Can you make the difference between those two distinct styles of dress shoes? Sometimes even the most passionate shoe fashionistas can get confused. Well, in theory, both derby and oxford are lace-up shoes. Interestingly enough, the similarities, as well as the key differences, lie in the laces.

So what’s the difference between derby and oxford dress shoes?

When it comes to Oxfords, the two side tabs where the shoelaces eyelets are placed (i.e. the quarters), are sewn underneath the front part of the shoe (i.e. the vamp). This is called a closed lacing, meaning the two quarters are stitched close together at the bottom edge. Thus, when the laces are tied there is no visible gap between the two lace flaps.

Derbies, on the other hand, have an open lacing system. The quarters’ section, where the laces eyelets are punctured, are sewn on top of the vamp. In this style, the lace flaps are not joined together at the bottom edge. Hence, when the laces are tied this usually creates a slight gap between the two lace flaps.

An interesting explanation we came across was one in ‘The Mitchelli web blog. To put it simply, if you remove the shoelaces and you are able to run your finger from the top of the shoe tongue all the way down to the front of the shoe you have an open lacing system, thus, a Derby style of shoe. If you are unable, it is because the lace flaps are stitched together at the bottom edge and you have a closed lace style, i.e. an Oxford shoe.

The upper part of a shoe in both Derbies and Oxfords is basically made of two parts, the quarters and the vamp. The quarters is that part of the shoe that wraps around the heel and meet with the vamp in the middle of the shoe. The quarters are also the part where the eyelets of the shoelaces are placed. The vamp covers the instep of the foot as well as the front part where the toes are.

A bit of history

Historically, the Oxfords became popular with the students at Oxford University in the 1800’s. That is when they switched from the traditional high-knee boots of the time to a more comfortable and elegant-looking low ankle shoe.

Derbies are thought to have come as an improvement of traditional men’s shoes. One theory suggests that they date back to the 1950’s and the 14th Earl of Derby in England. Having rather wide feet, the Earl ordered his bootmaker to design a more open-cut shoe to allow him to put them on more easily.

Is one style of dress shoes better than the other in certain occasions?

First of all, it is safe to say that derbies and oxfords dress shoes are both considered to be formal wear. However, oxfords with their closed lacing have long been considered more formal than derbies. Often accompanied by an elegant cap toe design in the front, oxfords can be one of the most sophisticated styles of shoes a person can wear. They are the perfect choice when you are in the mood to suit up and join that classy business diner.

Although derbies are considered a bit more casual than oxfords, they can be worn at formal events as well. The open laces style contributes to a more comfy and relaxed look. They go evenly well with jeans, chinos as well as smart trousers. The choice of material can also contribute to the less formal appearance of the derbies. You can often come across derbies that are made entirely of suede or in a combination of suede and leather.

Due to its open laces, derbies can be easier to put on and take off. They can be adjusted to comfortably fit wider feet or feet with a high instep. Compared to oxfords, derbies are more accommodating and adjustable because the laces allow being pulled tighter or left loose. The looser tightened laces allow for more freedom of movement.

derby style green

Wing tips, cap toes, brogues and blucher

Contrary to wide believes, wingtips, cap toes, and other decorations are not attributed to a certain type of shoe style – oxford or derby. These are all just mere design decorations that can be found in both derby and oxford dress shoes. It is true that for example, wingtips and brogues are decorations more often associated with oxford style of shoes, however, nowadays it is not unusual to see them accompanying a derby open lace shoe.

Cap toe dress shoe

Cap toes refer to the horizontal line of stitching in the front part of the shoe that runs from the welt on one side all the way to the other. It forms a “cap” decoration on top of the toe box. Similar cap decoration often appears on the heel as well, known as heel cap.

Wingtips dress shoe

Wingtips are basically a kind of cap toe decorations. They can be ‘W’, ‘M’ or ‘U’ shaped and usually extend along both sides of the shoe, thus, the name wingtips.

Brogues dress shoe

Brogues often go together with a wingtip decoration. These distinctive perforations often accompany wingtips edges but can also be seen in the center of a cap toe.

Blucher dress shoes

Blucher is a type of open lace shoe, distinctive with its small shoelace eyelet tabs sewn on top of a single-piece body, i.e. one cut.

There are many other design variations that can be found on both derbies and oxfords alike. If you want to dig more into those various footwear features, we recommend this article.

So, which one to go with?

Derby and oxford dress shoes, of course, we love them both. Taking into consideration contemporary fashion trends in footwear, we can conclude that both styles can be suitable for everyday use and for occasions that are more formal. Whatever style you choose, you should always feel comfortable and proud of your look.

At Groovy Fox we are proud to present our newest collection of Derbies, the Swift Foxes.

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