Shoe Glossary: Wingtip Shoes

Classic Dress Shoes Were Originally Outdoor Designs

Detail of Wingtip Shoes
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Wingtip shoes, or brogues as they are known in Europe, are characterized by a pointed toe cap that spreads toward the sides of the shoes in a shape that somewhat resembles wings, hence "wingtip." The toe cap is usually decorated with perforations of varying sizes.

Some wingtip shoes feature a leather upper of a different color, but the colors of the materials used have nothing to do with whether or not they're wingtips. As long as the shoe has that characteristic toe cap, it's a wingtip.

Wingtips have always been a popular style for men, but as menswear becomes an increasingly more popular trend for women, they're also popular footwear amongst women as well.

History of Brogue and Wingtip Shoes

The history of the brogue can be traced back to 16th century Ireland. Brogue derives from the Old Irish word bróg, which means "shoe." Back then the shoes were a type of outdoor country shoe men would wear while hunting or shooting because they were sturdy and could handle the rugged landscape. The perforations allowed water to drain from the shoes after walking through wet terrain. Brogues were not considered appropriate for any other occasion besides being outdoors.

The wingtip shoe crossed into mainstream fashion with the invention of the machine. In the early 1900s, they became known as sporting shoes thanks to the Prince of Wales, who wore a pair of two-toned wingtips during a golf outing. The shoes were dubbed "spectators," or "co-respondent" in the U.K. Screen legends Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly also popularized the shoes in their famed dance routines.

The shoes became popular footwear choices for men and women. The saddle shoe, a variation of the wingtip, that features black or brown leather over the instep, emerged in the 1950s and were made famous when Elvis Presley sported a pair in the film "Jailhouse Rock."

Types of Wingtips

All wingtips and brogues are characterized by the perforated toe cap, but there are a few different types.

  • Full wingtips have a winged toe cap with a fair amount of decorative perforations.
  • Spectator shoes are a type of full wingtips that uses two-toned color combinations, as seen in the photo above.
  • Longwing or American brogues look just like full brogues, but the wings extend the full length of the shoe and meet at the center seam at the back of the heel.
  • Semi or half brogues include decorative perforations that are just on the toe cap.
  • Ghillie brogues don't have tongues, but long laces that wrap around the ankle. This is a very traditional style that is worn with formal Scottish dress.
  • Quarter brogues feature perforations along the edge of the toe cap that aren't decorative. They are more understated and considered the most formal type of brogue, more so than semi or full brogues.

Wingtips Today

Nowadays wingtips are considered formal shoes. Contrary to their history as an outdoorsman's shoe that was never to be worn anywhere else, contemporary shoe designers craft wingtips that suit any occasion.

Wingtips can take on the form of dress shoes, boots, sneakers and even high heels, and are made out of leather, as well as canvas.

How to Wear Wingtips

These comfortable shoes go with just about any outfit. Affordable, quality shoe brands like Frye and Aldo make men's wingtip shoes that pair with a suit just as easily as they pair with jeans. Read this article about How to Wear Men's Wingtip Shoes for ideas.

For women, the wingtip is the perfect show-off shoe. Pair them with skirts, dresses, tights or cropped pants for a classic, put-together look.

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