The Oxford Shoe Guide

Whenever it’s come to dress shoe, an oxford is as classic and as timeless as you can get. The reason an oxford is probably the best selling dress shoe ever is that it’s a shoe that never gonna go out of style. This shoe looks as good today as it is looked fifty-sixty years ago and it will look just as good fifty-sixty year from today. Whenever it comes to dress shoes it’s just hard to get a more beautiful more classic dress shoe than an oxford shoe.  And it’s because of that reason you will find an oxford shoe as a part of every shoemaker’s collection.

What makes an oxford an oxford?

Unlike most other shoes and items of menswear, the Oxford shoe has one main defining feature: the lacing system. Sometimes people use the term Oxford to denote any smart lace-up shoe, even those with open lacing, but that’s not how we will use the term in this article.

The eyelets for the shoelaces are generally located on the quarters (except for a whole cut and seamless shoe). For a closed lace system, the vamp is sewn on top of the quarters and the shoelace eyelets facings are stitched underneath the vamp. The shoelaces are used to tie the two quarters together thus fastening the shoe onto your foot. When a shoe is new, the quarters should form a narrow V-shape and once they are worn in, the V should disappear so the quarters touch each other, and you can only see the tongue at the top end. Most British Oxford shoes today, mostly have 5 eyelet holes on each side, whereas American Oxfords often have 6. In the past 4 or even 3 eyelets per side were not uncommon, and so it boils down to personal taste.

Oxford shoe

Originally, Oxfords were plain, formal shoes, made of leather, but they evolved into a range of styles suitable for formal, uniform, or casual wear. Based on function and the dictates of fashion, Oxfords are now made from a variety of materials, including calf leather, faux and genuine patent leather, suede, and canvas.

Different Name for Different Region

The meaning of “Oxford” and “Balmoral” may vary geographically. In the United States, “Balmoral” is often interchangeable with “Oxford”. In the United Kingdom, “Oxford” is sometimes used for any more formal lace-up shoe, including the Blucher and Derby. While in Britain and other countries, the Balmoral is an Oxford with no joints, apart from the toe cap seam, descending to the welt, a style common on boots. Shoes with closed lacings such as Oxfords and Balmorals are considered more formal than those with open lacings such as Bluchers or Derbys.

History of an oxford shoe

Back in 17th-century  and earlier men’s footwear was dominated by boots. Often high and tightly fitting with buttons instead of laces, they were worn both outdoors and indoors. Often that was precise because roads were in such bad form often we call them dirt road, everything including a storefront property had no sidewalks. More often than not these boots featured rather high heels, a style popularized by King Louis XIV of France, who was of modest height. 

Oxfords first appeared in Scotland and Ireland, where they are occasionally called Balmorals after Balmoral Castle which is since mid 19th century, one of the favorite vacation residence of the British royal family. However, the shoes were later named Oxfords after Oxford University. This shoe style did not appear in North America until the 1800s. However, what is clear is that they were a result of a quest for a more comfortable shoe and that they were first associated with university students rather than with the older generation of the time.  

It seems plausible that the students of Oxford University popularized a “half boot” called the Oxonian Shoe around 1825.  At first, the Oxonian shoe featured narrow slits on its sides which made it much more comfortable to wear around campus than the high boots then in fashion. Slowly over time, the side slits were replaced with laces (on the sides). These side laces eventually made their way to the instep of the boot. Further changes included lowering of the heel and the height of the boot being lowered to expose the ankle. It is still a matter of debate as to whether all these changes took place on campus, which seems highly improbable. The timeline for these changes is not very clear, with different sources giving different timelines.

Joseph Sparkes Hall, author  “The Book of the Feet: A History of Boots and Shoes” and the inventor of the Chelsea boot [An elastic-sided boot, typically with a high heel], stated that “Dress pumps are the only shoes now worn. The Oxonian shoe … is the best for walking. It laces up the front with three or four holes. It is none other than high lows now called Oxford shoes.” So, at least by then, the name Oxford had caught on in public.

From there, Oxford became the preferred style in men’s footwear. Boots were now only appropriate for outdoor activities, like horseback riding, while oxfords were the perfect everyday shoe. They have been in style ever since.

Types of Oxford Shoes

Oxfords are not always Brogues though they sometimes are and Brogues are not always Oxfords though some of them can be. It is the lacing system and the absence or presence of broguing that is the differentiating feature. In America, oxford is interchangeable with Balmorals or ‘Bal- type’ while in England, they are known as Oxfords. the Balmoral is an entirely different shoe which is a  specific type of oxford with no seams, apart from the toe cap seam, descending to the welt.

Plain Oxford

Undoubtedly the cleanest and most elegant version of the Oxford shoe, the Plain Oxford is therefore also the most formal. It basically consists of the quarter and the vamp. It features neither a leather cap over the toe box nor does it have broguing. The go-to choice for black tie events when rendered in patent leather, it’s characterized by a lack of detail, giving it a sleek profile that extends the appearance of trousers. This style is simple yet elegant.

If you want to sharpen the look of your black patent oxfords, you should take a look into evening shoelaces (much wider than regular shoelaces). They resemble a bow tie and thus mirror the look of your black bow tie.

Some men also wear pumps (also called opera shoe – extremely rare), but most men wear laced shoes. Some men favor a water polish calf leather variant that is polished to a mirror shine. Patent leather is unquestionably more traditional but a mirror shine is fine too.

Cap Toe Oxford

The cap toe Oxford, sometimes also referred to as captoe or cap-toe, is the most widespread incarnation of the Oxford shoe, the cap-toe is to business attire what the plain-toe is to eveningwear. The style, unsurprisingly, gets its name from the production technique, which sees an additional piece of leather stitched over the toe – the so-called toe cap. The most popular color is undoubtedly black, and the black cap toe Oxford is the most popular shoe for the majority of classic men’s shoe manufacturers. Of course, it is also available in tan, brown, cognac, oxblood, etc., but the black variety is the epitome of Oxford shoes. A black cap toes oxford retains the versatility of being able to become a semi-formal shoe.  If you can’t afford a separate pair of patent leather or polished calf leather plain Oxfords, the black calf leather cap toes may serve double duty as a tuxedo shoe because it is considered by some to be the poor man’s evening shoe.

Wingtip Oxford / Brogue

Wingtip oxford shoe

Featuring a decorative M-shaped toe cap with edges that extend along the sides of the shoe, the wingtip Oxford is considered a bit more casual than the Cap Toe. Although technically an Oxford, it is generally referred to as a Brogue. A Brogue has sturdy leather uppers with decorative perforations (or “broguing”) and serration along the pieces’ visible edges. Originally these perforations have been created for a technical reason which is to drain water out of the shoe. Simple rule – the fewer brogue (perforations) on the shoe, more formal it is. A wingtip oxford is most suitable for weddings and office wear, styles in nubuck suede can also work well as part of a smart-casual outfit.

Saddle Oxford

Oxford shoe

A historically American style, though rare in almost every corner of the world today. You can find them offered by companies all over the world. Saddle Oxfords feature an additional strip of leather in a contrasting or complementary color, which runs around the middle and down the side to the sole of the shoe (the width of the shoelace eyelets). They may or may not have heel caps in a contrasting color. 


Wholecut oxford shoe

A Wholecut is a simple shoe but the most difficult shoe to make for the shoemaker. Usually, shoes are made from multiple pieces of leather sewn together. This type has an upper that is cut from one single piece of leather with a simple cut in the middle to have a perforation for the eyelets.  The Wholecut oxford has the distinctive closed lacing system and this along with the single-piece construction resulting in an extremely clean and sleek appearance. It also requires more leather to make a Wholecut because it generally has only one seam at the heel.

In recent year, this style has become rather popular and often features a medallion on the toe box or other broguing. As a general rule, the less detail a shoe has, the more formal it is, but a whole-cut is the exception, serving as a great all-rounder for those who don’t want to fork out for several pairs of dress footwear. It is available in all kinds of colors and is usually a bit more expensive than a cap toe or plain oxford because it requires more skill and more leather. Most of the time, if you want to spot a good shoemaker, look at his Wholecut and it will tell you immediately are you in a good place for shoe or not.


Oxford shoe

The spectator is a shoe with two different colors. It doesn’t matter if it is an Oxford, a Derby or a Loafer, all that matter that is –  the shoe upper must be bi-color.  A spectator is first made as a cricket shoe in 1868. At the time, cricket shoes used to be all white but during the game, they would soil very quickly. John Lobb added black leather to the areas that usually get dirty immediately, and the spectator was born.

How To Lace Oxford Shoe

Shoestrings, bootlaces or simply shoelaces. It doesn’t matter what you call them. They all do the same thing; they keep your footwear secured and comfortable while you wear them. One of the simplest ways to change the look and feel of your shoes is to simply switch your shoelaces.

Oxford being the most formal style of footwear you can step into, let’s be fastidious about it: the laces should be horizontal, parallel and the same color as the shoe, or at least tonal.

For dress shoes, it is essential to have quality shoelaces made of waxed cotton because cheap, thick and coarse shoelaces will ruin the look of your shoelaces. 80cm – 31.5″ is the perfect length because it works for 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 rows of eyelets primarily covering the entire spectrum of lace-up men’s dress shoes.

Round shoelaces

The most formal shoelaces for Oxford shoes are round, thin and made of waxed cotton. The thinner your laces are the better the quality. Of course, that’s only true if the laces don’t rip but usually, poor quality laces are not made to be very thin because they would break right away. If came that far and invested in quality Goodyear-welted shoes, you should also get a good pair of shoelaces or two.

Flat Shoelaces

An alternative for dress shoes is to go with flat thin dress shoelaces. They are a bit wider than round ones and create a different look that is a bit bolder than if you go with round shoelaces.

How to Lace Oxford Dress Shoes

The Best Way to Lace Oxfords: This works for all kinds of oxfords, no matter how many eyelets they have. Most oxfords have 5 rows of eyelets, and that’s what we use here.

  • To lace a pair of Oxfords correctly, feed both ends of the lace through the bottom eyelets from above and pull them so that the lace is horizontal.
  • If your shoe has five eyelets, pull the lace so that the end on the outside of the shoe is a couple of centimeters longer than the inside. If you have four or six eyelets, keep both ends an even length.
  • Take the lace on the outside of the shoe, and feed it through the second eyelet on the same side (from the bottom), then loop it over the top to the second eyelet on the other side (through the top).
  • Now, take the lace on the inside of the shoe and feed it through the third eyelet (from the bottom) on the same side, and loop it to the third eyelet on the opposite side (again, through the top).
  • Continue in the same way until you get to the top. On any shoe with an uneven number of eyelets, you’ll need to cross one side of the lace over, which is why it should be longer on the outside of the shoe. If you have an even number of eyelets, each side should be even.
  • Pull-on both ends to tighten the laces and close your shoes. You can expect a slight V-shape when you first buy them, but as you break your shoes in, the laces should pull tight, bringing each side of the shoe’s upper (these are called the quarters) together.

So we have covered in this article the Oxford shoe which is the main category of men’s shoe specifically for business and formal shoe.

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