The Difference Between Oxford and Derby Shoes
You may know that there are some basic differences between Oxford and Derby shoes, but you might not know what those differences are. Not to worry, together we’ll uncover the mystery.
Armed with this useful information you’ll be able to shop for dress shoes with more confidence and never mistake the two styles for each other.
Oxford Dress Shoes
The history of men’s Oxford shoes is fascinating - and maybe a bit controversial. There are actually two conflicting accounts of how Oxfords became the style we know it as today.
One says that the style originated as a boot in the 1600s at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. It became the preferred footwear at court and underwent many changes over the centuries.
Another story tells us that students at Oxford University were tired of the restrictive, knee high boots popular in the early 1800s. And, as university students do, they rebelled. The Oxonian boot was born. Narrow slits along the sides of the boots made them more comfortable to wear, and sent a signal to the establishment that change was (excuse the pun) afoot.
With passing generations, the slit became a side lacing system, which then migrated to the instep. The heel was also lowered, as was the boot’s height, until it eventually settled into the form we know today.
The defining characteristics of Oxford shoes are:
- A closed lacing system, with the eyelet facing stitched under the quarters.
- Interior and exterior quarters stitched underneath the vamp.
- The tongue is stitched separately underneath the vamp.
- A low heel.
- An exposed ankle.
- Stitched leather sole.
Today, there are many variations of the Oxford, but all are considered to be on the more formal side. Distinguished by the thin line of stitching across the toe box, a cap-toe Oxford is always appropriate for business.
The most formal variation is the wholecut, meaning the shoe is made with one flawless piece of leather with no visual seams and absolutely no detailing. Just the handsome leather which is allowed to shine on its own.
Broguing, an embellished design created with small, punched holes on the upper, and sometimes with a medallion on the toe box, is considered to be less formal. The more embellishments, such as a wingtip or full brogue, the more casual the shoe.
Derby Dress Shoes
Like Oxfords, the history of men’s Derby shoes is a bit confusing. But, one thing’s for sure, the Derby is here to stay.
First, we have the legend that they were originally constructed in the 19th century to be a gentlemen’s hunting shoe. Sturdy and comfortable for long treks through wet and sometimes rough conditions.
Then, there’s the story that Derbys were inspired by Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, during the Napoleonic wars. He didn’t like the cumbersome boots his troops had to trudge around in, so he ordered something more comfortable to be made.
The new footwear was ankle high, had a tongue and an open lacing system. It was easy to put on and take off, and much lighter than what the troops were used to. Known as the “Blucher,” this innovation inspired what we know as the Derby.
The third idea is that the 14th Earl of Derby, a rather wide man, was having difficulty finding shoes that fit properly. So, he had his shoemaker create a boot with open lacing that was easy to put on and take off.
Whatever the truth, Derbys are an important part of any man’s wardrobe. Some men wear nothing but this style.
The defining characteristics of Derby shoes are:
- An open lacing system, with the eyelets facings stitched on top of the quarters.
- The quarters are sewn on top of the vamp.
- Three specific pieces: a vamp with the tongue and two quarters.
- An elongated or rounded toe.
- Stitched leather sole.
Also like Oxfords, there are many variations of Derby dress shoes. Since Derbys are considered to be informal, they work equally well with jeans, casual trousers and suits. Of course, as discussed in the Oxford section above, the more ornamentation - such as broguing - the more casual the shoe becomes.
It’s important to note that Derbys are also sometimes called Bluchers and Gibsons.
Differences Between the Oxford and the Derby
As discussed in the sections above, the differences between Oxfords and Derbys are easy to identify. Here is a breakdown:
- Closed lacing
- Quarters sewn under the vamp
- Tongue is stitched separately under the vamp
- Form fitting instep
- Open lacing
- Quarters sewn over the vamp
- Three pieces - a vamp with the tongue, and two quarters
- Roomy instep
Oxfords are a great foundation shoe for men as they are classic, timeless and always respected. They work extremely well for job interviews, formal occasions and are the preferred style for men in more conservative professions. Oxfords pair well with suits, chinos and tailored jeans.
Derbys can also be a foundation shoe, and can be adapted to different settings. The versatility of Derbys makes them perfect for business and events. Derbys pair well with some suits, relaxed trousers and jeans.
Which Shoe Is Right For You?
By now you’ve probably determined if you’re more of an Oxford or Derby man. Or, you might appreciate what each style has to offer and can see yourself with both in your rotation (which is a pretty good idea).
Keep in mind that each style can change completely depending on the type of leather used, the amount of ornamentation and the color. These are important factors to consider when deciding on which shoe to wear when.
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