Guide To Derbies & Bluchers: History & How To Wear This Men’s Staple
Guide To Derbies & Bluchers: History & How To Wear This Men’s StaplePaul Anthony2020-12-16T10:45:41-05:00
Interchangeably referred to as either Bluchers or Derbies, this shoe style is often considered to be the opposite of the Oxford shoe. This is largely due to the lacing system as you’ll learn below. In this guide, you will also be able to read about the best derbies to buy as well as how to wear them well.
Overall, this guide to Derby or Blucher shoes will touch on the following talking points:
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read more.
Quick Buyer’s Guide
Just looking to quickly purchase a pair of quality derby shoes? Use the Quick Buy guide below to head to the retailers. Alternatively, scroll down to keep reading about bluchers, their history and how to wear them.
A casual and rugged derby shoe that’s perfect for casual wear, we’re very fond of Beckett Simonon’s Dunham. Produced in the brand’s own Bogotá workshop in Colombia, they’re ethically handcrafted using a Blake stitch from Argentinian calfskin leather.
You can also enjoy a 20% discount using our exclusive code “BU20” during checkout!
As you’ll learn later in this guide, bluchers were originally a style of boot. However, Wolf & Shepherd has successfully married tradition with contemporary shoemaking to produce this beautiful athletic footwear inspired blucher boot. They’re very comfortable indeed as you can learn in our review.
If you prefer more traditional shoemaking, then the Wolverine 1,000 Mile Original merits your attention. A boot design that hasn’t changed since 1914, it’s crafted with a Goodyear welt with materials supplied by Chicago’s Horween Leather Company.
Unbelievably, we actually struggled to find a plain derby shoe without any ornamentation that was worth recommending. Finally, we stumbled onto the Vince Camuto Hasper, which is just about as classic as you can get! A great shoe that offers subtle and understated elegance.
If the sound of Wolf & Shepherd’s comfortable footwear as described above was tempting, they also offer a classic derby shoe. With its lightweight Phoenix Tech outsole, EVA heel and memory foam footbed, you’ll be walking on clouds.
A classic derby shoe with a twist, Paul Parkman uses its signature hand-painted finish to create a subtle yet deep patina in the leather. While the brand often retails some wild designs, this is one of their most subdued with its alluring burgundy hue and understated construction.
What Are Derby & Blucher Shoes?
Though it was originally a boot, a derby or blucher is a low-cut lace-up shoe with an open throat lacing system. It is considered less formal than an oxford shoe, but more formal than most loafers.
Few men’s shoe styles are so ubiquitous yet so mis-identified than the derby (or blucher, depending on what you prefer to call it). It has a place in all of our wardrobes and is incredibly versatile, but there’s confusion around what it really is.
Thankfully, that confusion can be cleared up with three quick lessons: one on terminology, one on history, and one on anatomy.
Terminology: Derby Or Blucher?
Though some sources on the Internet will tell you otherwise, the terms blucher and derby are totally interchangeable. We will use them interchangeably in this article.
Though certain boots use open throat lacing systems, they are not referred to as bluchers. If anything, they are referred to as “blucher boots” when appropriate. Fun fact: chukka boots are technically bluchers.
Derby Anatomy: Open Throat Lacing Versus Closed Throat Lacing
Closed throat lacing is pictured on the left, open throat lacing is pictured on the right. The style on the right is a blucher, the style on the left is not.
To understand open throat lacing, it’s necessary to understand closed throat lacing, the other lacing system that’s used for shoes. Both deal with the shoe’s quarters, which are the pieces of leather where you find the lace holes (technically known as eyelets).
The area of the shoe where the quarters, tongue, and laces meet is referred to as the throat.
In a closed throat lacing system, the quarters are sewn to the rest of the shoe at their bottom, creating a sort of thin “V” shape where the laces criss-cross. These shoes, regardless of ornamentation like the broguing you see above, are known as “oxfords” or “balmorals.”
In an open throat lacing system, the quarters are not sewn down to the rest of the shoe. The throat is thus “open.” The tongue and forepart are one piece of leather.
Bluchers tend to be more physically forgiving of a larger foot. If you have difficulty finding dress shoes because you have a very high instep, you should definitely look into a derby.
You can read more about open throat and closed throat lacing here.
Blucher History: Inspired By Military Footwear
Its history is, like so many menswear items, in the military tradition.
“Blucher” is taken from General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, a Prussian general who was one of the commanders of the army that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He found his army’s footwear lacking and had a boot commissioned to replace it. This boot had side pieces that joined in the front with laces, much like the blucher shoes of today.
The shoe was later adopted by armies across Europe and became a trendy sporting shoe by the 1850’s. By the turn of the century, it became appropriate for wear with tailored clothing.
How Formal Is A Derby Shoe?
Bluchers are less formal than oxfords but more formal than most loafers. Derby shoes, by nature of using open throat lacing, have a bit more bulk to them and thus aren’t as well-suited to, well, suits. This is not to say that they can’t be worn with a suit; in fact, they often are, at least in the U.S.
If you insist on wearing a pair of these with a suit, we suggest keeping it in the spring and summer with a cotton suit, which has a bit more of a casual vibe in the first place.
However, they go better with slightly more casual items:
If possible, avoid wearing derby shoes with a tuxedo. Even in a plain black leather with the highest shine you can imagine, bluchers are just a bit too bulky for the otherwise mega-clean lines of dinner clothes.
Black patent leather derbies are available for sale on the market, even from otherwise reputable brands. Don’t buy them, as they represent a sartorial oxymoron.
When Can I Wear A Derby / Blucher?
One of the biggest benefits of the blucher is that it can be worn all year round! They can also be worn to most events like weddings, job interviews, and the like.
We have some suggestions below, but know that there are plenty more options that will still look great. We’d love to hear about what you’ve worn in the comments!
Spring: light-to-medium brown leather with cap toe detail, navy blue suede
Summer: beige suede plain toe, white bucks with broguing
Winter: Black leather brogue, chocolate brown dress boot
They can be worn in the evening, but not with evening wear.
Different Types Of Bluchers
The different styles of bluchers available are seemingly endless. They can be found ready-to-wear in countless leathers and colors. There is no standard set number of eyelets for the laces, and they are available with all manner of materials for the soles.
Note that bluchers can have cap toes, wingtips, and all manner of other aesthetic details. These would be referred to as cap toe bluchers and wingtip bluchers, respectively, as those details are describing a structural concept (open throat lacing).
Leather: By far the most common material for a derby. You can find this in a place as cheap as Macy’s or from a bespoke maker like GJ Cleverley.
Suede: Suede is also quite common for bluchers. They will be a bit more casual than their leather counterparts, but this is perfect for a less stuffy outfit like an odd jacket and trousers.
Boots: Again, the original blucher was, in fact, a boot. This is a great option for those of us who live in parts of the world where the temperature dips significantly every year.
Custom/Exotic: Any custom shoemaker will be able to craft a blucher for you out of any material you choose, including exotic skins like ostrich, alligator, stingray, and more. Be prepared to pay handsomely for such an investment.
A Final Thought On The Derby Shoe
In terms of wardrobe building, the blucher is an absolute must. Depending on how you dress most of the time, there’s a good argument to make a pair of derbies the first good pair of shoes you invest in. There are so many available that they can be the 15th and 37th shoe you buy too!
They’re comfortable, versatile, and smart. Do yourself a favor and start your collection with one of these.
Now that you have learned about bluchers or derby shoes, check out some our related footwear guides for men: