In our Brogues Shoe Guide for Men, which is a part of our series on men’s boots and shoes, we touched lightly upon the difference between oxfords and derby shoes and then in a subsequent article we focused our attention on the oxford shoe. After taking a short diversion to bring to you the Loafer Guide we now work our way back to the derby shoe , thus coming full circle from where we first started off.
The Difference Between Derby & Oxford
The derby, like the oxford, has one defining characteristic and it is once again in the lacing system. While the oxford has a closed lacing system, the derby has an open lacing system in form of two quarters that are sewn on to the vamp. To fully understand the difference between an open lacing system and a closed lacing system look at the following drawing:
The uppers of a derby, like the 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 the more formal than the open lacing system. Thus one can safely say that the derby is a bit more casual than the oxford but both the oxford and the derby are considered to be formal wear.
The Difference Between Derby & Blucher
In the U.S., the term derby and blucher are often used interchangeably, and in fact they are both shoes with an open lace system. While the derby has 2 quarters that are sewn together and a vamp with a tongue, the blucher has small pieces of leather sewn onto the vamp creating the lacing system.
Characteristics of the Derby Shoe
The following are the characteristics of a derby and as one can see, they are similar to those of the oxford with the exception of the lacing system.
- Open lacing system.
- 3 pieces: 2 quarters sewn together on the heel & 1 vamp with a tongue
- Exposed ankle.
History of the Derby & Blucher
The roots of the derby shoe are not entirely clear. 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 supposedly had big feet, which made it difficult for him to get into boots. Therefore, his bootmaker created an open lace boot style that allowed him to put on his boots more easily. 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. That changed in 1872, when the derby was described in St. Crispin’s Magazine as ” a new tie shoe better than the Oxonian as the seam is not near the tender part of the foot.” It deserves mentioning that St. Crispin is the saint of shoemakers.
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 practical of footwear especially when it came to pulling them on and off. This difficulty was compounded after a 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 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 meet 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 losing 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. However, since most nations don’t have the Umlaut in their alphabet, it is often referred to just as Blucher. As a side note, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and his men played a key role in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and thus one might say, that the boot designed by him played a role in the history of Europe and maybe the world. No item of men’s footwear can boast a similar accomplishment!
Types of Derbys
The derby, comes in various types that are similar or nearly identical to the various types of oxfords.
The Plain Derby
The plain derby consists of a vamp and quarters and does not feature any other embellishments such as broguing, cap toes or heel caps. 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. 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 a ‘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. 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. For more information on wingtips please refer to the Brogues Shoe Guide for Men.
The White Buck
The White Buck, while technically a derby because of its lacing system, is a shoe with an identity of its own and as such deserves a separate article. However as it is also a derby I have included it here. Originally made of buckskin, hence the name, they are now more commonly available in white suede and share the same features as the plain derby. White bucks are traditionally only white in color.
The Wholecut Blucher
A wholecut is a shoe whose upper is cut from a single piece of leather. For details refer to the Oxford article. Such a shoe can technically only have a closed lacing system as there are no quarters. However, this style features a wholecut shoe with additional little facings laid on so that the lacing can go over the front of the shoes.
Apron Toe / Moc Toe Derby
An apron toe derby has an additional piece of sewn leather covering the top of the vamp like an apron. This is usually around the upper perimeter of the vamp and does not extend to the end of the toe. 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. For more information on moccasin construction see Moccasin & Driving Mocs Guide
Of course, you will find many other variations of derby shoe styles including spectators, Norwegians, etc. but it’s impossible to list them all here.
Derby Style Advice
Technically, a derby is less formal than an oxford. In today’s world the derby is more of a crossover shoe that straddles the formal and informal world pretty efficiently. So, if you are on a budget, a dark brown or reddish brown derby can be very versatile. Though for very formal affairs such as black or white tie, an oxford or pump are the most appropriate shoes to wear.
Generally, the plain derby is the most formal among the lot and can be worn with your day suits or casual combinations. In terms of color combinations please reference this guide. As a smart casual option, derbies are perfect because they work well with a blazer / sports coat with chinos / trouser combinations.
The cap toe derby is a more casual option and should traditionally only be worn with combinations or casual outfits, rather than suits. Of course, today dress codes have relaxed and a well made and polished cap toe derby can look much better than a cheap oxford. They also go well with denim, adding a touch of formality to the outfit that demands a shirt rather than a polo shirt or T- shirt.
The wingtip derby / brogue is a casual shoe and can be worn in a similar manner as the oxford equivalent. For more information please refer to our Oxford Shoe Guide.
The white buck should be worn only in warmer seasons and it goes well with seersucker, tropical or fresco fabrics, but it will be the subject of a separate article in the future. However one gets the same design in various colors. These are not bucks but plain derbies in suede and the possibilities really open up, though they remain staunchly casual. I would prefer to avoid them even for smart casual occasions. However they are perfectly suited to casual occasions and can be dressed up and down as the occasion demands. They go extremely well with chinos, denims and corduroy trousers. Due to their casual nature one can combine them with T shirts as well. A sports coat, V neck or round neck sweater and cardigans all go extremely well with it.
The apron toe/ moc toe and the bicycle toe derby is not as casual but not quite as formal as the plain derby. I would prefer to wear them with smart casuals and would not wear them with a suit. I would treat them as an alternate to the cap toe derby. Or rather as a shoe that fits somewhere in between a cap toe derby and a suede plain derby.
How To Easily Change the Look of Your Shoes
One of the easiest ways to change the look of your shoes, is to simply change the shoelaces. It takes just a minute or two and really transforms the look, and best of all it’s reversible. So if you just have one or two derby shoes in your closet, but you buy 5 colors of shoelaces, you have 50 different looks for under $40 – isn’t that great? Now during the summer, some prefer more vivid colors like pink, yellow or orange. Personally, I think that can look great with seersucker and white buckskin shoes. On the other hand, colors like dark green, light grey or dark grey are more subtle, yet they still change the look of your shoe in a sophisticated way. Just take a look at these 3 before after pictures to see how it really changes the look. Right now, we offer 9 colors of high quality dress shoe laces from Fort Belvedere in our store. If you buy all 9, we send them to you for just $60, if you choose 4 different kinds we sell them for $30.
Where to Buy Derby Shoes & Bluchers
What are your favorite Derby shoes and how do you combine them?
This article is the result of a collaboration between Sven Raphael Schneider and Vikram Nanjappa.