Wholecut Shoes | Definitive Style Guide

Whole cut shoes seem to be the dress shoe of the moment. Even James Bond has a pair. But what is a wholecut and when could you wear them?

In this post we first look at wholecuts in general, and then our own specific 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.

Wholecuts don’t 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.

Wholecut shoes - black and brown

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 the most famous and many say original.

When to wear a wholecut

Whole cut 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.

And the best wholecut colour is….

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

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.

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.

Tan wholecut shoes with grey trousers

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.

How about olive green? (below). This may sound odd at first, but with the right outfit and occasion, they can look great.


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

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.

Blue wholecut shoes

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.

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.

Wholecut shoes being made

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

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.)

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.

Wholecut shoes with medallion toes

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.

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 and iguana print. 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