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what are derbies
16 · 08 · 2018

What Are Derbies?-Your Ultimate Guide

Written by Pilar Espitia

Have you been looking for shoes which will give you a lot of versatility? Shoes to wear to the office or out with friends? Maybe for a relaxed date?

Probably you’ve heard Oxford shoes are the workhorse when it comes to formal looks. But what about the Oxford’s cousin, the Derby?

Well, bingo. With Derbies, you’ve found a shoe that adapts to formal dressing, but at the same time is a bit more informal.

Let me tell you some of the advantages of Derbies: Depending on the shape and material of your shoes, Derbies can be an excellent option for suits and can dress up any casual look.

Also, Derbies have the advantage of being a bit more comfortable when walking or standing for long periods of time because of their open lacing system and rubber soles. It is definitely something you might want to keep in mind.

So what are the differences between Derbies and Oxfords? What are some Derby options and how can you pair them well? Let’s cover some information about Derbies and find a few good suggestions on how to wear them.

Anatomy of a Derby

So we have the edgy guy, the Derby, and the posh cousin, the Oxford. The main difference between the two is their lacing system. Derbies have open lacing, while Oxfords have closed lacing. And what does it mean?

Basically, Derbies will have the eyelet tabs sewn on top of the vamp. This is the front and center part of the upper that covers the top of the foot.

The lace flaps are only joined by the laces so they can be opened wide. There will always be a small gap between the flaps.

Oxford shoes have the eyelet tabs sewn under the vamp. The lace flaps are joint at the bottom, and they form a “V” shape. Take a look at the following image to picture it better: 

oxford vs derby

And what does it mean concerning usage and style? If you have a high instep, Derbies might be less restrictive because you can adjust the laces more. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a pair of comfortable Oxfords.

Still, Derbies have a lot of versatility and will provide a lot of comfort for formal and casual looks. Now, let’s learn about the history of Derbies and how they came to be.

A Little Bit of History

You have probably heard the word Derby from the famous horse race, right? It was Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby who started this event.

But Derbies actually took their name from the successor of the 12th Earl of Derby. Edward Smith Stanley (same name!), 14th Earl of Derby.

The Earl lived during the 19th century, and at that time, closed lacing systems were the rule. Yet, the Earl wasn't too happy about this. He had astronomic proportions and his feet were too broad and big to fit regular boots.

His shoemaker decided to make a boot with open laces which would accommodate the Earl’s feet better. Thanks to this creative shoemaker, the early ancestor of the Derby shoe was born.

By 1862, the Derby was already being mentioned in magazines as a shoe, so we can say it had a parallel development with the Oxford shoe.

Another story talks about the Blucher, which is another name also given to Derbies.

During the Napoleonic Wars, a Prussian general named Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher was concerned about the boots his soldiers used.

He realized how rough it was for his men to walk in their closed lacing system boots while fighting.

It was painful to walk in these boots, especially when feet had expanded after long days walking in rain and mud.

So the general decided to invent a boot with an opened lacing system, and that’s how we also got the fantastic Derby.

Sometimes the term Derby and Blucher are used interchangeably to refer to an open laced shoe.

Yet, the Blucher is slightly different. It is made from a whole cut piece of leather and the eyelet tabs are sewn on top. Still, it is not necessary to be so specific, as they are both open laced shoes. 

Now, let’s talk about some styles of Derby shoes and how you can pair them with your formal or casual looks.

Your Ultimate Guide to Derby Shoes

The Plain Derby

 Dunham derby black

It is one of the most formal versions of the Derbies you can find. They don’t have any embellishments such as brogue, cap toes or heel caps.

In black leather (the Dunham Derby above, for instance) and with a sleek silhouette, it will be the perfect match for a formal suit. Still, it is better to go with Oxfords for white or black tie events.

In other colors and other materials, such as suede, they’re great for business casual or casual looks.

The Cap-Toe Derby

Norman cap toe derby bordeaux

These Derbies feature an extra piece of leather added to the toe, so this is where the name comes from. They can feature broguing around the cap-toe and sometimes a medallion.

Our Norman Derbies (picture above) are very dressy because of their last and their type of sole. Our Watson Derbies, because of the broguing, are a little bit more casual.

 The Split-Toe Derby

Clegg derbies tan

The split-toe Derby, such as the Clegg Derby above, has become really popular lately. Its name comes from the fact it features a vertical stitch on the tip of the toe. It also has an extra piece of leather covering the vamp. This piece is called an apron.

It is said the split-toe Derby was invented as a more water resistant model of the Derbies. Since they also have a cleaner silhouette, they can work well for business casual, or casual attire.

Also, check our Anders Split Toe in pebbled leather for reference. 

Other Types of Derbies

Other kinds of Derbies exist such as the wingtip Derby. It has a toe-cap which extends to the sides of the shoes and forms an “M” or “W” shape. There’s also the white buck.

This is a Derby that initially featured buckskin, although now it is made with white suede.


Derby shoes are very versatile, and they can complement your formal or casual looks. They are great when it comes to comfort! They will definitely be a good choice when you need to walk or stand for long periods of time.

For white or black tie occasions, we suggest you go with Oxfords. But for formal, business casual or casual looks, you can’t go wrong with Derbies. Since they come in different colors and materials, you can be creative to create impressive looks with these shoes.


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steve fudali Apr 05, 2019

I very much appreciate you describing the various types of shoes. Now I know why I like a certain style of shoe more than others. Very well done.

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