A smart pair of dress shoes can elevate any outfit. Whether you’re striking out in a smart-casual getup or diversifying your office wear lineup, some finely detailed brogues or a chunky set of chukka boots can transform your whole look. But as any fashion-forward man knows, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
While there are many small ways you can tweak your outfit to add nuance and intricacy to it, the main way you can alter a dress shoe is via its laces. That’s not to say your options are limited, however. Laces are actually a very versatile piece of any outfit because they can be laced and tied in so many different styles or even omitted altogether. Here on this list, you’ll find a complete guide to lacing colours, styles, and knot types so that you too can crank your dress shoe style game up a notch – and all with just a few simple loops and knots!
Which Laces Should I use for my Dress Shoes?
Before you get down to learning how to lace dress shoes in all types of different styles, you will, of course, need to pick up the right pair of laces. Depending on what sort of sartorial style you’re aiming for, you can either keep your stock laces or swap them out for something different. Most dress shoes come with round, thin cotton laces, whereas on the other end of the spectrum, sneakers almost always use flat, wide laces. While you don’t want to use the latter option with dress shoes, there are some good middle-ground picks, like flat waxed laces for combat-style dress boots or suede rawhide laces for moccasins and boat shoes.
When it comes to your bread and butter dress shoes like Oxfords and Derby shoes, you’ll mainly be working with thin, round cotton laces, which are often waxed to give them some extra durability. These can sometimes start off brittle but gradually soften and sit nicely with repeated use. Depending on whether you have an open-lacing shoe like a Derby, where the eyelets and facing sit above the vamp (body) of the shoe, or a closed-lacing shoe like an Oxford, where the vamp is stitched over the facing, there are a variety of different lacing styles you can try. Take a look at these below, and as you go along, remember that you can always swap out colours and lace thicknesses depending on your chosen style and the type of dress shoe you have.
If you’re looking to learn how to lace a men’s dress shoe in a classic, simple style, then the straight bar method is a good first stop. This is also a good method for those who want to know how to tie dress shoes without laces showing, as the clever pattern prevents any visible laces under the facing, even on open-lacing shoes like Derby shoes.
The straight bar method is very simple to get to grips with. To begin, make your laces of an equal length, and insert both ends downwards through the lowermost set of eyelets. Point the shoe away from your body, and insert what is now the left lace, facing upwards, through the second lowermost right-hand eyelet. Then, take the other right-hand lace, and insert it upwards through the third lowermost eyelet on the left, leaving the second empty. Finally, take each lace and insert it into the eyelet you’ve left open parallel to it. Simply continue this pattern until your shoe is fully laced.
Cross, or criss-cross lacing, is a nice semi-formal way to lace dress shoes that interlocks your laces in a rising or descending diagonal pattern, finishing with a final straight bar at the top or bottom of the shoe. This looks great on a pair of Oxford or Derby shoes used for daily office wear or worn to a fun formal occasion like an office dinner or wedding celebration. Not only is this one of the easiest ways to lace dress shoes, but it’s also great for those learning how to lace dress shoes with three eyelets, as it works well with odd-numbered eyelet counts.
First things first, as usual, pull the laces to be of an even length and insert them upwards through the lowermost set of eyelets. Cross the ends over in an X-shape, and feed them under the facing and upwards through the next set of eyelets up. Keep on crossing and upward-inserting the laces in this manner until you reach the top of the shoe. It’s as simple as that!
If you’re seeking a snazzier way to tie lace-up dress shoes for a truly eye-catching finish, then the diagonal method is a striking choice. This style begins with a half-lace at the lowermost eyelet and rises in repeating diagonal lines right to the top of your shoe. It’s a good choice of smart casual lacing for those with plain Oxford shoes, Derby shoes, or even combat-style dress boots. However, avoid using this method on very detailed shoes like brogues, as too much visual interference spoils the style.
To lace this style, begin with the shoe facing you, and hold your lace to give each end an even length. Keeping the length even, pull the right-hand lace upwards through the lowermost right eyelet, and thread the left lace downwards through the lowermost left eyelet. Thread that left-hand lace downwards through the next eyelet up on the right-hand side. Take the original right-hand lace and thread it upwards through the next left-hand eyelet up. Take this lace again, and thread it downwards through the next right-hand eyelet up. Repeat these steps until you’ve completed lacing the shoe.
The hash lacing style is a very fun way to lace-up dress shoes, especially dress boots with lots of eyelets. It uses a lot of space but creates cool-looking lace boxes, with a straight bar lace at the top and bottom of the style. It’s not appropriate for very formal occasions and looks a little messy on shoes that don’t have many eyelets, but it’s a great alternative style for high-eyelet count shoes and boots.
To lace the hash style:
- Begin by inserting the laces upwards through the lowermost set of eyelets, keeping each side even.
- Skip straight up to the third set of eyelets up, crossing the laces diagonally, and inserting face down.
- Immediately bring them down to the second lowermost set of eyelets, keeping the laces under the facing, and feed them upwards through these.
- Continue this simple crossing method, skipping a set of eyelets and feeding up through the ones below them each time. When finished, you should end up with your laces emerging downward-facing, making this a great style for tying straight, flat knots to finish.
A double-back lacing style is a nice option for chukka boots or wingtip boots for a stylish but tight connection of slanting knots with a symmetrical, eye-catching look. To tie this style:
- Start by threading the laces downwards through the second uppermost eyelets.
- Bring them down under the facing and cross them over – skip a set of eyelets down and bring them out upwards through the next set.
- Continue doing this, moving down two eyelets at a time, then back up the shoe, criss-crossing the laces every time, filling each eyelet remaining.
- Continue doing this until fully laced, and then just tie off at the top with a knot of your choice.
Bow-tie lacing is a little like criss-cross lacing, with a straight bar and a crossing design, but instead of interlocking crosses, this style uses upwards and downwards crosses to form lovely little X-crosses with spaces between them. While it’s a great choice for closed-lacing shoes where the facing and vamp are stitched together, it doesn’t look quite as good on open-lacing shoes like Derby shoes, as some of the internal criss-crossing becomes visible. Still, this is a lovely style for semi-formal events and looks especially good when you’re using contrasting lace colours, like pale teal laces on burgundy brogues or grey laces on black Oxfords. It also looks great on closed-lacing style boots and boat shoes, owing to their chunky style.
To lace the bow-tie pattern:
- Begin by inserting your laces upwards through the lowermost set of eyelets, keeping each end even.
- Cross the ends diagonally, bringing them out over the facing, and insert them downwards through the next set of eyelets up to form the first X-shape.
- Cross them again under the facing and bring them upwards through the next set of eyelets up.
- Repeat this until complete, and if you’re lacing a closed-lacing shoe, you’ll finish with only the crosses and the first bar lace visible.
Choosing a Color
When it comes to picking the colour of your dress shoelaces, it’s important to remember that sometimes less is more. Changing the colour is an easy way to transform the look of a shoe’s lacing, but it’s not really necessary most of the time. That’s because often, the best-looking colour combination is the stock one. That means dark brown laces with dark brown shoes, black laces with black shoes, and so on. Still, if you’re looking for an alternative style for a special event or just to add a little accenting to an otherwise plain outfit, a clever lace-colour change can make all the difference.
With a plain outfit, you can use lace colouring to accent your getup, just as you’d use a belt or colourful buttons on your jacket. If you’re wearing a burgundy suit with burgundy brogues, you might accent it with a beige tie, a brown belt, and beige laces for a bit of variation. If you’re wearing a tartan tweed suit with brown brogues, a pair of teal green laces could really add to the overall look. On the more spectacular end of things, adding burnished red laces to tan chukka boots can give you an eye-catching two-tone finish, whereas pale rawhides on dark boots can throw in a bit of extra light. As ever, colour should be used sparingly when it comes to dress shoes, but the less formal the occasion, the more you can afford to experiment and switch things up.
Types of Knots
Once you’ve settled on a lacing pattern for your dress shoes, you might be left wondering how to cap it all off. It’s easy enough to learn how to tie and knot lace-up dress shoes in a variety of different ways, and here you’ll find a few simple knots that not only guarantee stability but also look great at the top of any lacing structure.
For a simple, sturdy knot, you can’t beat the classic ‘bunny rabbit’ approach. It might surprise you, but people often tie this knot wrong and then complain that it won’t stay tight, so here’s a simple step-by-step to tie a good one.
First, make a starting knot by crossing your lace ends and tucking one under the other before pulling tight. Make one lace into a loop with this starting knot complete, and wrap the other lace around it. This will create another small circle – simply slip the end of the free lace upwards through it and pull it through tight.
Tennis (Double Knot)
If you require an even stronger double knot, then the tennis knot is a good pick. This looks a little bulky, so it works better with boots and casual dress shoes than Oxfords or Derby shoes, but on the flip side, it’s pretty much impervious to coming undone.
To start off:
- Tie a standard basic knot, following the steps above.
- Once you’ve got your basic knot complete, cross one loop over the other, and wrap it behind and underneath the first.
- Pull it through the gap created and tighten it until it doesn’t budge. This knot will never come undone by itself but do take care when using brittle dress shoelaces on new shoes, as you don’t want to pull it too tight and rip the lace.
The Parisian knot is a type of double knot that looks a little more sophisticated on a streamlined dress shoe like an Oxford or a brogue. To tie it, first, make a starting knot in the same fashion as described in the ‘basic knot’ section. Then, make a loop by holding your finger close to the knot joint and winding one lace around both the finger and the joint twice. Thread the lower end of the free lace through that loop without letting the capped end through. This will create a new loop – pull it tight without letting the lace cap through, then adjust until the two loops are even for a firm knot with a subtle, flat finish.
Named after famed shoemaker and fashion designer Olga Berluti, the Berluti knot is a secure and stylish knot that’s incredibly easy to tie. You can begin by making a starting knot and then making a loop with one lace. Take the other lace behind the loop, then over and across it, pushing it into the new loop formed, as you would with a basic knot. Then, before tightening, take the first loop around the back of the second loop and through the third loop that this creates as if you were performing the basic knot again – be careful not to let the loops fall apart and tighten. This will make a neat knot that sits nice and flat against the top of any dress shoe.