Having a superb pair of dress shoes is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Even sneaker and hoodie guys will occasionally need to suit-up and opportunity favors the prepared. Thankfully though, selecting the perfect Formal footwear is easy when you have derbies in your wardrobe. These sleek and timeless shoes can suit practically any occasion and outfit. As such, they’re a style every gent should own. Ideal for work, the weekend and nearly every event in between, derby shoes have you covered in both style and practicality.
“Oxfords are exclusively a formal shoe that can even go wrong with chinos,” says Luke McDonald, a stylist at men’s shopping service Thread. “A Derby is like a Swiss army knife; they’re multifunctional. If you own a pair of jeans and ever want to look remotely smart, you should have a pair. They even work with cords and joggers.”
Put simply, a solid pair of Derbies can slot into near-enough any wardrobe. They’ll let you level-up laid-back looks, and relax smart stuff. They are not essential. But for almost any man, they’re damn useful.
The Difference Between Derby & Oxford
Many men find telling the difference between Oxfords and derbies challenging as they’re unsure what to look for. The derby, like the oxford, has one defining characteristic and it is once again in the lacing system. Derby shoes feature an open lacing system while Oxfords have a closed lacing system that is stitched shut across the bottom. Therefore, the eyelet tabs, where the laces weave through, are sewn down on Oxford shoes and left loose on derbies. So, Oxfords are more rigid and formal while derby shoes are slightly more relaxed and comfortable.
The uppers of a derby, like an oxford, consist of the quarters and the vamp. The vamp is that part of the shoe uppers that covers the toes and instep, and the quarters are that part of the shoe uppers that wrap around the heel and meet the vamp in the middle of the foot. The eyelets for the shoelaces are usually located on the quarters.
In an open lacing system (of the derby) the quarters are sewn on top of the vamp with the shoelace eyelets facings stitched on top of the quarters. This is in contrast to the closed lacing system (of the oxford) where the vamp is stitched on top of the quarters with the eyelet facing stitched under the quarters. On closer examination of these two lacing systems, one major difference stands out. In the open lacing system, the lace flaps are not conjoined at the bottom. They are joined by the laces and this usually creates a slight gap between the two when the laces are tied, hence the term open lacing. In the closed lacing system, on the other hand, the lace flaps are joined at the bottom and thus when the laces are tied there is usually no visible gap between the two, thus the term closed lacing.
It is worth mentioning that between the two lacing systems, the closed lacing system is considered to be more formal than the open lacing system. Thus one can safely say that the derby is a bit more casual than the oxford.
History of Derby Shoes
This section of the guide aims to give you some historical reference and we know, gentlemen love to know what is behind everything. Better suited to gentleman who has a high instep, the Derby is commonly thought to be an evolution, at least in terms of comfort, of the Oxford. Setting aside which came first, we can all agree on is that the Derby has a more relaxed look giving the shoe added diversity both in terms of how they are worn – smart or casual – and how they are made, suede being as popular a choice as leather.
It is impossible to determine at what period in time man first thought of shielding his feet from the perils of climate and condition with derby shoes. Some trace it back to the 12th Earl of Derby who was also the namesake for the famous horse race. Others trace its history back to the 14th Earl of Derby who was portly and probably had big feet, which made it difficult for him to get into boots. Therefore, his bootmaker created an open lace boot style that permitted him to put on his boots more smoothly. The Derby cut was first mentioned in Dunkley’s account book of 1862, but it was used to describe a pair of side sprung boots, not a shoe.
Although there are many theories as to why the Derby style was developed, we can be sure that one of the first articles the Derby received was in 1872, by St Crispin’s, which noted;
The Derby or new tie shoe. Better than the Oxonian as the seam is not near the tender part of the foot. Especially good in Summer, allows the foot to swell.
In the 19th century the standard issue footwear for the armies of Europe, for both cavalry and infantry units, was the boot. These boots were not the most comfortable or effective of footwear especially when it came to pulling them on and off. This difficulty was intensified after hard days campaigning especially when the ground was wet and muddy. During the Napoleonic wars a Prussian army officer named Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlsett took it upon himself to have the boots redesigned so his men could have a more comfortable pair of boots that also enabled them to ready themselves for battle in a shorter time.
To meet both these ends he required a boot that was both comfortable for all types of foot types and which could be pulled on and off easily. He devised a half boot with two leather flaps below the ankles that could be laced together. These flaps did not resort at the bottom and had shoelace eyelets arranged in parallel. This innovation resulted in a wider opening for the foot which neatly achieved his latter goal.
This also made the boots more comfortable for people with a wider foot as the width of the boot could be adjusted by tightening or loosing the laces at the bottom of the flaps as they did not meet at the bottom, and so the boots were subsequently named the Blücher.
Characteristics of the Derby Shoe
The main characteristics of Derby shoes include:
- Open lacing
- Elongated or round toe
- Three-part paneled construction
- Stitched leather sole
Types of Derby Shoe
Being simple and old, Derbies have been adopted by those interested both in practicality and looking good (which is all of us, right?). Helpfully, there’s an option for every man, whether he steers classic or statement. These are the key styles to know.
The Classic/Plain Derbies
The plain derby consists of a vamp and quarters and does not feature any other embellishments such as broguing, cap toes or heel caps. A pair of classic Derbies is easy to wear and care for. “Opt for slimmer, sleek styles with minimal stitch detailing,” suggests Farfetch menswear editor Tony Cook. This is considered the most formal among the various types of derbys and is usually available in black, though these days they come in any color under the sun. The more casual versions come in suede leather. In Austria, a black patent leather derby is occasionally worn with black tie or even white tie ensembles.
The Cap Toe Derby
The cap toe derby may or may not feature broguing, though more often than not the broguing is usually restricted to the edge of the toe cap but sometimes you also see medallions. In addition to the vamp and quarters, an extra piece of leather – the so-called toe cap – is added across the toe box. They usually do not feature heel caps though some do. In terms of formality, the cap toe derby is a bit less formal than a plain derby.
The Wingtip Derby/ Brogue
These have the pointed toe cap (shaped like a ‘W’ or an ‘M’ or ‘U’) with extensions that can either extend along both sides of the shoe or stop just short of the heel cap and are thus called wingtips. Most brogues (or wingtips) are Derbies because the informal punched holes lend themselves better to casual styles. Be wary of anything too detailed, as it can make a versatile shoe feel ostentatious. They feature broguing both on the edges and in the center and have heel caps when the wings don’t extend along both sides of the shoe. Considered the most informal of the lot and available in various types of leathers, they are quite versatile.
The White Buck
White buckskin shoes were the epitome of summer footwear with their signature red brick sole and were considered the All-American shoe since the White bucks are generally made from nubuck, distinct from tan bucks, which are often suede. The White Buck, while technically a derby because of its lacing system, is a shoe with an identity of its own. They are now more commonly available in white suede and share the same features as the plain derby. White bucks are traditionally only white color.
Apron Toe / Moc Toe Derby
Apron, also called the Moc Toe, gets its name from the appearance of an apron draped over the sides. An extra layer of leather is stitched around the sides of the shoe and is commonly seen in Loafers, however, it is also used in more formal shoe choices. The moc toe is very similar to the apron toe, the difference being that while the apron toe simulates an apron the moc toe has an actual moccasin construction i.e. there is no additional piece of leather covering the top of the vamp.
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