What is the difference between a Derby and an Oxford shoe?
If you’re unfamiliar with the nuances of formal footwear, it can make finding new shoes challenging. Some men’s dress shoes are more formal than others and are more suited to evening and formal occasions, whereas other men’s footwear is more appropriate for wearing during the day with casual attire.
To help you avoid a fashion faux pas, we want to answer a common question that people frequently ask us: What is the difference between an Oxford and derby shoe?
To the untrained eye, Oxfords and Derbys can look quite similar. However, they feature crucial differences that affect the shoes’ formality. Let us help you navigate industry terms to help you find the perfect shoes for your occasion or event.
Table of contents
- What is an Oxford shoe?
- What is a derby shoe?
- What is the difference between a derby shoe and an Oxford shoe?
- Examples of variations
What is an Oxford shoe?
You can distinguish an Oxford shoe by the closed-lacing system, which refers to the eyelets placed underneath facing. The facing is also stitched flush with the rest of the upper. These features create a sleek, slimline silhouette that fits snugly across the instep. Oxford should be your go-to for a formal dress code.
Apart from these distinctive features, you can get various styles of Oxford shoes, including top cap, whole cut, brogue or semi-brogue, which you can get in many leathers and colours, but the closed lacing system constitutes an Oxford.
What is a derby shoe?
People often refer to the derby shoe as the opposite of an Oxford. Contrary to its counterpart, Derbys have an open lacing system, meaning that the facings, the part of the shoe that the laces go through, are sewn on top of the vamp instead of flush with it. The open lacing system offers a more casual style and roomy fit.
Similarly, you can get variations on the derby, like derby brogues and derby boots. However, the open lacing system has to remain for a derby shoe to be classed as such.
What is the difference between a derby shoe and an Oxford shoe?
Although the difference between the derby and the Oxford is slight, they have different functions and formalities. There are appropriate times to wear one or the other. So to avoid wearing the wrong shoe, let’s dive into the difference between a derby shoe and an Oxford.
The lacing system
As detailed above, the lacing system is the primary difference between an Oxford and a derby. While an Oxford has a closed-facing stitched to the vamp, the derby open facings are stitched on top.
The differing lacing system lends to a difference in fit. The closed-lacing system on an Oxford creates a snug fit across the top of the foot, whereas the open-lacing system provides more space.
As a result, derby shoes are better for those with a high instep, as you can adjust the laces to fit accordingly. We also find that derbys are best for people who wear orthotics or insoles.
Derbys also leave extra room for thicker socks, making them perfect for wearing in the countryside.
In a way, the origin of these shoes defines their purpose. In the 19th century, formal footwear was limited to leather boots, which were restrictive. So, Oxford shoes came about in protest against these uncomfortable boots. Oxford University students decapitated their boots to increase mobility and breathability, inventing the recognisable Oxford we know today.
In a similar fashion, Derbys came about as a rebellion against the restricting nature of the Oxfords. Although, the Oxford and Derby shoe likely developed concurrently rather than one after the other, as there are mentions of Derbys as early as 1862.
Some say that the 14th Earl of Derby Edward Smith-Stanley, a larger man, struggled to get boots on his large feet, so he commissioned his boot maker, who developed an open-laced boot to accommodate his feet better than closed-laced boots.
There is also another origin theory that during the Napoleonic wars, a Prussian army officer named Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher developed a boot with two leather flaps below the ankles that laced together to make it easier for military men to take the shoes on and off when boots were the standard issue. This theory explains the term “blucher”, another name for the derby, most common in the United States.
It seems there were multiple instances throughout Europe during the 19th century when the Derby shoe was being imagined and invented. But the common theme was manoeuvrability and ease of use.
Formality and purpose
Oxfords retained their sleek and sophisticated silhouette even as a shortened shoe, giving them a more formal look when comparing the derby shoe. Consequently, they pair well with officewear or for special occasions like weddings and funerals. Every discerning gentleman needs a pair of Oxfords in their wardrobe, for daily office wear or formal dress.
In comparison, derby shoes were popular as sporting footwear in the late 1800s. Because of their heritage, they have become THE shoe for the smart-casual dress code.
However, just because the derby shoe is less formal than the Oxford does not mean you can’t dress it up. In that sense, the derby shoe is more versatile than the Oxford, as you can pair them with a suit, a broken suit, tailored shorts, chinos or even jeans. The multi-functional shoe is an absolute go-to staple shoe for every gentleman.
Examples of variations
The best way to see the difference between a derby and an Oxford is by looking at them side-by-side. Here, you can see the different lacing systems in the Alfred Capped Oxford and the Deal II R Derby.
There are a few variations of derby and Oxford shoes to look out for, but as long as it has the open or closed-lacing system, it is still either an Oxford or a derby. For example, you can get a brogue with decorative perforations. However, depending on the lacing system, it will still either be an Oxford or a derby. For comparison, our Hythe II R Wingcap Oxford Brogue and the Bexhill II R Brogue demonstrate this well.
As well as capped Oxfords, you can also get whole-cut Oxfords, an even sleeker design with no stitching or decoration on the upper, cut from one piece of leather. For illustrative purposes, see our Crowndale Wholecut Oxford
Derby and Oxford shoes at Cheaney
We hope by now you are well versed in the difference between these two shoes and could pick them out on a line-up. Now you have all the information to make the right decision on footwear for any event or occasion. So, why not browse our derby or Oxford shoe collections to find the best shoe for you? We also supply an extensive range of women’s Oxford and derby shoes to browse.