How to Style Cap-Toe Shoes

June 14, 2019 8 min read

How to Style cap toe shoes

 There are few dress shoes as popular and versatile as the cap toe. You can wear them to work, to an interview or to a fancy restaurant — and you can even dress them down for a more casual outfit. However, cap-toe shoes come in a variety of materials and colors, and each one only works with certain outfits and certain occasions. If this seems like it could get confusing, don't worry. This guide will help you steer clear of any fashion faux pas.

Brown Cap-Toe Shoes

 What Is a Cap-Toe Shoe?

For those of you unfamiliar with footwear lingo, "cap toe" refers to the horizontal stitching on the toe box that runs from the welt on one side to the other, forming what appears to be a "cap" on top of the toe. Sometimes, this seam holds an extra piece of leather on top of the toe box. As is the case with broguing, cap toes do not serve any structural purpose but are merely aesthetic.

It is a popular misconception that cap-toe shoes are synonymous with Oxford shoes. Although it is true that many Oxfords do feature cap toes, other shoes, such as boots, monk straps and loafers, can also have cap toes.

A cap toe is not defined by how it is constructed or the material from which it is made. It is the seam found across the toe box that defines the cap toe. Shoes with cap toes can be found on shoes made in any way, including blake constructed, Goodyear welted, open-throat bluchers and closed-throat Oxfords.


Historians don't know precisely when cap toes first emerged. Oxford shoes, on which cap toes are most commonly found, were first seen at Oxford University in the early 1800s, where they were called "Oxonians." Students wore them to rebel against the knee-high boots that were commonplace at the time. Unlike the boot, Oxonians featured small slits on their sides, which made it easier to slip in and out of them.

The design of the Oxonian saw many changes over the years, such as the addition of laces and the lowering the shoe's height to show the ankle. The Oxford shoe as we know it today first emerged in Ireland and Scotland and was called the Balmoral shoe. However, to pay homage to the shoe's earlier ancestry, they later came to be called Oxfords, and have been a popular footwear choice ever since.

In some cases, rather than a seam of stitching, cap toes are merely pieces of leather sewn on top of a shoe's toe box. We can assume this piece of leather was added to help reinforce the toe box, as it is this area of the shoe's upper that most frequently gets dinged and attracts the most attention.

Levels of Formality

Plain Black Oxfords

As mentioned above, cap toes appear of dozen different shoe styles, but they are most typically found on more formal shoes. For instance, plain black Oxfords with cap toes are widely considered to be the most formal shoe for daytime business. When well polished, they are even appropriate for a black-tie ensemble. Brown bluchers or monk strap shoes with cap toes, however, are considered somewhat less formal.

The following list will give you an idea of the outfits that go well with certain cap-toe shoe styles:

  • Loafers or monk straps: Denim or chinos
  • Calfskin bluchers: Denim, chinos or worsted wool suits in medium or light colors
  • Calfskin Oxfords: Black tuxedos, dark worsted suits and odd trousers or jackets

Important Aspects of Your Cap-Toe Shoe

There are three critical characteristics of cap-toe shoes that we will discuss in detail — the shoelaces, the materials and the colors. Because of the widespread popularity and versatility of Oxford shoes, most of the following information will be related to cap-toe Oxfords.

1. Shoelaces

Black Cap-Toe Shoes

Shoelaces help to keep your shoes secured and comfy, and they're an easy, affordable and reversible way to change your shoe's look and feel. However, for dress shoes, you can't just use any type of shoelace and expect them to look good. They require high-quality laces made out of waxed cotton. If you put thick, coarse shoelaces on your dress shoe, this will ruin their look. The ideal shoelace length for dress shoes is 31.5 inches as they can be used for shoes with two to six rows of eyelets.

For Oxford shoes, the most formal option is round, thin laces of waxed cotton. Generally speaking, thinner laces are of higher quality. Laces of poor quality are usually not thin, as they would likely snap right away.

Unlike derby shoes, the proper way to lace Oxford shoes is horizontally and parallel. Below we will teach you how to lace your Oxford, which can be applied to all Oxford shoes, regardless of the number of eyelets. Because the majority of Oxfords come with five rows of eyelets, the instructions below are for this type of Oxford.

  1. Stick both ends of the lace through the eyelets or holes at the bottom of the shoe. You should have a horizontal line on top of the leather.
  2. If the shoe has an even number of eyelets on each side, pull the lace at both ends so that they are the same length. If the number of eyelets is uneven, you should make the lace on the outside of the shoe approximately 2 inches longer.
  3. Take the lace on the outside of the shoe and, coming from the bottom, stick it through the second hole up on the same side. Then, stick it back into the second hole on the other side, coming from the top.
  4. Next, take the lace on the inside of the shoe and stick it through the third hole on the same side, coming from the bottom. Then, stick it through the third hole on the other side, coming from the top.
  5. Repeat this pattern. If there is an even number of eyelets on each side, each lace will go through its final eyelet on the same side it started on at the bottom. If the shoe has an odd number of eyelets, one of the laces will have to make a diagonal cross underneath, which is why one lace has to be a few inches longer than the other.
  6. Once both laces have been inserted through the top eyelets, pull on both ends of the laces to tighten them. Then, tie them together, and you're ready to go.

2. Materials

Cap-toe Oxfords are available in a variety of materials, including leather, suede and calfskin. The time of year can help you decide on what style and color to wear. Below is what we suggest for each season:

  • Spring: Suede or leather, light-colored
  • Summer: Quarter-brogue, white
  • Fall: Calfskin, tobacco or burgundy
  • Winter: Calfskin, black or chocolate

3. Color

Cap-toe Oxfords come in a variety of colors, including brown, tan, cognac and oxblood. Here are some tips on how to use Oxfords of certain popular colors:

  • Black: Black is by far the most popular color for cap-toe Oxford shoes, and the majority of Oxfords are manufactured in this color. Black Oxfords are an indispensable item for every man's wardrobe, as black is the most appropriate color for business. They may very well be the most versatile shoes you can own, as they can be paired with practically every color to achieve a smart yet conservative look. A black cap-toe Oxford can be worn at work, weddings, funerals and sometimes even black-tie events. Black, unlike brown, does not come in multiple shades, so you won't need more than one pair of the same style of black shoes. While many fashionable men may only own a few pairs of black shoes, one of them is always a pair of black cap-toe Oxfords.
  • Brown: Oxfords made of brown leather are an ideal choice when wearing a grey, navy or dark-brown suit. Brown Oxfords stand out much more when you pair them with these colors.
  • Tan: Tan has become a popular color for men's shoes. Because it has dark and light tones, tan is quite easy to style, and it goes well with practically everything. Tan Oxfords can also be used for a less formal look, going well with brightly colored chinos, denim trousers and tailored navy pants.

How to Style Cap-Toe Shoes

Cap-toe Oxford shoes belong in every man's wardrobe, as they will look great on you regardless of your style. They can be worn many ways and be dressed up or down. For inspiration, we've compiled five great tips on how to wear cap-toe shoes.

1. Casual and Sophisticated

Man Tying Brown Cap-Toe Shoe

Black is a timeless color, and anyone can look good wearing it. Take a cap-toe Oxford shoe in sleek black leather, put on your favorite pair of black skinny jeans, throw on a slim-fit tee-shirt — and you'll love the look. If you're interested in something edgier, top with a leather jacket. A cap-toe Oxford shoe is a great option if you want to wear comfortable clothes but still look sophisticated.

To achieve this sophisticated look, make sure that your skinny jeans are comfortable and clean and that your tee-shirt fits well. This look is proof that you don't necessarily have to put on your canvas shoes when going for the skinnies-and-tee-shirt look.

While wearing a black Oxford shoe will make you look alternative and sophisticated, choosing white Oxfords will give you a bolder look. Not only will white shoes still go well with the rest of your outfit, but they will also stand out and not look too much like dress shoes.

2. Refined and Fashionable

As mentioned above, cap-toe Oxfords are an excellent way to make your outfit look more refined and gentlemanly. This makes Oxfords an excellent choice for men who want to experiment with their style but still look manly and fashionable.

This idea involves pairing your cap-toe Oxfords with some black pants and a bold-print shirt. Throwing a comfortable, clean Harrington jacket on top is an excellent way to stay warm while still maintaining the style.

Just like with this first idea, wearing Oxford shoes with black leather will guarantee a clean, sophisticated look. If you want to go for a slightly bolder appearance, you can try pairing the outfit with Oxford shoes of a more striking color, such as burgundy.

3. Modern and Classy

Looking classy doesn't mean you need to wear black shoes. If you opt for a grey suit, for instance, a brown pair of cap-toe Oxfords will go perfectly and give you a striking but classy look. Make sure that your jacket and pants match, and wear with a white dress shirt to complete the look.

4. Relaxed and Polished

If you want to go for a very casual look, a pair of light brown cap-toe Oxford shoes goes well with a pair of relaxed blue jeans. Create an interesting contrast with a pin roll cuff and a light grey tee-shirt. This combination will keep the outfit looking casual, and the colors are subdued enough to keep it looking clean and relaxed. On top of the tee-shirt, you can put on a blue jacket to make the outfit pop while still blending well with your other pieces.

5. Warm and Bright

This final idea will help keep you warm during the coldest months of the year while also making you stand out. Try on some red chinos and a white tee-shirt. Because of the difference in color between the shirt and the pants, pick a pair of Oxford shoes with a neutral color to keep from creating too much of a contrast. This look is perfectly complemented by a pair of dark brown cap-toe Oxfords and a black peacoat.

Find Cap-Toe Shoes at Penner's in San Antonio

Find the Perfect Pair at Penner's

Cap-toe Oxfords are a popular and versatile shoe — which is why we at Penner's offer such a wide selection of this timeless item. Visit our online shop or drop by our 8000-square-foot store in downtown San Antonio to find a pair that's perfect for you. If you're interested in buying a matching outfit, we also sell suits, shirts, jeans and various accessories. Our store offers convenient free parking to all customers and has seven in-house, full-time tailors, many of whom have over 25 years experience. They are there to make sure you get the perfect fit every time. All alterations are free if made at the time of purchase.

Our family-owned business has been serving the greater San Antonio area over 100 years, and we are strongly committed to providing customers with the highest-quality clothing. This means the clothes you buy will look better, last longer and, since you won't have to replace them frequently, they'll save you money in the long run.

We are also committed to providing premium customer service. We are not a big box store, so if you have any questions, you can reach us directly. Feel free to call us at (210) 226-2487 or contact us using our form. You can also receive regular fashion tips by joining our email list.