Most people know what an Oxford shoe is. This go-to menâ€™s dress shoe is a reliable choice for formal and semi-formal occasions. That said, a lot of people might not realize how many types of menâ€™s Oxford shoes are out there. This style is formal wear that everyone thinks they know, but thereâ€™s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
The menâ€™s footwear style commonly referred to as the Oxford got its name because it was popular at Oxford University in the 1800s. At the time, menâ€™s heeled boots were popular and worn by just about everyone. The plain Oxford shoe was a welcome alternative.
Another story is that the shoe was developed in Scotland around the same time, which is why you may hear this style referred to a Balmoral, after the Scottish Balmoral Castle.
Regardless of where the shoe originated, the thing that makes an Oxford an Oxford is the method used to construct it. Oxfords are made using closed lacing, which means that the eyelets are sewed under the vamp, not on top of it.
The vamp is the front and center part of the shoe that goes over the top of the foot. Itâ€™s quite noticeable on an Oxford and, when you examine one closely, you notice this distinction right away. Once the shoe is tied, the panels look cohesive, like a single piece of leather, which gives the Oxford its sleek, formal appearance.
Another thing to understand about Oxford is broguing. A brogue is not a type of shoe, but a decoration made of perforations. Brogues were once intended to allow water to drain from the shoes, but today they are mostly ornamental, though in some cases they do allow for increased airflow around the foot.
Oxfords with brogues are generally considered less formal, but that depends on the design and style of the shoe. As youâ€™ll see, some types of menâ€™s Oxford shoes have brogues and still look pretty dressy.
A wingtip shoe has a decorative M-shaped toe cap that extends along the sides of the shoe. These usually have extensive broguing and are considered a less formal option, though they do add a lot of visual interest to an outfit.
There are multiple types of wingtips, too. Full wingtips usually have a lot of broguing, and spectator wingtips have a lot of broguing with a two-tone color combination. American wingtips have wings that extend to the back of the shoe and meet at the heel, and a quarter brogue has perforations only along the edge of the toe cap and is considered a formal brogue shoe because they are a little more understated.
If youâ€™re looking for a pair of wingtip Oxfords with a lot of broguing and interesting details, take a look at these luxurious shoes from Allen Edmonds. Theyâ€™re available in black and walnut and come in wide sizes, too.
The most formal of all Oxford shoes is the plain-toe style, particularly when itâ€™s made of shiny patent leather. These shoes are characterized by their lack of detail. Theyâ€™re sleek, clean, and have a smooth silhouette thatâ€™s perfect for a tuxedo.
Other materials may look a little less formal than patent leather, but the lack of wingtips or brogues still creates a nice, clean look thatâ€™s acceptable for most black-tie events.
These shows from Paul Parkman are a perfect example of a plain-toe Oxford. These high-quality shoes are made-to-order and feature a hand-painted brown leather upper with natural leather lining and inner sole.
Saddle Oxfords are historically American, though they cycle in and out of fashion. This style has a little more flash than most types of Oxfords because they feature a strip of leather in a contrasting color over the top and down the sides of the shoe. This strip of complementary color resembles a saddle, hence the name.
Because theyâ€™re a bit more noticeable, saddle Oxfords are fairly informal. They would likely stick out at a formal event, though theyâ€™re a great choice for semi-formal or business casual dress.
This saddle Oxford has a classic look, and the contrast between the saddle and the rest of the shoe isnâ€™t too drastic. These casual shoes have a breathable, moisture-wicking lining and a non-marking, flexible rubber sole.
Cap-toe Oxfords get their name from the extra piece of leather over the toe. These are one of the most popular types of Oxfords and the only most commonly seen in the workplace. The decorative toe gives them a much different look than a plain-toe Oxford while maintaining a more professional, polished look than a wingtip.
Cap-toe Oxfords are generally for work, but this pair from Mexlan look so good, you might be able to get away with wearing them to a black-tie event. Theyâ€™re handcrafted in Spain from calfskin leather thatâ€™s comfortable, durable, and lasts a long time.
Whole-cut Oxfords are probably the most versatile type of Oxford. Theyâ€™re made from a single piece of leather that generally only has a single seam at the heel. These shoes look very sleek and donâ€™t have a lot of detail, so theyâ€™re suitable for formal occasions. That said, if theyâ€™re not made of patent leather, theyâ€™re nondescript enough to be worn for semi-formal occasions.
What we love about these whole-cut Oxfords from Paul Parkman is that, while they look perfectly smooth and elegant, they have the perfect amount of broguing along the eyelets and around the mouth of the shoe. This adds a perfect little hidden detail that not everyone will know about. The blue leather lining adds a bit of fun, too.
Most Oxfords have five eyelets, but thatâ€™s not a steadfast rule. Itâ€™s pretty common to find Oxfords with four or six eyelets. What matters more than the number of eyelets, though, is how you use them.
There is a particular way to lace Oxfords, particularly those being worn for formal occasions. The laces should match the shoe as closely as possible and be horizontal and parallel. To do this correctly, feed the ends of the laces into the bottom eyelets from the front and pull them through until the lace is taut.
If you have an odd number of eyelets, pull the side of the lace on the outside of the shoe out a little farther. If you have an even number, pull them so theyâ€™re the same length. Then, take the lace on the outside out of the shoe and feet it through the next eyelet, from the inside of the shoe. Insert it into the opposite eyelet from the top of the shoe and pull it through so the laces are parallel.
Next, take the other lace and feed it through the third eyelet from the bottom from the inside of the shoe, then through the opposite eyelet from the top of the shoe until the laces are parallel.
Continue to the top. If you have an odd number of eyelets, the laces will end up on the same side. If you have an even number, theyâ€™ll be on opposite sides. Pull the laces tight. When your Oxfords are brand new, the leather will be a little stiff and youâ€™ll get a bit of a V-shape over the tongue. As they wear in, you will have to pull them a little tighter and the V will close, bringing the sides of the shoe together.
Oxfords do stretch a bit, but the ideal fit is with just about â…› of an inch between the top eyelets when youâ€™re trying them on. You donâ€™t want them to be too small as theyâ€™ll be extremely uncomfortable. If theyâ€™re too big, they wonâ€™t fit properly when they stretch.
As we mentioned, Oxfords are a formal shoe, particularly in patent or highly polished leather. Plain-toe and whole-cut Oxfords are the best for formal occasions, and wingtips and saddle styles are a little more informal. Broguing also makes them a little more casual. Generally, you should never wear Oxfords with jeans or other types of casual pants.
Cap-toe Oxfords are the standard for the office, though if you work somewhere with a more relaxed dress code, wingtips and styles with brogues will work.
As for color, there are a lot of options available, but black and brown are the most common and should be worn for formal occasions. There are some flashier colors available, too, like maroon, navy, and even emerald green, but these are better for the office or less formal situations.