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What Is an Oxford Shoe? - Your Ultimate Guide

Cousin Bob’s wedding? First day at the law firm? An evening cocktail party? It is time to look for the right shoes, and now that you are going shopping for them you’re a little bit confused.

Oxfords, Derbies, Brogues? What are these names all about? What are the differences between them? How do you make sure that you don’t look off when you make your big entrance to important events?

Here we will make sure you learn all about the different types of shoes for men, and today we will focus on men's Oxford shoes. These are for sure the shoes to give you a classic look for formal events.

Anatomy of a Shoe - What Makes a Shoe an Oxford?

So there are two big families of shoes: Oxfords and Derbies. The main difference between them is their lacing system: Oxfords are closed-laced, while Derbies are open-laced.

This means Oxford shoes have the eyelet tabs sewn under the vamp.

Now if it seems like we're speaking Latin here, let us clear up a couple of things:

  • The Vamp is the upper part of the shoe that covers your toes and instep.
  • The Quarters of the shoe meet the Vamp mid-foot and wrap around the heel. 


The Oxford's eyelet tabs form a “V” on the lacing system. Derbies will have the eyelet tabs sewn on top of the vamp, so they can be open wide. Take a look at the following image to picture it better:

beckett simonon oxford derbies difference

So what does this mean for your feet and your style? Because of the closed-lacing system, Oxfords can be a little restrictive if you have a high instep.

However, this just means you need to find a good Oxford that fits you well. 

Oxfords are simply your essential shoes when it comes to formal dressing, as they will give you a sleek and clean shape.

Still, depending on the style and color of the Oxford you choose, they will also work great for a business casual style.

This is why Oxfords are a very versatile shoe and they definitely have to take a place in your wardrobe. So where does this type of shoe come from anyway?

A History Lesson in Oxford Shoes

Oxford shoes? Oxford comma? Yes, these things were all born at Oxford University! Actually, Oxford shoes had their first appearance on campus in the form of a half-boot called the Oxonian, which was extremely popular in the 1800s.

Students, tired of the rigid boots with high heels, decided to look for another type of shoe that would be more comfortable to wear on campus.

It's believed that the Oxford students themselves designed the shoe to be more comfortable out of necessity for style as well as comfort. They took the Oxonian boot and added side slits which eventually evolved into laces. These laces on the side were later moved to the instep. Also, the boot’s heel was lowered. Historically, a high-heeled shoe was meant to exhibit a man's status. The higher your shoe was the higher your status. 

But again, students grew tired of the Oxonian boot, and decided to go for an upgraded style with a low cut and exposed ankles.

It was from this rebellious enterprise the Oxford shoe became the modern style at the turn of the century, and now our classic type of shoe.

There’s also a competing story. It claims Oxfords actually had their origins in Scotland and Ireland. Back in 1800, the Oxford-style shoe was often worn in a queen's Scottish castle known as Balmoral Castle. If you've ever heard an Oxford shoe referred to as a Baltype or Balmoral, this is where that terminology comes from. 

Sometimes in the United States, the term Oxfords and Balmoral are interchangeable. However, in England, Balmorals are a specific type of Oxford with an extended M-shaped toe cap.

But it is completely plausible that Oxfords had a simultaneous evolution in different territories. The truth is Oxfords could have actually existed as early as 1650s, but they only became popular in the 1800s.

After they became a fashion success at Oxford University, they were imported to America at the turn of the 19th century, when American businessmen were trying to reflect cosmopolitan looks.

Since then, this type of shoe has become a basic shoe for every man, and it also comes in different styles. So what are the different types of Oxford shoes and how can you pair them like a boss?

Your Ultimate Guide to Oxford Shoes

 Wholecut Oxford 

types of shoes oxfords wholecuts

This type of Oxford is a rare bird, as it is made out of a wholecut piece of leather. Lately, it has become a very popular shoe, although not many brands will try to make a wholecut Oxford.

If you notice, most shoes are made from multiple pieces of leather stitched together. Finding a wholecut piece that looks perfect can be difficult and expensive, so wholecuts really portray a lot of mastery and high-quality.

Wholecuts in black are an amazing piece for evening wear, although they look incredibly nice for business looks in other colors.

Cap-Toe Oxford

types of shoes oxfords cap-toe

These are probably the most common Oxfords there are. In addition to the normal vamps and quarters of an Oxford, an extra piece of leather is added to the toe of the shoe, hence the name. Some of them can come with broguing on the cap.

In black, cap-toes are your must-Oxfords when it comes to business attire, although they might be too casual when it comes to white tie events. With some broguing, they become pretty useful for business casual looks.

Plain-Toe Oxford

types of shoes oxfords plain toe

These Oxfords don’t feature a cap-toe, so that’s where the name comes from. They might have broguing on the throat. Plain-toe Oxfords in black, they are your quintessential shoe for black or white tie events.

But in other colors, they can also be very convenient for wearing with your business suits.

Wing-Tip Oxford

types of shoes oxfords wingtip

The wing-tip Oxford has a toe cap with some extensions that extend to the sides of the shoes. Depending on the point of view, you will see they have an “M” or “W” shape.

They are considered to be a little bit more informal than Cap-toe Oxfords, and most of them will also come with some broguing. They can go well for your business suits, but also with chinos or jeans.

Austerity Brogue Oxford

types of shoes oxfords austerity brogues

Just like wholecut Oxfords, this is also a rara avis. It is a wingtip Oxford, but despite being called “Brogue” it actually has no broguing.

The story behind these shoes is quite interesting. During WWII there was a leather shortage since the material was being used in military boots.

With these restrictions, shoemakers started offering wingtip Oxfords without broguing, as this saved about 1.5cm of extra offset. Hence, these are Oxfords for austere times.

These Austerity Brogue Oxfords are a good alternative to cap-toe Oxfords, as they are minimalist and clean, but also not that common. They can go well with suits, business casual clothing and even dress up a pair of jeans.

When to Wear an Oxford Shoe

Oxfords are the perfect shoe to wear for that special occasion when you need to elevate your ensemble. If you're going out for the evening to a nice dinner and a show, the Oxford shoe will effortlessly spruce up your looks. 

Of course, the Oxford can be perfectly paired with a tux for a wedding or black-tie event. The most classic looking Oxford is a standard black variation, however, if you have other suit colors, you could venture out to try a different color of Oxford. Most Oxfords come in a variety of colors like black, brown, tan, and burgundy, just to name a few. 

Oxfords are great for upgrading a more casual button-down shirt, but we wouldn't necessarily suggest wearing them with a t-shirt. The casual style of a t-shirt paired with an Oxford shoe would most definitely clash. 

They can also complement a business casual outfit as well as a business professional depending on if you're wearing a suit coat or not. 

Conclusion

As you have seen, Oxfords were the start of a shoe revolution and today they are the most classic shoes available. Thanks to their closed-lacing system, they have a slimmer silhouette than Derbies so they are your number one formal shoes.

Still, we’ve seen the different types of Oxford shoes and this also shows how versatile this type of shoe can be.

From the good wholecuts that will be the kings of the night at an evening reception, to the wingtips for more casual looks, Oxfords are definitely one of the first types of dress shoes you should own.

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