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Your Guide to Shoe Ornamentation
23 · 03 · 2021

Your Guide to Shoe Ornamentation

Written by Tigre Haller

Shoe Ornamentation and You

dean oxfords

Do you ever look at a pair of shoes and think to yourself, “those are gorgeous, but I really don’t know what I am seeing - or what to do with them”? It’s easy to get confused about the different types of shoe ornamentation which runs the gamut from a basic cap-toe to an extravagant full brogue wingtip.

Get ready to take a trip through this fascinating world where you will learn all about the diverse selection of embellishments, and come to understand how to wear the various designs - and which ones fit your own personal style.

A good rule of thumb to follow: the more ornamentation there is, the more casual the shoe will be.

Basic Shoe Ornamentation

Starting with the basics, lets find out about cap-toes, split-toes, heel-caps and French binding:

A cap-toe is formed by stitching a line from one side of the welt to the other along the toe box.

Considered to be the most formal type of men’s business shoe, a black cap-toe Oxford is most traditionally worn in conservative industries such as finance and insurance. So, naturally, you would typically wear them with suits and dressy trousers. However, you can buck tradition completely and style them with something like tapered jeans, a fitted t-shirt and a leather jacket.

The cap-toe embellishment can also be found on derbies, boots, loafers and monkstraps which can be dressed up or dressed down depending on how much ornamentation there is, the overall design and the materials they are made with.

Unlike a cap-toe, which is purely a decorative element, the seam which you see on a split-toe derby is actually part of the shoe’s construction. It holds the quarters together and provides protection against water seepage. Split-toes can be casual, as seen in our Anders Split-Toe Derbies in pebble leather or dressy like the Cleggs. The more casual a split-toe shoe is, the more comfortable it will be with relaxed clothing. The dressier versions can be paired with nice suits, chinos and trousers.

French binding is a type of detailing completed during the finishing process of shoe construction (but one which not many shoe manufacturers actually use). This binding is carefully stitched between the upper and lining to enclose the raw edges, and act as reinforcement. Even though it is often overlooked, it is integral to keeping the structure of the shoe intact - and adds a nice, smooth touch along the shoe’s collar.

Moving to the back of the shoe, the heel cap is the part of the upper that covers and protects your heel. It can be ornamented or left plain which depends mostly on how the rest of the shoe’s upper is treated.

The backstay is a short strip of leather running down the back of a shoe to connect the quarters. While it can be prominent on some styles, like our Cohen Loafers, other styles reveal only a subtle back seam, or no stitching at all. Although not strictly an embellishment, the backstay can add some personality to your shoes without affecting what you can wear them with.

What is Pinking and Broguing on a Shoe? 

pinking and broguing

You are probably familiar with the appearance of pinking and broguing, even if you didn’t know what they were called.

Pinking is the decorative serrated or saw-toothed edges typically created by pinking shears or a machine with a serrated blade. Pinking will always accompany broguing, as you can see above.

Broguing was originally invented at the turn of the 19th century to help drain water from shoes of workers in the bogs of Scotland and Ireland. From these humble beginnings, the look took hold in general fashion circles during the 1920s and has become a mainstay of any shoe lover’s rotation. It is advisable to keep brogues out of formal situations and not to wear them with a three-piece suit (although fashion icon Fred Astaire would disagree). Pair brogue shoes with jeans, tweed, corduroy, other relaxed trousers some casual suits.

To create a stunning brogue the artisan needs excellent eye-hand coordination as they punch each hole manually. Even though the idea isn’t to create a homogenous effect, there does need to be a harmonious and sensible pattern.

There are different types of brogue shoes you should know about:

Quarter brogues have perforations and pinking along the edge without perforations in the center of the toe-cap, as can be seen on these Durant Oxfords.

Semi-brogues or half brogues feature a toe-cap with perforations and pinking along the edge, and more perforation - usually in the shape of a medallion - in the center of the toe box. Our Watson Derbies are beautiful example of a semi-brogue shoe.

Austerity brogues are something of a misnomer since there is absolutely no pinking or perforations. However, the stitching along the upper mimic where there would be. It is thought this style, as exemplified by our Wright Austerity Brogues, was created during World War Two and the austerity of the aesthetic was due to the lack of materials. Thankfully, the style has endured and is a handsome addition to your rotation.

Full brogue shoes such as the Yates Oxfords are all about ornamentation with the pinking and perforations present from toe to heel, along the quarters and the collar. Given their ornateness, full brogue shoes look amazing with chinos, linen, jeans and some suits.

Wingtip Shoes

royce longwings

A wingtip is designed to look like the wings of a bird swooping back from the toe box. The “wings” can either dive down mid-point along the shoe to the welt where the ball of your foot sits, or extend all the way along the upper for the longwing effect as can be seen in the above image of our Royce Longwings and also in our Nolan Brogue Boots. Usually, there will be a medallion centered on the toe-cap, but that’s not always the case. When there is a wing tipped toe-cap with broguing along the edges and no medallion that’s called a blind brogue.

Wear your wing tipped shoes and boots with jeans, heavier trousers and casual duds. Or, sport them with a suit if you really want to. (Heck, Prince William wore wingtips with his wedding tuxedo, so you can get away with it too.)

What is a Toe Medallion?

volta oxfords

As mentioned several times before in this article, a medallion is a fanciful design made by precise punching which sits in the center of the shoe’s toe box, as demonstrated by our Volta Oxfords above.

Toe medallions can be minimalist or extravagant to meet most whims and personal styles. You will find them standing alone, like the Voltas, or framed by a cap-toe or wingtip. Depending on the intricacy and the style of shoe, you can wear medallion toes confidently with your most formal or most casual looks.


Now that you know about shoe ornamentation go ahead and introduce them into your wardrobe. Experiment with different styles like Oxfords, derbies and boots; and colors, like bordeaux or oak. If you want to try something other than full-grain leather, have fun with suede, pull-up leather and pebbled leather.

There really are so many options you will never get bored or lose interest.

Please let me know what types of shoe ornamentation you enjoy, and how you wear them, by leaving me a comment below.


Chester Williams Nov 10, 2021

Amazing information! Thank you for this interesting information!

Robert May 20, 2022

I like all types of shoe ornaments, however; no ornamentation is my favorite. I prefer the clean look of the whole cut and the cap toe Oxford. I also like the split toe design.

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