Oxfords are the archetypal formal shoe. As a snappy-dressing gentleman, you’ll surely own at least one pair of these simple, elegant and stylish shoes, but many of us confine them to the workplace. Not only do Oxfords have a fascinating history, but they’re very wearable in a wide range of settings. Here’s your guide to getting the most from your Oxford shoes.
What are Oxford shoes?
The Oxford shoe is a British style derived from a boot with side slits, popular with 19th century Oxford University students. Over the time this slit turned into laces, migrating from the side to the top, and the shoe we know today was born.
The major difference between Oxfords and other men’s shoes is that the eyelets are secured to the underside of the facing which is itself stitched under the vamp – the front part of the shoe. The result is a sleek silhouette which very much lends itself to formal settings.
Most Oxfords also feature a plain cap toe style, though some styles may also feature decorative holes called ‘broguing’. An Oxford with no cap toe, and made from one single piece of leather is known as a ‘whole cut’ shoe; you won’t find a sleeker Oxford than this.
When should you wear Oxfords?
Their sleek style means Oxfords are the perfect accompaniment for all formal outfits. They’re suitable for work, weddings, funerals, functions – in fact, anytime you want or need to look smart, a pair of polished black Oxfords is the way to go.
College student? Not only is a pair of Oxfords essential for any job or internship interviews, you’ll also find they lend your wardrobe a preppy grace that no other shoe can match. For a less formal look, go for brogued Oxfords in tan or brown.
How to wear Oxford shoes
Yes, the failsafe way to wear Oxford shoes is with a suit, but their refined construction makes them the ideal choice for finishing a wide variety of ensembles.
Life isn’t all about work and weddings. A quality pair of brown Oxfords lifts a smart casual combination like chinos and sports jacket to a higher level. Meanwhile, when you wear them with indigo jeans, your Oxfords give your casual outfit a more sophisticated edge – especially if you decide to top your jeans and t-shirt with a casual tweed jacket.
Heading on vacation? Try a pair of suede Oxfords with your linen pants. Going for a smart but approachable outfit? Try a pair of wool-rich pants, a crisp white shirt, cord jacket and brown Oxfords – from medical doctors to teachers and lecturers, this is a perfect look for folks who deal with people.
What to avoid
Because Oxfords fit the bill for virtually any occasion, if you’re not careful, you run the risk of becoming something of a footwear bore. Just because your Oxfords are a good choice doesn’t mean you should always wear them.
Derbys – shoes where the facing is stitched on top of the vamp are a slightly more relaxed option than Oxfords, especially when they’re brogued. These shoes make a nice change from your Oxfords in a range of smart casual settings, so you should switch between styles once in a while.
Never wear Oxfords with shorts. If you must get your legs out, loafers, boat shoes, moccasins, or leather sandals should be your preferred footwear.
Top tips for wearing Oxfords with style
- Keep them polished. Scuffed shoes are a disgrace.
- Pair black Oxfords with a suit or pants for formal and office wear.
- Wear brown or tan Oxfords in softer materials like suede to dress them down for casual occasions.
- Never wear Oxford shoes with shorts. In summer opt for casual loafers or boat shoes.
- Experiment. As long as your colors are well matched, you can have fun with your style.
The Oxford is without doubt the quintessential gentleman’s shoe, and while it’s the perfect partner for your business suit, it’s far more versatile than that. Not sure whether Oxfords are the right choice for an event? Take a quick look at our infographic guide to men’s shoes to help you choose the best footwear for any occasion.