, character, and class through the proper shoes.