First, oxfords and derbies aren’t just limited to leather dress shoes. They can be canvas shoes, athletic shoes, machine-made or handcrafted shoes, and everything in between. As long as they have laces and go on your feet, a pair will fit into either the oxford or derby category.
The main differences are subtle but make a world of difference. They not only affect the way the shoe looks on top, but also change the fit of the shoe, affect design choices on surrounding features, and signify formality.
Let’s attack each style one-by-one to understand the differences.
What is an Oxford shoe?
With clean lines and a classic silhouette, no pair matches the elegance of a well-made oxford. The distinguishing feature of an oxford is a closed-lacing system.
The closed-lacing system is made by sewing the leather quarters under the front of the shoe, perforating the lace holes directly into the side of the shoe. This results in a sleek and classic silhouette, perfect for suiting or formal wear.
Why is it called Oxford?
Some trivia for those asking why is it called an oxford shoe: there’s indeed a connection to students at the University of Oxford. In the 1800s, a half-boot with side slits named the Oxonian was the shoe of choice for students. Both as an act of rebellion and in pursuit of comfort, they began to wear lower cut shoes and the rigid side split moved to a laced parting on top of the foot. This shift from aristocratic high boots and heels to a functionally equitable pair birthed the oxford as we know it today.
Oxford shoe characteristics
Oxfords are considered the kings of formal and classic footwear. They’re icons of the well-dressed man who understands the rules of formal style.
The closed-lacing system lets the laces open freely towards the ankle and is bound together at the opposite end of the laces. This creates a “V” shape around the top of the foot when worn.
An oxford will frequently be paired with more formal features: a leather sole, a more tapered and elongated toe shape, or a classic design like a toe cap.
Ways to dress an oxford shoe
An oxford is the perfect pair for a formal suit. For any occasion with a black suit, you’re going to want a black oxford. To stay classic, the black cap-toe is the only option, but you can opt for a wholecut for a little more flash or a wingtip to add some interest while staying loyal to style expectations.
Broguing - decorative perforations in the upper leather - make the style better for less formal occasions, especially when paired with lighter shades of brown. These are mainstays for business or elevated casual and will pair well with chinos or pleated trousers.
Formal Oxford Shoe Style
Less embellishments create a more formal style, and the wholecut oxford is a celebration of elegance as much as the artisan work it takes to make one. A single piece of leather is sculpted around the shape of the shoe and sewn at the back to build the ultimate expression of simplicity and elegance.
Casual Oxford Shoe Style
Brogues and a lighter shade of brown are an excellent way to bring range to your oxfords. Adelaide is our semi-brogue oxford that combines broguing with a beautiful museum calfskin to create the perfect casual oxford style.
Oxford shoes can be dressed down by combining them with denim, an easy-going chino, or a lighter colored trouser and shirt. Pairing these looks with a blazer gives them a casual elegance.
What is a derby shoe?
Derbies have been classic shoes since the 19th century. What sets the style apart from oxfords is their open-lacing system.
The open-lacing system is created by sewing the quarters of the shoe on top of the front of the shoe. This process creates two distinguishable “flaps” of leather where the laces are then pulled through. We use the word "open" since the flaps can be fully pulled apart on either side of the shoe freely, compared to an oxford where the sides of the shoe meet at one end.
Derby shoe characteristics
A derby is considered the quintessential semi-formal shoe. It’s an easy match for any business-casual situation with its approachable and down-to-earth style, but remains highly versatile.
Derbies are frequently considered a more comfortable option for people with higher / lower insteps. This open-lacing allows the top of the shoe to open more widely or to tighten closer together around the foot. A wearer with wide feet and high arches will prefer a derby to lessen the pressure on top of their feet.
Many derby shoes will be paired with other more casual features to fit the style: rubber soles, rounder toe shapes, or more prominent welts for example.
Ways to dress a derby shoe
A go-to for business casual dress, a derby is a perfect match with chinos and flat-front trousers. Top them with an easy wearing button down and matching belt and you’ll have more than enough options to get through the work week.
Derbies have great range for going more casual. They pair well with denim when you want a step up - and to set yourself apart - from ubiquitous sneakers without losing comfort.
Finally,they can still make their way into your formal rotation. We recommend suits with texture and less formal colors: flannel or wool in browns, olives, or lighter blues. A derby with a slightly more tapered shape accentuates the dressier qualities of a shoe.
Casual derby shoes
A Norwegian split-toe is an excellent example of a casual derby. A pebble-grain leather makes it an easy match with denim and textured fabrics. This pair is given a rubber sole and a balanced toe shape for a comfortable all-day fit.
Noah is our most formal style derby. Less embellishments are signs of formality, and beyond the two-eyelet lacing quarters, the shoe is kept minimal. A pair like this is an stylish alternative to a traditional cap-toe or wholecut oxford.
A casual, everyday look of a derby paired with denim. An easy, comfortable go-to for casual officewear or date night.
Formal Derby Shoe
A formal derby matched with a suit. Still at peak elegance, while keeping the visual interest and unique qualities of the derby style.
Oxford or derby for a wedding?
An oxford is primed to be your go-to formal shoe, from weddings to banquets and anything in-between. If you’re wearing a suit, your first thought should be to pair it with an oxford.
Oxford vs derby shoes, which is better?
The best choice depends on the occasion and your personal style.The simplest guideline is oxfords are for formal dress and derbies are better for semi-formal to casual wear.
Fortunately, men today are given more freedom than ever to express themselves with their choices. Men will pair derbies with suits to bring an air of nonchalant confidence to their looks, or they’ll dress down an oxford with no socks and chinos to twist expectations of formality.
That said, it’s always best to know the “rules” before breaking them and own your choices with confidence. In the end, if you’re wearing a Goodyear welted handcrafted shoewith anything, you’re already making a wise choice.
This is only the beginning, and the rabbit hole of men's shoes goes deep. Just remember that style and taste is a personal journey that’s meant to be fun and fulfilling. We got your back, so enjoy it.
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …