The Best Business Casual Shoe Styles For Modern Professionals

Image Credit: John Lobb

The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed working life. Kitchens became co-working spaces, ironing boards became makeshift desks and slippers became office-appropriate footwear. It was (or quite possibly wasn’t) fun while it lasted, but with some semblance of normality now returning to the world, the time has come to ditch the fluffy footwear in favour of something slightly less sloppy.

Business casual shoes bridge the expansive gap between off-duty and formal. They’re smart without being uptight, and laid-back without feeling lazy. These are the types of shoes that can help you transition back into office life in style, but it’s a broad category with lots of different styles to consider.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the key business casual shoe styles, why they’re worth having and how best to style them. From loafers to luxe sneakers, here’s what you need to know when it comes to stepping back into the office in style.

Leather Loafers

Why You Need Them

A classic leather loafer is a preppy favourite that’s easy to style and comfortable to wear… well, once it’s properly broken in anyway. In fact, of all the business casual shoe styles, loafers are the one most closely related to the slippers you’ve been traipsing around the house in for the last year – laceless and laid back but without the sloppiness. They’re smart with a touch of eccentricity and just so happen to be enjoying a bit of a moment right now in the world of men’s fashion.

There are lots of brands out there making loafers, but Gucci and G.H.Bass are the two that stand above the rest. The former’s Horsebit Loafer is an iconic piece of luxury fashion and the latter’s Weejun Loafer is arguably the design responsible for popularising the modern loafer we all know and love today.

How To Wear

One of the great things about loafers is that they’re very easy to style. They can be dressed up or down, and they work well in both smart and casual settings. To dress a pair of leather loafers up, team them with tailored pieces. Not necessarily a full suit, but perhaps a blazer and some chinos or wool trousers. For a more laid-back look, wear them with stonewashed denim and a knitted polo shirt.

Suede Derbies

Why You Need Them

A quality pair of derby shoes is an absolute must in any man’s footwear rotation, and opting for suede over leather can help to soften this style’s formal looks. It’s still smart, but will combine more readily with laid-back garments like jeans and casual shirts. Because of this, a suede derby makes an excellent ‘everyday’ shoe that can handle pretty much everything bar your morning run.

Brand such as Velasca, Amberjack, Brunello Cucinelli and Paul Smith lead the way in modern Derby style.

How To Wear

A dark brown suede derby always goes nicely with raw denim. From there, the outfit can be steered towards either smart or casual by opting for a turtleneck and a blazer or a thick flannel shirt and chore coat respectively.

Luxe Sneakers

Why You Need Them

Dress codes were already loosening up and, if anything, the pandemic has loosened them further still. A couple of decades ago, a sneaker would never have been considered office appropriate, but the rise of refined silhouettes and the use of luxurious materials has helped this traditionally casual shoe to step off the playing field and into professional settings.

Look to brands like Common Projects, ETQ and Oliver Cabell to get an idea of how smart a sneaker can be.

How To Wear

Luxe sneakers can work well in a wide range of settings depending on how they’re styled. For environments that call for something dressy yet modern, combine your sneakers with a well-fitting suit, tucking a white T-shirt into the trousers. White leather will go nicely, or opt for grey suede for something subtler. Otherwise, throw a pair on with an Oxford shirt, crew neck sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, and you’re good to go.

Chelsea Boots

Why You Need Them

Business casual shoes don’t come any sleeker than a good pair of Chelsea boots. These ankle-hugging high tops have remained consistently cool since they were popularised by the stylish youth of 1960s London. Today, they’re still a great tool for navigating the winter months in style and bringing a touch of character to tailored looks.

These days, most footwear brands make their own version of this classic style, but for the best of the best, look to names like Australia’s R.M. Williams and Saint Laurent, as well as traditional Northamptonshire shoemakers like Crockett & Jones.

How To Wear

The Chelsea boot has rock ‘n’ roll roots, so give a nod to them by styling with slim-fitting denim and some suitably grungy outerwear, like a leather biker or denim jacket. For a smarter, 1970s-inspired take, wear a pair with a well-fitting suit and a knitted polo.

Deck Shoes

Why You Need Them

The deck shoe is a preppy favourite that lends itself well to smart casual outfits during the warmer months. It goes perfectly with either shorts or trousers, and is a great compromise between a sneaker and a formal shoe. It’s not exclusively a summer shoe though. Versions like Timberland’s iconic 3-Eye Boat Shoe features a rugged, commando sole, which is more suited to inclement weather and wet ground.

Sperry is the originator of the deck shoe and should be right at the top of your list when shopping for a pair. Other brands to consider include Sebago, Quoddy and Ralph Lauren.

How To Wear

Deck shoes work best with similarly preppy garments. Think chinos, cardigans, oxford shirts, gilets and jeans. Just avoid wearing them with tailoring and you can’t go too far wrong.

Suede Chukka Boots

Why You Need Them

A casual classic that can be dressed up or down with ease, the suede chukka is a menswear essential with a rich history and a glowing track record for style. It’s a broad category, encompassing everything from desert boots to mid-top moccasins, but they’re all easy to wear, extremely versatile and comfortable.

How To Wear

Chukka boots are famed for their versatility. In a neutral colour, they’re a blank canvas upon which to paint any number of smart casual looks. It’s a laid-back shoe that works well with laid-back tailoring, so unstructured suit jackets and relaxed legwear are your friends.

That said, even a combo as simple as a plain tee and a pair of jeans looks considered and purposeful when teamed with a good pair of suede chukkas, so don’t be afraid to take things back to basics.

Paddy Maddison

Paddy Maddison is Ape's Style Editor. His work has been published in Esquire, Men’s Health, ShortList, The Independent and more. An outerwear and sneaker fanatic, his finger is firmly on the pulse for the latest trends, while always maintaining an interest in classic style.