If a tuxedo is the smartest thing a man can adorn his body with then a pair of Oxford shoes is the same for his feet. This style of formal footwear has remained largely unchanged for almost two centuries, and it’s still the only acceptable option for black-tie and white-tie soirees. Quite simply, it’s the definitive dress shoe.
Buying a pair of Oxfords is the sort of purchase you only have to make once in a lifetime… provided that you get it right the first time. That’s why it’s so important to go into it from a place of knowledge. This type of shoe is notoriously expensive, but if you spend the money on the right design, you shouldn’t have to spend it again.
Thinking of taking the plunge and investing in a proper pair of Oxford shoes? Or maybe you just want to learn more about the style and what sets it apart from the humble Derby. Either way, this guide is for you.
What Is An Oxford Shoe?
The Oxford is a traditional formal shoe, most commonly made from leather, or less commonly suede. It’s known for its clean, uncluttered appearance, slight heel and ‘closed’ lacing system.
A ‘closed’ lacing system differs from an ‘open’ lacing system in that the eyelets are stitched underneath the vamp. This means they meet tight together all the way from the top to the bottom when the shoe is tightened.
The style can be traced back to Oxford University in the early 1800s. It was derived from a type of half-boot referred to as the Oxonian, which was popular at the time. The term ‘Oxford shoe’ first cropped up in writing in 1846 and has remained a key part of the formal menswear landscape ever since.
Oxford vs Derby Shoes
Oxford shoe and Derby shoes can look very similar to each other if you’re not clued up on the finer details. The difference between the two comes down largely to the type of lacing system.
Oxfords, as we know, use a closed lacing system. Derbies, on the other hand, have a more casual open lacing system. This gives the Derby a slightly more relaxed look and versatile fit. It’s a better match for business settings and occasions that don’t require a black or white tie dress code.
Derbies can also be worn casually. It’s not unusual to wear a pair of Derbies with a pair of jeans as part of a smart-casual outfit, but Oxfords really only ever mingle with tailoring.
Key Men’s Oxford Shoe Styles
A plain Oxford is the purest form of the Oxford shoe. It has a clean, uncluttered upper that is free from any sort of decoration or detail.
It’s usually made from plain black leather, or sometimes black patent leather. The latter is the most formal and is intended to be worn with black or white tie only.
Toe Cap Oxford
A toe-cap Oxford has a straight cap to the toe. It’s a decorative detail that makes it slightly less formal than a plain Oxford.
An Oxford brogue is the most informal style of Oxford shoe. If features patterned perforations to the uppers known as ‘broguing’, which gives the shoe a more casual appearance.
It’s a good match for smart-casual or business-casual occasions but can also be dressed up for formal events outside of black or white tie.
An Oxford wingtip has a toe cap with a pointed middle and ends that extend around the sides of the shoe. It will often typically feature broguing, making it a dressed down option.
A suede Oxford is a louche and laid-back alternative to a leather Oxford. It can be worn to add a touch of character to formal looks, but it shouldn’t ever be worn with formalwear.
The Best Brands For Oxford Shoes
Velasca works with local makers in Italy to make the best possible shoes with the lowest possible price tag. All of the label’s shoes are handcrafted by highly skilled artisans in the shoemaking capital of Marche, with all the quality and attention to detail you’d expect.
The brand has a number of Oxford styles to choose from, ranging from full brogues to sleek Cordovan-leather toe caps.
Morjas mixes traditional shoemaking practices and contemporary touches to create a range of footwear that’s both fresh and timeless.
The collection includes everything from formal shoes to minimalist sneakers, all tied together by the quality and attention to detail that goes into each and every one.
Check out the brand’s classic toe-cap Oxford for proof.
Sweden’s Myrqvist is on a mission to enable more men to enjoy the luxury of handmade footwear. It operates on a direct-to-consumer model, which means no retail markup, lower operational costs, and ultimately premium shoes at accessible prices.
There are lots of modern styles to choose from, but Myrqvist knows how to do the classics too. Case in point: the stunning Arvika plain Oxford shoes, which feature everything you’d expect from a purebred Northamptonshire Oxford but for a fraction of the price.
For those with money to burn, a pair of handmade Oxfords from John Lobb is about as good as it gets. Crafted in England for over 150 years, these stunning shoes feature premium details such as Goodyear-welted soles and are made using the absolute finest of materials.
There are plenty of styles to choose from, with prices often extending well beyond £1,000 a pair. We’re particularly fond of the City II, which boasts a neatly stitched toe cap and sleek silhouette that make it the perfect accompaniment to a well-cut suit.
Grenson is one of the biggest and best-known names from Northamptonshire’s footwear empire. It puts out a mixture of traditional and modern styles that are all bursting with character and quality.
For a classic formal option, take a look at the simple and elegant Shoe 2, which is perfect for pairing with tailoring for special occasions. For something more casual, the British brand makes some excellent brogue options too, with intricate patterns and high-end materials, all handmade in Grenson’s historic UK factory.
Cheaney is another prestigious Northamptonshire shoemaker that has been crafting beautiful high-end shoes since the 1800s. The brand’s selection of Oxfords includes everything from full-grain brogues to understated leather options and everything in between.
One of our favourite models is the Kelly. It’s a plain patent-leather Oxford that’s perfect for pairing with a tuxedo on special occasions.
Boasting a workshop on London’s Royal Arcade, George Cleverley has provided high-end bespoke shoes to everyone from Winston Churchill to David Beckham over the years. The prices are steep but so is the quality and attention to detail, plus there’s the option to have your shoes made to measure if you have the bank balance to finance it.
In terms of Oxfords, there’s plenty to pick from. This classic style is what George Cleveryley does best. For a jumping-off point, take a look at the Charles: a classic toe-cap Oxford that’s handmade in England.
Church’s is a Northamptonshire shoemaker with a long and storied history. In recent years it was bought out by Prada, and while some longtime fans will claim the quality has gone downhill since then, there’s no denying that these are still some beautiful shoes with the heritage to back them up.