By this point, you know the basics: the oxfords from your brogues, where wingtips fit in, and if you should slide into some loafers or lace up a pair of boots.
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Men’s dress shoes, especially geared toward these colder months, tend to be on the heavier side, so finding a lightweight, comfortable pair turns into a must-do.
What’s Truly Comfortable in Dress Shoes?
To start, we acknowledge that comfort knows no bounds: Full-grain Italian leather with a lugged sole might be that point for some – especially if your personal style runs more rugged. While others seek out ultra-thin uppers and foam-based sole units – a growing subset within men’s footwear.
Between these, you’ll encounter a range of styles – some textile based, others with a mix of textile and synthetic, and a handful sticking with traditional materials.
Transitional seasons like these require a balance of substance, breathability, lightweight-ness, and traction in all the right places. Cushioning may play a factor, but above all, the silhouette should never scream “Casual.” Where should you start?
A Foam-Based Dress Shoe
One of the key differences between an athletic sneaker and a traditional men’s dress shoe? That layer of EVA foam going along the midsole. EVA or memory foam padding inside may complement this feature, but the result is all the same – improved responsiveness and a noticeable “bounce” in your step.
It’s why old-school sneakers don’t give you the same bang-for-your-buck at the gym, and your feet seem tired and worn out after walking multiple city blocks in a set of classic oxfords.
EVA, too, offers a secondary but nonetheless essential benefit: It makes the shoe a few ounces lighter. As such, footwear from sandals through active styles and now dress shoes forego the rubber outsole completely. It simply stacks EVA on top of EVA to lighten the load and improve your comfort level – key when you’ll be on your feet all day.
Here are a few foam-based recommendations.
Wolf & Shepherd Breakaway Boots
It’s got all the classic looks – with none of the blister-inducing features. Athletic-inspired construction greatly shaves off the ounces, incorporating both memory foam through the footbed and an EVA heel.
Cole Haan Feathercraft Grand Blucher Oxford
While Cole Haan has been around for a number of years, their collaboration with Nike cemented them as the quintessential sneakers-disguised-as-dress-shoes brand.
As one such paradigm, the Feathercraft Grand Blucher – mixing a leather or suede upper with the brand’s supportive Grand.ØS energy foam – hits all the right notes. It also surprisingly weighs just one pound total as a pair.
They’re not quite athletic shoe weight – and for the office, you honestly wouldn’t want them to be – but they won’t literally be dragging you down, either.
Rockport Essential Details Waterproof Wingtip
These look like detailed dress shoes from the outside, but the construction tells a different story. Beyond the waterproof-treated upper, a shock-absorbing heel gives you a bit more of a go-forward sensation.
Samuel Hubbard Tipping Point Wingtip Oxford
Another classic mixing up timeless construction with more modern features, this style cuts down the overall weight with a memory foam insole. Then, inspired by the economical designs of many hiking shoes, a Vibram outsole – known for its high-grip rubber compound – improves traction without tacking on anything extra.
Breathable or Unlined Leather Dress Shoes
Although textile-based dress shoes are emerging, we all know guys who have a leather-or-bust attitude. Unfortunately, as you’ll find while shopping around, quality correlates with weight – especially once you get into the realm of work boot-inspired features. You know what we’re talking about: the Chelseas with the steel stability shank, the lace-up boots with lugged Goodyear construction, or a heavy-duty leather upper supported by leather or fleece lining.
As one relatively straightforward solution, cutting out the lining results in a more lightweight dress shoe. Taking this even further, perforations – another athletic shoe-sourced feature – help with improving airflow and creating that overall-breathable sensation.
Here are a couple of examples you can start with:
Clarks Unkenneth Way
A padded upper with a breathable lining results in a relatively economically designed dress shoe that’s thin on weight and made for nearly year-round wear. Showing it can go beyond its casual footwear image, Clarks complements this versatile style with a rubber traction outsole.
Bruno Magli Ivan Suede Slip-On Loafers
As a general piece of advice, if you want to keep things light, look for a slip-on, like this Bruno Magli style. On one hand, it’s based on sacchetto construction, known for its hand-cut leather and minimal seams. On the other, it’s unlined and adds a flexible outsole that, with time, adapts to the shape of your foot. In short, it’s much like a barebones trail runner but fancier and without all of the techy features.
Textile-Based Dress Shoes
Several reasons point to the rise of textile dress shoes. One, not everyone wants to wear leather, yet traditional synthetic alternatives like polyurethane feel cheap. Two, cloth fabrications tend to naturally be lighter and more breathable. Three, as menswear starts to break down its long-held rules, dabbling with colors and textures is less of a faux pas in the workplace and other more formal settings.
Within this framework, you’ll come across a range of materials, all the way from wool – perhaps the most rustic and textured choice out there – all the way to linen, meant almost strictly for summertime wear. In between, various cotton materials – including flannel – deliver a woven, lightly textured appearance, with just a bit more body.
Here’s an option in the textile based category:
Taft The Kennedy
If you weren’t familiar with the fabric composing its upper, a description of this Taft shoe seems like a rather pedestrian choice. Yet, its character and lightness are all in the details and carefully chosen fabrics.
For starters, grey wool flannel – in a finer weave here – seems smooth and professionally polished, albeit in a slightly quirky sense that’s an asset in creative workplaces. Yet, the material itself delivers low-level tech construction, helping your feet stay warm without adding an extra layer of insulation.
Finishing it off, a stacked leather sole – treated with rubber for strength – keeps things flexible and requires less break-in time.