Your Complete Guide to Oxford Shoes

Guides & Information Lifestyle

They’re timeless, versatile and the essential dress shoe in every gentleman’s wardrobe, but what is an Oxford shoe? Here at Cheaney, we’ve created a complete guide to what makes an Oxford an Oxford and all you need to know about the classic shoe.

What is an Oxford Shoe?

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Berkeley Wholecut Oxford in Black Calf Leather

Oxfords are characterised by their low heel, exposed ankle and their closed lacing system, whereby their eyelet tabs are sewn under the vamp of the shoe to create a sleek, streamlined silhouette. It’s this smooth and elegant design that makes Oxfords considered the smartest of men’s dress shoes and a footwear staple for formal occasions, black tie events and business attire. 

What’s the History of Oxford Shoes?

Oxfords are derived from the Oxonian shoe created by Oxford University students back in early Victorian England, who sought an alternative to the high or mid-calf boots commonly worn at the time. While originally featuring a higher boot heel and side slits, the Oxonian developed over time to feature laces on the instep and a lower heel, forming the Oxford we recognise today. You can find more on the history of Oxford shoes over here, if you’re curious. 

How to Lace Oxford Shoes

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Lime Classic Oxford in Burgundy Calf Leather

While less formal shoes like Derbys or brogues can get away with standard criss-cross lacing, the traditional way to lace Oxford shoes in keeping with their elegance and formality is straight bar lacing. Using a thin, round shoelace, ensure the laces of your Oxfords sit completely horizontally and parallel to each other in neat straight lines.

What Makes an Oxford an Oxford?

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Our close-laced Cambridge Oxford in Dark Leaf Calf Leather vs. our open-laced Chiswick R Derby in Dark Leaf Calf Leather

So, when it comes to what makes an Oxford an Oxford, there are a few key defining identifiers: their smooth exterior, low heel, exposed ankle and closed lacing system.

It’s this last characteristic that differentiates them from other popular men’s shoe designs, such as Derbys. While similar in appearance, Derbys have, in direct contrast to Oxfords, an open lacing system that gives them a looser fit and less formal aesthetic than the elegant Oxford.

Additionally, while traditional Oxfords have a smooth leather upper, there are several variations of the shoe that incorporate different shoe designs into their aesthetic, including Balmoral Oxfords, Wingtip Oxfords and Oxford Brogues. While this can be confusing, the key way to distinguish an Oxford from any other shoe design is to look to the laces. If they’re closed, they’re Oxfords. oxford brogues, what makes an oxford an oxford?

Arthur III Oxford Brogue in Black Calf Leather

How Versatile Are Oxford Shoes?

Whether it be a wedding, funeral, business meeting or important function, a pair of polished leather Oxfords are undoubtedly the shoe to opt for if you’re suiting up for a formal occasion. You can’t go wrong with a pair of Oxfords and it’s this versatility that makes them such a footwear staple. Due to there being many variations on the classic style, you can also find Oxfords that provide different levels of formality, including suede designs and contemporary two-tone styles. What’s more, from classic black and brown to light tan, two-tone and burgundy, Oxfords are available in a wide array of colours, enabling you to find the perfect pair to match a versatile range of outfits. 

How Should an Oxford Shoe Fit?

A well-fitting pair of Oxfords should feel like an extension of your foot and be comfortable to wear all day. However, with their closed-lace design, Oxfords have a closer fit than other shoes and do not have much room for adjustment, meaning they can easily fit too tightly. The best way to check your Oxfords fit correctly is to ensure there is approximately 1/8th of an inch between the facing tabs at the top of your laces. 

Like all dress shoes, it’s also important to ensure your toes aren’t pressing against the end of your Oxfords and the heels fit closely and don’t slip when you’re walking. You should also ensure your foot feels snug around the middle of the shoe and not too loose, as leather naturally softens and will give a little after a few wears. 

At Cheaney, our handcrafted Oxford shoes are available in a wide range of sizes to suit all foot shapes, including Average Size F Oxfords and Wide Size G Oxfords. Explore our full collection and choose a large array of colours and styles to find your perfect pair.