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What Is an Oxford Shoe?
Oxford shoes are an elegant dress shoe that features a closed lacing system concealed within the upper part of the shoe. Oxfords are a traditional men’s dress shoes, but the classic shoe has evolved to become part of women’s fashion. The iconic shoe is available in a range of textures, including patent leather, calf leather, suede, and canvas. Oxfords are available in three main toe styles: cap toe, wingtip, and plain toe. Plain-toe Oxfords are the most formal iteration of the classic dress shoe, often paired with tuxedos and suits for formal dress codes. Cap-toe Oxfords feature a seam across the toe and are a mainstay in office attire.
A Brief History of the Oxford Shoe
The exact origins of the Oxford are unknown but one origin story contends that they came from Scotland and Ireland, as cap-toe Oxfords are also known as Balmorals, a nod to the prominent castle in the region. Here’s a brief history of the Oxford shoe’s evolution:
- Oxfords evolve from boots. Tight, high-fitting boots (with heels) were the predominant form of shoes in menswear during the 1700s, but that would soon change in the 1800s when a half-boot—the Oxonian shoe—became popular among Oxford University students. These half-boots had side slits that made them more comfortable to walk the campus and would soon evolve into the Oxford shoe.
- Laces are introduced. As the Oxonian evolved, the slits were replaced with laces, and those laces made their way to the instep. The ankle and the heel were lowered for more exposure, and the traditional men’s Oxford shoe was born.
- The Chelsea boot creator reviews Oxfords. The term “Oxford shoe” was first used in a published review by Joseph Sparkes Hall, the shoemaker who created the Chelsea boots—classic ankle-high boots that remain a staple in men's footwear. In a review about the trendy shoe, Hall described the Oxford as a great shoe for walking.
- Oxfords become popular among women. Eventually, this style made its way to the United States, where women also adopted it. At the time, women who wore Oxfords were considered rebellious for deviating from the standard heel.
What Are the Defining Characteristics of Oxford Shoes?
Oxford shoes are defined by specific characteristics, like:
- Closed lacing. Oxfords feature a closed lacing system on the side tabs of the shoe, which are sewn underneath the vamp, or upper front part of the shoe.
- Low heels. While the classic shoe comes from a line of higher heeled boots, the Oxford shoes are characterized by low heels, similar to a loafer, making them easier to walk in than boots with more pronounced heels.
- Exposed ankle. Oxfords feature a low-cut ankle, providing more styling options by allowing the wearer to show off their bare ankle or colorful sock.
5 Types of Oxford Shoes
There are many different Oxford shoe styles, such as:
- Classic: Also known as plain-toe Oxfords, this style is more formal than other Oxford shoes. With minimal detailing and no cap on the toe, these formal shoes—especially dark brown and black Oxfords—pair well with formal attire, like tuxedos. Learn about different men’s suit styles that you can wear with Oxfords.
- Cap-toe: Cap-toe Oxfords are named after the piece of leather stitched over the toe box, which creates a “cap.” Cap-toes are perfect for work attire (think chinos and a blazer) and other events that call for smart casual attire.
- Wingtip: Sometimes referred to as brogue Oxfords (for their decorative perforations, also called broguing), this particular pair of shoes has wingtips that extend along the side of the shoe, followed by a pointed toe cap with an “M” or “W” shape. Wingtip Oxford shoes are not as formal as cap-toe Oxfords, but they’re a great option for a night out on the town or a networking event.
- Saddle: These throwback Oxfords were popularized in the 1950s, where they were a ubiquitous part of school dress codes, used for sports like tennis and cheerleading. Saddle Oxfords feature a plain toe and a saddle-shaped strip of leather across the middle of the shoe body (and usually in a contrasting color). Black and white are the signature colors of this two-tone style.
- Whole-cut: Whole-cut oxfords are made from a whole, single cut of leather. The minimal design on a whole-cut Oxford makes it an excellent shoe for both formal occasions and casual wear.
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