Wholecut Shoes | How To Style Them

Updated April 2023

Wholecut shoes are be the dress shoe of the moment. Even James Bond has a pair. But what is a wholecut, what are the options and when should you wear them?

Wholecut Shoes

Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Blue (left) and Benson Custom Patina Wholecut Oxford Tan (right)

In this post we first look at wholecuts in general, and then our own specific Thomas Bird take on them.

So are they a dressy, formal shoe? Yes they are, but there is more to them than that.

Wholecuts actually refer to a wholecut Oxford. The Oxford part means that the lacing is ‘closed’. This is usually considered more classic and formal than other shoe styles such as Derbys where the facings and quarters (that the laces thread through) ‘open out’.

The wholecut part means that each shoe ‘upper’ is cut from one large, single piece of leather. So they are ‘whole cut’ rather than made of 5 or 6 smaller pieces of leather stitched together, which is normally the case, say with a wingtip brogue.

The result is a sleek, subtle, minimalist shoe with beautiful lines.

Photo: Ellington Brogue Wholecut Oxford Aubergine (left) and Benson Wholecut Oxford Oxblood (right)

Wholecuts don’t always shout ‘look at me’. But they will be appreciated by people who know their shoes or who just appreciate the seamless look they help to create.

Of course you can amp up the style to ten or even eleven by combining with some custom patina colours like the Thomas Bird Benson custom green wholecuts above..

Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Plum (left) and Benson Wholecut Oxford Tan (right)

Who makes wholecuts?

Wholecut shoes tend to be made by high end footwear manufacturers who have both the skills and materials required to make them (more on the production of wholecuts later). They can still vary in quality, style and production methods. Some are sleeker than others, others more rounded. The Berluti wholecut is perhaps one of the most well known

The Thomas Bird Benson wholecut is designed to be very sleek and snug fitting. Our newer Soho style introduced recently is slightly shorter and has a more rounded toe.

Photo: Ellington Brogue Wholecut Oxford Chestnut (left) and Benson Custom Patina Wholecut Oxford Blue (right)

When to wear a wholecut

Wholecut mens dress shoes are perfect for any formal or semi formal occasion when you are wearing a suit or jacket.The type of occasion though influences the best colour to choose. It depends on how formal the occasion is and how strict the associated rules may be. Patent leather is probably the most dressy wholecut for evening wear, red carpet or gala events. "And the Oscar for best actor goes to.....".

The best wholecut colour?

Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Black (left) and Benson Wholecut Oxford Olive Green (right)

Well the classic, most popular colour is black. Why? Well you can wear them for work with a suit. They also work well at very formal black tie functions. Some people actually prefer them to the dressier black patent leather shoe, and you can wear them more often. Not everyone can afford or wants several different styles of quality dress shoes, so versatile is good.

Daniel Craig as agent 007 James Bond wore black wholecuts with a tux in Skyfall and Spectre. Hard to argue with that man’s style.

Black brogue wholecuts with a navy blue suit

Photo: Ellington black brogue wholecuts with a navy blue suit.

Black wholecuts are very smart and perfect for any special occasion such as weddings, whether you are groom, best man or giving away the bride. Some say this is the ultimate mens dress shoe and the number one dress shoe to have in your wardrobe.

Brogue wholecuts

Almost as popular these days is the brown wholecut, either in a lighter tan shown below or a darker brown. These are good in a slightly less formal environment, maybe business casual, with a jacket and trousers rather than a suit.

Of course the old rules are changing and many people wear now brown shoes with a suit. So for some, brown could be a smart and even more versatile choice.

These Thomas Bird Ellington wholecuts feature a subtle medallion punching detailing on the toe cap.

Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Chestnut (left) and Ellington Brogue Wholecut Oxford Tan (right)

So wholecuts are smart, subtle, blend into the background a little..? Well not necessarily.

If you find black and brown just a little too safe, then look for other colours.

Oxblood wholecuts

Oxblood wholecuts look super stylish paired with a navy blue suit below. Or you can use them to add a splash of colour to a neutral/light suit.

Oxblood wholecuts worn with a navy blue suit

Oxblood goes very well with blue and navy blue suits. We love this example from @edruiz where Ed is wearing Thomas Bird oxblood wholecuts with a navy blue suit.

Oxblood wholecut oxford shoes with a navy blue suit


Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Grey (left) and Benson Custom Patina Wholecut Oxford Oxblood (right)

Custom patina wholecuts

We love this photo from @thesuitedtraveller showing how he combines Thomas Bird custom blue patina wholecuts with a window pane suit with blue detailing.

Blue patina wholecuts - suitedtraveller

Photo: @thesuitedtraveller.

If you have a strong sense of colour, here are some other custom patina colours - purple, oxblood, tan, green, grey, as well as blue.

Custom patina wholecuts

Other wholecut colours

How about an olive green wholecut? (below). This may not sound an obvious choice at first, but with the right outfit and occasion, they can look great.

Photo: Ellington Brogue Wholecut Oxford Light Tan (left) and Benson Wholecut Oxford Scarlet (right)

Or how about navy blue?. Imagine them with a suit, chinos or even jeans. They can look stunning.

Photo: Benson Custom Patina Wholecut Oxford Purple (left) and Benson Wholecut Oxford Brown (right)

And for the wild at heart, how about an iguana or snakeskin stamp on the leather  In tan or navy blue? Still understated in one way but making an individual statement of style and taste in another. It’s your call.

Plum wholecuts are an interesting and individual style choice. And plum is surprisingly versatile. Look at these two outfits from @thesuitedtraveller. He pairs Thomas Bird plum wholecuts with both an olive green and blue pinstripe suit.

Plum wholecut shoes

Photo: @thesuitedtraveller.

Black Patent Leather Wholecuts

For black tie/red carpet events, can there be a more classy and eye-catching shoe than a black patent wholecut? We don't think so.

The perfect shoe for a perfect day.

Photo: Ellington Brogue Wholecut Oxford Light Tan (left) and Mayfair Wholecut Oxford Patent Black (right)

Rubber Sole Wholecuts?

Photo: Soho Whoelcut Oxford Brogue Black (left) and Soho Whoelcut Oxford Brogue Brown (right)

Dress shoes and rubber soles don't always go together. But being practical, some of our super stylish customers like to wear wholecuts most days for work, and the daily commute to the city, pavements and subway escalators can be hard on a leather sole. So we introduced our Soho and Camden wholecut with a hard wearing genuine Vibram sole.

Photo: Camden Wholecut Oxford Oxblood (left) and Camden Wholecut Oxford Black (right)

How are wholecut shoes made?

So they are made from a single piece of leather. Does this make them easier to make?

No, the opposite is actually true. First, imagine you want to make the most pairs of shoes from one hide of leather. The ‘clicker’ is the skilled craftsman who examines each hide and decides where to cut out each piece of leather used in production. They look out for natural blemishes and weaknesses to avoid, and cut around, to make smaller pieces of usable leather. For the wholecut however, you must find a large enough piece, blemish free with no defects at all. Any mistakes here will be costly later in the process if the shoe fails stringent quality checks.


Wholecut shoes being made

This still of a wholecut being shaped is from our Youtube video on making Italian shoes.

Also, the leather itself needs to be very high quality to cope with the more demanding manufacturing process. Usually these are hand picked, full grain calf leather skins of the best quality.

It takes real skill to form the shape of the shoe from one piece, rather than having the benefit of the natural angles you get when several pieces are stitched together. And there will be more wastage in this type of process – less wholecuts per hide, which adds to the cost.

Who could wear wholecut shoes?

As with all Oxfords, they will fit best if you have a standard width foot, with a typical instep and arch. We do not recommend any Oxford if you have slightly wider foot or higher instep. This is because Oxfords have less ‘give’ than say Derbys and the laces would look too ‘stretched out’. And they just won’t feel as comfortable.

But if you’ve worn Oxfords before and they are comfortable, you should be fine with wholecuts.

Wholecuts tend to ‘give’ a little more than some other shoe styles, so they will conform to the shape of your foot. So if they are a little snug at the outset when new, that should be fine.

(If you do have a slightly wider foot, look at our new Buckingham derby/blucher. We’ve used the same last/shape as the wholecut, but designed as a Derby with ‘open’ lacing. We’ve tried to keep it as minimalist as possible to keep the look.)

Photo: Benson Wholecut Oxford Tan (left) and Benson Custom Patina Wholecut Oxford Green (right)

Looking after your wholecuts

Cleaning wholecuts is pretty simple. There are no seams to get in the way so adding polish and brushing them is easier than with other shoes. As with all quality dress shoes, they will last longer and keep looking good if you don’t over-wear them, and use shoe trees after wearing them.

So how about Thomas Bird wholecuts?

We follow the classic wholecut approach, but then decided to put our own take on them.

Why? We love the Berluti wholecut. But we wanted to take the idea and make it more affordable for a wider audience.

We designed our wholecut to be sleek, with that classic Italian look.

Thomas Bird wholecut shoes

They are made in Italy from high quality, full grain calf leather. They are hand coloured and burnished by hand. They also have a full leather lining. This makes them comfortable, but is also important as it allows natural perspiration to be absorbed. (Later removed by a well deserved rest with their shoe trees.)

The soles are blake stitched. There is a leather stacked heel with a half rubber bottom for wear and grip. We decided to use a part leather, part rubber sole, so they look good but are are longer lasting that just leather. But if you do wear the soles out, being stitched, they are easily replaced.

Our motto is ‘affordable luxury’. Our aim is for more people to be able to afford to own a pair of quality made, wholecut shoes.

Video:Detailed look at Thomas Bird black wholecuts.

We only sell online. We would love to welcome you into a London, Paris or New York store (one day..?), but this would double or treble the price of our shoes. By cutting out the middleman/retailer costs, we can pass those savings on to our customers.

We think we currently offer the best variety of wholecut colours on the market– the classic black and brown, but also the navy blue, olive green, plum and black patent. And we have more to come, thanks to suggestions from customers.

You can see the full range here: Wholecut shoes

Wholecut shoes features


So are wholecuts the perfect dress shoe? For many people the answer is ‘yes’ and it is their number one go-to dress shoe. Colour choice is down to you and when you are most likely to wear them.

Which colour would you choose? And if you could choose two colours…?

Please tell us what you think of wholecut shoes in general, or Thomas Bird wholecuts in particular. We would love to know what you think, so please leave a comment below.

And if you like this post, please share it and help us spread the word. Thank you!

Thomas Bird

Video:Thomas Bird London Collection.

LInks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/wholecut