The Oxford Shoe Guide

The Oxford Shoes Guide

In the recent past, we have been working our way through creating a series about various types of men’s boots and shoes, both formal and casual. In our Brogues Shoe Guide for Men, we touched lightly upon the difference between Oxford and Derby shoes, and today we’d like to focus our full attention on the Oxford, which is often referred to as the most elegant type of men’s shoe.

Crockett & Jones Wholecut Oxford Weymouth in Dark Brown Antique Calf

Crockett & Jones Wholecut Oxford Weymouth in Dark Brown Antique Calf

What Makes an Oxford an Oxford?

Unlike most other shoes and items of menswear, the Oxford shoe has one principal defining characteristic:  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 guide.

First of all, it may seem obvious but an Oxford is a shoe with laces, and not a slip on, monk strap shoe or Chelsea boot. Second, an Oxford shoe has a closed lace system vs. the open lace system of a Derby shoe. But what exactly does that mean? Let’s start with the basics. The uppers of an Oxford usually consist of the quarters and the vamp.

Vamp

The vamp is that part of the shoe uppers the covers the toes and instep, i.e. the front of the shoe.

Oxford vs. Derby - Shoe Anatomy Explained

Oxford vs. Derby – Shoe Anatomy Explained

The eyelets for the shoe laces are generally located on the quarters (with the exception of a wholecut 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.

History of the Oxford shoe

During the 17th century men’s footwear was dominated by boots. Often high and tightly fitting with buttons instead of laces, they were worn both outdoors and indoors. More often than not these boots featured rather high heels, a style popularised by King Louis XIV of France, who was of modest height. At that time, France was the cultural epicenter in Europe and hence most gentlemen aligned their sartorial choices with the French Court, and footwear was no exception.

However this style of footwear was very comfortable and although it is not entirely clear who exactly invented the Oxford shoe,  it seems plausible that the students 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 whether all these changes took place on campus, which seems highly improbable.

Some claim the Oxford shoe emerged from Scotland and Ireland. Captoe Oxfords are often called Balmorals after Balmoral Castle to this day. 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.  The timeline for these changes is not very clear, with different sources giving different timelines.

However, we do know for certain that in 1846 Joseph Sparkes Hall, the inventor of the Chelsea boot, stated in “The New Monthly Magazine 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 it was a short step to being acceptable as the proper choice of men’s footwear replacing boots which were now relegated to being worn for specialized activities such as horse riding. Ironically, the Oxford is a shoe with origins on campus but today, it would probably be considered too formal as an an everyday shoe for on campus wear even by English students, but that’s the evolution of style.

Tan Cap Toe Oxford without Heel Cap and 6 eyelets with burnished cap toe - No 549 by Shoepassion

Tan Cap Toe Oxford without Heel Cap and 6 eyelets with burnished cap toe – No 549 by Shoepassion

Characteristics of the Oxford Shoe

In a nutshell, these are the characteristics of a present day Oxford Shoe

  1. Closed lacing system.
  2. Low heeled
  3. Exposed ankle.

All Oxford shoes share these basic features and although most have the eyelets on the quarter, a wholecut or seamless Oxford are the exceptions…

Types of Oxfords

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.”   To Americans the shoes described in the article are more familiar as Balmorals or ‘Bal- type’ while to the English they are known as Oxfords. To the English the Balmoral is an entirely different shoe (a particular type of oxford with no seams, apart from the toe cap seam, descending to the welt ). In this guide, we use Oxford the traditional, English way.

Although technically, the construction of the shoes has no impact on the classification as an Oxford shoes, Goodyear welted or Blake stitched shoes are recommended because generally they feature the most classic Oxford styles.

Plain Oxford

The plain Oxford basically consists of the quarter and the vamp. It features neither a leather cap over the toe box nor does it have  broguing. This style is simple yet elegant; black is  the number one choice for evening shoes, and patent leather for black tie and white tie. Of course, some men also wear pumps, but most men wear laced shoes. Some men prefer a water polish calf leather version that is polished to a mirror shine. Patent leather is definitely more traditional but a mirror shine is fine too. Although in theory this shoe can be made in brown, you will likely only ever see them in black.

Cap Toe Oxford

The cap toe Oxford, sometimes also referred to as captoe or cap-toe,  is probably the most widespread Oxford shoe style in existence. The most popular color is undoubtedly black, and this 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.

In addition to the vamp and quarters, an extra piece of leather – the so called toe cap – is added across the toe box,  and they also feature a heel cap. In black, the cap toe Oxford is the classic business shoe worn by elegant men with their (business) suits across the globe. 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 , although technically it is not formal  enough for traditional black tie. That being said, it is never correct to wear it with white tie.

Half Brogue Oxford in dark Brown Suede - Model Roberto by Scarosso

Half Brogue Oxford in dark Brown Suede – Model Roberto by Scarosso

Wingtip Oxford / Brogue

The Wingtip Oxford has a pointed toe cap with extensions called wingtips which extend along both sides of the shoe.  Although technically an Oxford, it is generally referred to as a Brogue. When seen from above the cap is shaped like a ‘W’ or an ‘M’ depending on the viewpoint. This style is considered a bit more casual than the Cap Toe. Learn all about Brogues here.

Brown & Tan Saddle shoe No 589 by Shoepassion

Brown & Tan Saddle shoe No 589 by Shoepassion

Modern Saddle Shoe interpretation Moder Stefano in black & red box calf by jfitzpatrick

Modern Saddle Shoe interpretation Moder Stefano in black & red box calf by jfitzpatrick

Saddle Oxford

These oxfords lack any kind of toe caps and have an additional strip of leather that runs across the top of the middle of the shoes down to the sole (the width of the shoelace eyelets) in a contrasting color. They may or may not have heel caps in a contrasting color. Historically, it is an American style, but you can find them offered by companies all over the world.

Kiltie Oxford

Kiltie Oxford – phot by www.classicshoesformen.com

Kiltie Oxford

The Kiltie Oxford is distinguished with an additional fringed tongue hanging over the top. These shoes are no longer very common.

Gaziano & Girling Patent leather evening Oxford Wholecut

Gaziano & Girling Patent leather evening Oxford Wholecut

Wholecut

This type has an upper that is cut from one single piece of leather. Usually shoes are made from multiple pieces of leather sewn together. The wholecut oxford has the distinctive closed lacing system and this along with the single piece construction gives it an extremely clean and sleek look. 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. 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. An all black wholecut in patent leather or mirror polished calf works as an evening shoe as long as it has no broguing.

Seamless

The seamless is very similar to the wholecut in the sense that it is made from one piece of leather as well. While the wholecut has a seam on the heel, the seamless does not have a seam making it even more difficult to produce. Also it requires even more leather than a whole cut and it takes on average about twice as much leather as is needed for regular cap toe Oxford. As such, it is usually only offered by bespoke shoemakers. Sometimes, the term wholecut is used synonymously with seamless simply because the term is more well known, although technically this is incorrect.

Style Guide

Strictly speaking the Oxford is considered to be a formal shoe, however this does not hold true anymore as they come in many colors, variations and more casual leathers such as suede and brogues.

jfitzpatrick Tacoma Wholecut Oxford Variation in grey with charcoal suede inserts

jfitzpatrick Tacoma Wholecut Oxford Variation in grey with charcoal suede inserts

The Plain & Cap Toe Oxfords

These days the Cap Toe Oxford is often acceptable at less traditional Black Tie events and with dark evening suits. However, traditionally these are the quintessential dress shoes for your day – to – day suits and business wear. They can also be worn when you want to add a dash of sophistication to your casual dress options like chinos and a blazer. It is not recommended to wear black with denim. Cognac, mid-brown, cherry or oxblood wood work serve this purpose much better. For tweed, it is generally recommend to wear boots or derby shoes instead, while fresco, solaro, linen or seersucker can be worn with cap toe Oxfords, although it is recommended not to wear black with these outfits. Instead, a spectator or a solid shade of brown are a much better choice.

The first Oxford every man should own is a black cap toe Oxford. It may seem unexciting but at the end of the day, it is the shoe that can be worn to the office, funerals, weddings, evening events and maybe even black tie and as such, it is very versatile. Unlike brown, black does not come in different shades, and so you don’t need two pairs of black shoes of the exact same style. Many well dressed men may have only a couple pairs of black shoes in their shoe closet, one of them always being the black captoe Oxford, while they have 10, 50 or 100 pairs of brown shoes. For general advice on how to combine brown shoe colors, including cap toe Oxfords with your wardrobe, please refer to the How to Wear Brown Shoes Guide.

Cheam Last

Cheam Last

The Wingtip Oxford / Brogue

Wingtips or Brogues are considered to be more casual than the Cap Toe. In black, it can be worn to the office but in dark brown it becomes more versatile because you may now combine them with tweed, and other more casual outfits and looks, including jeans. Especially in shades of brown, these are great for the office in non-white collar environments, sportcoat / blazer ensembles. A dark brown brogue in suede is probably one of the 2nd or third shoes you should buy after you have invested in a black cap toe Oxford.

Wingtip Oxford Shoe with houndstooth bespoke suit

Wingtip Oxford Shoe with houndstooth bespoke suit

The Saddle Oxford/ Kiltee Oxford

These are probably the most casual of the lot but certainly the most difficult to carry off. Either style is only recommended for men who already have at least 15 pairs of shoes and who want to add something unique to their shoe closet. Traditional saddle shoes often come in cream or off white, with a navy blue saddle and red rubber soles, but of course there are many variations available today. They can work really well with jeans, colored chinos or corduroy trousers and other casual to semi casual outfits.

Allen Edmonds Canvas Spectator

Allen Edmonds Canvas Spectator

Wholecut / Seamless Oxfords

Wholecut Oxfords are rather popular right now, and they can look particularly handsome when a patina is acquired or applied to the shoe. In plain black, they are a modern alternative for a Tuxedo, and in brown they can be worn with all kinds of suits, combinations or casual outfits. Basically, they can be worn just like a cap toe Oxford.

Wholecut with side gussets by George Cleverly with punched broguing

Wholecut with side gussets by George Cleverly with punched broguing

Where to Buy Oxford Shoes?

There are literally thousands of brands and manufacturers that offer Oxford shoes, and probably over 100 who offer quality Oxfords that the Gentleman’s Gazette would approve of. Obviously, we have not tested them all, and hence we cannot provide a definitive list. However, we can give you a few tips.

Shoelaces – How to Change the Look of the Shoe Without Buying New Shoes?

If you already own oxford shoes, and you want a new look without buying a new shoe, the easiest way to do that is to exchange your shoe laces. First of all, make sure to get quality shoe laces that don’t snap and oxford laces should always be round, not flat and thin because those look more elegant.

A different color than black or brown, will really create an entirely new look for your oxford, and dark grey or light grey shoe laces on a black oxford can look very sophisticated. Also, a dark purple on brown can look splendid just like a light blue with white Oxfords.

For a range of quality shoe laces in various colors, click here. 

Budget Oxfords

We consider Budget Oxfords to be in the $250 or under range. Brands that we have experience with are Scarosso (Blake Stitched), Pediwear (Goodyear Welted), Loake 1880 (Goodyear Welted), Meermin (Goodyear Welted) and Shoepassion (Goodyear Welted).

Scarosso produces affordable shoes including an Online Made to order program that allows you to individually customize a show to your liking. Ultimately, they don’t provide the highest quality but very good value.

Pediwear is a shoe store in England that offer many different English shoe brands including their own brand. Currently they have a sale going on offering a cap toe Oxford for £109.50 or 91.25 without VAT, which equals  about $155.

Loake produces private label shoes for many companies and offers decent quality for the price.

Meermin is run by a family Albaladejo family member who runs the famous Carmina shoes from Mallorca, Spain. In order to save costs, their shoes are made in China, and so the workmanship is not quite en par with Spain, but the price is also considerably lower.

Shoepassion is based in Berlin, Germany and offers a great selection of classic and contemporary Oxfords Made in Spain. With good quality and good prices I recommend them to anybody who is looking for more unusual styles like saddle shoes, spectators or lamb wool lined boots and shoes.

Crockett & Jones - Alex

Crockett & Jones – Alex

Midrange

Mid range is $250 – $700.

Crockett & Jones From England, we recommend Crockett & Jones for the classic Gentleman who wants proper English shoes with history in a great selection and variety of styles.

JFitzpatrick The brand was created by The Shoe Snob blogger Justin Fitzpatrick who resides in England and creates elegant and often fashion forward / contemporary interpretations of classic shoes at affordable prices.

Carmina from Spain produces excellent Oxfords and specialices in Cordovan although these are usually more expensive than $700.

Allen Edmonds produces classic American style shoes and apart from a MTo program they have many specials and deals going on often bringing the price below $250.

Beautiful Gaziano Girling half brogue in brown

Beautiful Gaziano Girling half brogue in brown

High End

Every shoe above $700.

Gaziano Girling From England, Gaziano & Girling offer great shoes either MTO or bespoke. The last are often stylized and the epitome of elegance.

Aubercy from France produces very elegant Oxfords (Richelieu in French) just like Crockett & Jones Paris.

In Italy, you can get great Oxfords from the likes of Stefano Bemer, Mannina or Ugolini, in Austria from Maftei, Scheer or Materna.

Of course, any bespoke maker could be Listed here but there are too many to list them all.

What is your favorite Oxford Shoe? Please share your experiences and preferences in the comment section below!

This guide is the result of a collaboration between Sven Raphael Schneider & Vikram Nanjappa.

56 replies
  1. Alan Gray
    Alan Gray says:

    Did you really not mention Alden in your mid range list? I consider them superior to Allen Edmonds in every respect, except that they do not have a dark brown cap toe these days.

  2. ArtFuller
    ArtFuller says:

    I noticed the G&G patent leather formal wear shoes above had red laces. Would colored laces be acceptable for /with a tux?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Personally, I would stick with black. Adding red laces, is not something that was worn back in the day but if you want add a dash of color to your ensemble, I don’t see why knot. In combination with black socks, it will really stand out. Each to his own.

  3. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I always like(d) Johnston & Murphy.. maybe too low end for your audience?.. but I always have found them extremely comfortable….. good quality… and I like the look.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      In my experience, I would not recommend Johnston & Murphy to anybody. If you have some and you like them, great. But I am convinced that you can find better value at the same pricepoint elsewhere.

      • Daniel
        Daniel says:

        Do you have any examples? I have a few J&M but would tend to agree that their quality is a bit lacking after a few solid wears. I’d love some ideas for better quality!

  4. Larry P. Burton
    Larry P. Burton says:

    I also lament the absence of Alden’s mention in the article. I have worn only Alden dress shoes for the last 40 years. I agree with Mr. Gray, that Alden’s shoes are superior to Allen Edmonds in every way.

  5. Ramon Cuberta
    Ramon Cuberta says:

    Excellent post!
    In Barcelona, Catalonia, there are two important bespoke shoemakers, Norman Vilalta and ‘Cuervo Blackbird’, to people are thinking on visit us…

  6. Paul van der Hart
    Paul van der Hart says:

    Isn’t the term “wholecut oxford” a pleonasm? Because a wholecut cannot possibly by definition be anything other than an oxford?

    • Rolf Holzapfel
      Rolf Holzapfel says:

      In English shoemaking, there is a style called a “Whole-cut Derby”. It is a whole-cut with little facings laid-on, so the lacing can go over the front of the shoe. Here is a bespoke sample by Koji Suzuki (Spigola) from Japan.

      Wohlecut Derby

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      I think you are splitting hairs here. However, even if we want to go into such detail, I don’t think you are entirely right. The orignal Oxford had vamp and quarters with the eyelets being on the quarters. With a wholecut the eyelets are on the vamp. Then there is also the wholecut Derby shoe…

  7. Ahmed
    Ahmed says:

    So who is the best maker? Most comfortable and most durable, with best leathers? Is that store next to Harrods one of the best, almost opposite McLaren?

  8. Elie
    Elie says:

    For a black cap toe Oxford, are calfs worn the same way as Cordovans or is one perhaps more casual? For business settings among others?

      • Elie
        Elie says:

        In reference to cordovan, I am referring to shell cordovan, the leather. I love that they do not crease and have to imagine that they are great for formal occasion by that virtue. However, they do possess a more toned down sheen than calfs, which may be due to polish. Any thoughts?

  9. Mike
    Mike says:

    Who is the best maker? Duckers in ‘the Turl’ (Turl Street, Oxford). Was fabulous in the 80s/90s when the Purves brothers owned it and, as a massive bonus, sold Hardy fishing tackle as well. Got a fabulous Hardy St George there circa 1989. Still the best you can get IMHO. Mike

  10. Philip Maniatty
    Philip Maniatty says:

    Andrew’s comment from April 15th at 9:02 p.m., illustrates an important point about shoes and other men’s furnishings. Many brands that used to produce excellent products, like Johnston & Murphy shoes, began to cut corners in order to hold the line on prices. The same thing happened with Florsheim shoes. Forty years ago, Florsheim made excellent shoes. Today, they are total garbage.

  11. benyo
    benyo says:

    Hi,

    excellent article. Which of the budget brands would you recommend? I’m searching for a new pair of dark brown oxfords? I’ve had bad experiences with the last of shoes from scarosso.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] it does not come as a surprise to see that he owned a total of 96 pairs of shoes, including many classic oxford shoes. However, he also had quite a selection of more unusual shoes that most presidents of the 20th […]

  2. […] I settled on the Silvano model, a “suede” oxford full brogue shoe in a rich, dark green. Now, some of you may wonder why I chose such an exotic […]

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] the little remembered but rather debonair American movie character Paul Lukas bought a pair of oxfords with little tassels at the end of the laces. On his return to America he took them to the New York […]

  5. […] the only strictly correct shoe for white tie is evening pumps – while a plain black patent oxford shoe has always been considered to be perfectly correct for white tie in the US and Germany. Fourth, […]

  6. […] The gentleman on the left wears a single breast notched lapel suit with three buttons. The light grey worsted wool cloth has white chalk stripes,  the shirt is made of pale grey broadcloth and has a white starched collar. Around the neck, he wears a yellow wool challis tie with printed burgundy dots. Interestingly, the brown cavalier hat matches his brown cap-toe oxfords. […]

  7. […] dots as well as a red and blue silk pocket square. The black bowler or derby hat, the pipe and the black oxford shoes finish off this combination. The topcoat laying on the arm of the chair is likewise double […]

  8. […] be equally acceptable; however, if you do not feel comfortable in pumps – plain patent leather oxford shoes are likewise […]

  9. […] a white pocket square and for his boutonniere, he chose the classic lily of the valley. He wore black oxford shoes, and strangely, he chose to accessorize with a rather informal stainless steel wristwatch instead […]

  10. […] Prince Andrew in buff 6×3 morning vest & patent leather oxford shoes […]

  11. […] Derby shoes without the split toe. This style is a little less formal than a black plain toe oxford, like Roger wears, but they still business […]

  12. […] brown shearling leather overcoat with olive green tweed suit with a windowpane. Combined with brown oxford shoes, a dark brown knit vest, a mid-blue shirt, a  collar pin, the paisley tie and the light brown bag […]

  13. […] classic business combination of a navy hopsack worsted suit, worn with black calf leather cap toe oxford shoes which show just a very minimum amount of brogueing along the cap toe seam. The dark blue striped […]

  14. […] likely a valet, who holds two pairs of town shoes in his hands. On the left, we see stunning pair of mid-brown captoe oxford shoes with a little bit of brogueing and a captoe medallion. The last seems to be quite […]

  15. […] brands. Today, I will review the Paradis shoe from this collection today – a black business Oxford shoe with captoe brogueing on a slim last in calf […]

  16. […] dwindle in popularity sometime in the early twentieth century, perhaps due to the trend of wearing Oxford shoes in place of boots by rebellious college students. However by the 1960s the boot was back in […]

  17. […] a somewhat dated aesthetic and is now commonly found on more casual interpretations such as oxford cloth button downs. Both on traditional and French plackets, the shirt buttons are visible, making […]

  18. […] texture, go for a grenadine or even better, a knit tie.  For grey trousers, you should wear black oxford and light colored shades with brown. If you have a good understanding for color, I can also […]

Comments are closed.