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Explaining Shoes: The Oxford and Derby

February 19, 2014
Oxford shoe

Photo of a Derby shoe

In earlier years, my tattered shoes reminded the world more of an old dog leash than a shoe displaying fine craftsmanship. Almost literally, as long as they covered my feet and somewhat matched my outfit, I paid no attention to them. In fact, as I think back beyond a certain point, I cannot visualize any single pair of shoes I ever owned. In more recent years, I have collected a number of excellent pairs. Now that I am aware of the details, I can picture most of my shoe purchases.

The Oxford appeared in Europe somewhere around the mid-1600s, stepped into the spotlight in England in the late 1800s, and increased in popularity heading into the early twentieth century. As you may have guessed, it garnered its name from Oxford University students sporting the classic shoes. What made the shoes an enduring classic? Primarily, its functionality – They created a necessary shoe progression from the more cumbersome buttons to simpler laces. The Derby is similar to the Oxford with some variation in how the shoelace eyelets are attached to the shoe.

When worn in the right way, they can add so much to your outward expression. Here is what to know about Oxford and Derby shoes:

1. Quality – Pay attention to the leather, stitching, and construction. Leather, the most important factor, varies greatly in quality. Predominately made from cow hides, the ideal pieces display no blemishes, scars, or markings of any kind. This ideal leather looks better and lives longer in the form of a shoe. Why? Well, the marked up hides must be heavily “corrected” with chemicals and a coating to hide impurities. The correction makes them show wear sooner and breathe less. Next, look at the stitching or glue holding the shoe together. Glue alone will not hold up as well as a quality stitch connecting the sole and other parts. Years ago, my cheaper glued-on soles would eventually separate from the shoe. In the same vein, review the shoe for a clean construction. Do the parts of the shoe line up? How’s the symmetry? Any frayed stitching? Sloppy glue showing? I tend to gravitate toward the higher quality Italian or British versions.

2. Toe style – Your main options consist of cap toe, wing tip, and plain. I like each of these and achieve a certain feel with each. Cap toe reminds me of a more proper presentation such as for a serious business setting. Plain fits well with most any necessary outfit. Finally, the more ornate wing tip adds an elegance and flair. Oh and one other point, a round toe as well as a narrowed toe are generally more dressed up than a square toe.

3. Overall style – Shoe designers have upped their creativity. Nowadays, you can find fun colors, stylish two-tone options, patent leather, suede, and even plaid. As with other style areas, the more wild the shoes, the more difficult to incorporate in your look. If you do opt for an awesome pair of bright two-tones, draw down the intensity of your remaining ensemble. I recommend starting with black, then brown. Those two will get you through most anything.

4. Fit – Make sure to achieve the right fit for your feet. No tight squeeze. No super loose fit. Who cares if you find a great deal in another size? It’s not worth the pain. Besides, most experienced shoe departments will gladly measure your feet to avoid any confusion.

To get a good idea of how a classic pair of Oxford or Derby shoes should look, I recommend a visit to Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue. Search out a pair made by any of the following: Salvatore Ferragamo, Bally, or Bruno Magli. Admire the leather quality, look closely at the stitching, and appreciate the artistry. To acquire this kind of quality will cost $400 to $600 at retail, but don’t let that scare you (to learn more about getting these at a better price read Quality clothing + Bargain = Smart Shopping). If you can afford it, I highly suggest you own at least one pair from these brands. They will last a lot longer than a cheap pair. If this is too pricey, give Cole Haan a try. Last point – polish them regularly!!

For more on shoes, read Your boss pays attention to your shoes.

© Copyright Fashion for the average man 2014.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. neffy93 permalink
    February 19, 2014 6:00 pm

    My grandad used to fly from Nigeria to London at least 4 times a year on business, twice it involved the shoe buying trips too. Although he travelled all over the world, he would not buy his shoes anywhere other than London. He was convinced of the direct relation between his footwear and his business success. Reading your post was like listening to him speak. He used to say “When you’re going to do business with a man, check out his shoes first, if his shoes are good he’s someone to take seriously, if his shoes are bad exercise caution.”

    My other grandad served over 20 years in the Queen’s Guard and he was obsessional about polishing his shoes, the backs had to be as good as the front and they had to be done after each wear with a buffing up before they were worn. He too had a saying, “A man with well polished shoes is a confident man, a good solider never looks behind”.Meaning that he knows his back is presented as well as his front and is as ready for any eventuality.

    I loved reminiscing from reading this.

    • February 19, 2014 6:03 pm

      Sounds like you have very fashionable grandfathers.

      • neffy93 permalink
        February 19, 2014 6:08 pm

        Two fine gentlemen who loved shoes… didn’t even connect before that must be where I inherited my crazy obsession from.

  2. March 26, 2014 6:24 am

    Nice to see some men still know what a good pair of shoes can be. For the price and the right choice, you can’t go wrong. Glue and rubber never come close to leather and stitches when the shoe hits the ground.

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