Brogues are seemingly everywhere these days. While long being the quintessential shoe for the proper tweedy gentleman, available through shoemakers and expensive outfitters, nowadays you’re as likely to find them in the lower end high street shoe shops, vying with trainers and dessert boots for the attention of man with an aspiring taste on a more limited budget. So what is the story behind this classic shoe? Ever curious, I thought it might be worth a post, so here goes!
For starters, the name “brogue” comes from the Gaelic word “bróg”, taken from the Old Norse “brók” meaning “leg covering”. Not so much the shoe for covering your legs today, they were historically a low-heeled shoe or boot, characterized by sturdy leather uppers with decorative patterns of perforations (what we now think of as the “broguing”) and serrated edges along the leather. They trace their roots back to a simple shoe originating in Scotland and Ireland, made using untanned hide, where the perforations had an actual practical function, to allow water to drain more easily after crossing wet terrain such as a bog. They were very much the outdoors or country footwear and not considered proper attire for business or casual occasions.
Nowadays the brogue is fully house warm and can be considered appropriate in most settings, both in the form of dress shoes and more practical shoes. And not only for us men, nowadays the brogue is a fashionable item for the ladies as well. Not that I’ve had any luck in convincing WellDressedGirlfriend that she’d look properly nice in a pair!
So, perforations and serrations, is that it? Well, no, there are variations upon the theme as well. Let’s try a little brogue-spotting!
What we have here is a prime example of the “Full brogue”, or Wingtips, if you like. These are identified by a pointed toe cap with “wings” that run along both sides of the shoes, ending up near the ball of the foot. Seen from the top, this gives the toe cap a W shape, or a shape similar to the extended wings of a bird, explaining the name “wingtips”. For a brogue to be a full brogue, the toe cap is both decorated with the pattern of perforations and the serrated edge of the leather.
There are also variations without perforations (“austerity brogue”) or a plain toe shoe with wingtip-style perforations (“blind brogue”). A variation of the usual single-colour brogue is the co-respondent variant, where full brogues are constructed using two contrasting colours.
A final variant of the full brogue is the ghillie style, where there is no tongue (to better aid drying) and long laces that wrap around the lower leg and tie below the calf to keep the tie clear of mud. This last one isn’t often seen except in combination with traditional Scottish dress.
After full brogues, we can naturally move into half brogues. These are characterized by a toe cap that only covers the toe area of the shoe and ends there. It has the decorative perforation and the serration along the edge of the toe cap and also on the cap itself. This was first intended as a shoe that offered more style than a plain Oxford shoe, but a little less bold than a full brogue.
A further halving of the name brings us to quarter brogues. These are as half brogues, but lack the decorative perforations in the centre of the toe cap.
A variation on the wingtip style are the longwing brogues. Known in the US as “English brogues” and in the UK as “American brogues”, can we assume no one actually wants to be responsible for this variant? This is a style that was popular in the US in the 1970s and is characterized as having full length wings that meet at the centre seam of the heel. As far as I can tell, they are currently enjoying something of a comeback, with designers such as Mark McNairy and Thom Browne currently offering variants such as the one shown over.
Now, that about covers the basic styles of the upper that gives the show it’s name. Looking around, you’ll find an endless variation of colours and combinations, all more or less sticking to the Rules of Thee Brogue. One variation I have a special fondness for is the update typified by the Grenson Archie, where the traditional sole has been replaced with a full rubber sole, like so:
Make it into a boot, do it in suede and you have this good looking variation, combining comfort and style:
Or we can take it back a bit, more old-school, to when a brogue was more of a working shoe, in the form of the country brogue. Here is an example in the shape of Grenson X Barbour, with a commando-style sole that well, commands respect:
Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on brogues. What is your favourite, and why?
In closing, Well Fed Dog also admits to a certain fondness for the prettily perforated uppers!