Understanding the Oxford shoe is essential for the modern-day gentleman. These days, the term is often thrown around to describe any style of dress shoe. However, the term specifically refers to a particularly type of construction.
Therefore, knowing what they are and how to wear them is fundamental for dressing for the right occasion. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Oxford shoes such as:
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!
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What better Oxford to start off our list than a classic cap-toe? An excellent specimen by Beckett Simonon, the Deans were handcrafted in their Bogotá workshop from Argentinian calfskin leather using a Blake stitch.
They offer great value for money, which gets even better when you use our exclusive code 20% discount code, “BU20“, during checkout. However, there is one caveat in that the shoes follow a group made-to-order process.
Consequently, you’ll have to wait for your shoes to be made in the next batch, we can take several months. If you’re in a hurry, we suggest Ace Marks below as another top-value alternative.
"Offering excellent value for money in exchange for a waiting time, Beckett Simonon provides premium craftsmanship at an affordable price."
Read More: Beckett Simonon Durant & Dean Review
Beautifully made in a family-owned shoe factory from supple full-grain calfskin leather, Ace Marks offers genuine Italian craftsmanship at an affordable price. We’re very fond of the sleek Griffin captoe Oxford that has an elegant profile and amenable fit thanks to a Blake Flex construction.
If you would prefer a more classic cap-toe Oxford from Wolf & Shepherd, consider the Closer instead. Constructed with all the same features as well as from the same materials, it offers just as much comfort as the Senna above.
A US-made classic from Allen Edmonds, the Park Avenue is their flagship model as well as a testament to American craftsmanship. Constructed using a Goodyear welt from full-grain calfskin leather, they offer the best possible quality that you can find at this price point.
Read More: Allen Edmonds Park Avenue Review
Although technically a family member, wholecut shoes don’t immediately spring to mind when referring to Oxfords. However, the Valencia is an fantastic example of the style and a very elegant piece of footwear.
If you go for it, don’t forget your 20% discount using our exclusive code “BU20” during checkout.
Read More: Beckett Simonon Valencia Review
Often overlooked as just another celebrity brand, CARLOS by Carlos Santana is so much more! His stylish footwear is inspired by music, which explains the namesake. Crafted from full-grain leather with a Goodyear welt, it offers surprisingly good value for money.
What Are Oxford Shoes?
An oxford shoe is any lace-up shoe that utilizes a closed-throat lacing system. This is the case regardless of broguing, cap-toe stitching, number of eyelets, or any other aesthetic detail.
Here in the U.S. you’ll often hear the term “oxford” used to refer to any lace-up shoe. This is technically incorrect, as bluchers are also lace-ups but are structurally distinct from oxfords.
This shoe is the mother of all dress shoes. In black patent leather, they are the number one choice to wear with a tuxedo in the evening. They’re considered the dressiest of daytime shoes, as their slim profiles pair excellently with business suits. If they’re exceptionally well-polished, a pair of non-patent black oxfords can be worn with a tuxedo.
If you’re going to own just one pair of dress shoes, you can’t beat an oxford for versatility and classic appeal.
Are They Called “Oxfords” Or “Balmorals”?
Both names refer to the same thing in a general sense. The terms have English origins, with “oxford” coming into use as a result of the shoe being born at Oxford University, and “balmoral” being named after Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
One key difference is that balmoral sometimes refers to a cap toe oxford shoe. This varies from country to country and there’s no standardized parlance.
“Balmoral” is often shortened to “bal.”
In the States, oxford is certainly the favored term among the majority of men. We use the term interchangeably.
History Of Men’s Oxford Shoes
We can trace the oxford’s origins to the year 1800 in -big surprise- England. At the time, students at Oxford University commonly wore a half boot with side slits that was called the Oxonian.
As students developed a distaste for high boots and adopted shoes, the low-cut “oxford” became a go-to option.
The laces of an oxford were originally placed on the outside of the shoe, taking the place of the side slits of the boot from which it’s derived. This is a rather uncommon look today and is regarded as quite fashionable.
It’s fun to think that this unorthodox shoe is actually closer to the original article than what is typically on offer in stores.
How Do You Wear Oxford Shoes?
The balmoral is the quintessential suit shoe, for starters. If you own a pair of bals in black and medium brown, you will be able to wear them with nearly any suit you can imagine. It’s a popular shoe amongst those who work in government, law, finance, and other sartorially conservative industries.
They aren’t just limited to suits, however. Available ready-to-wear or custom-made in leather, suede, canvas, and many other materials, you can find a pair for any occasion.
Do Oxfords Need Laces?
Back around 2010-2011, there was a popular trend of wearing oxfords without laces. This became so popular that shoemakers were making oxfords with stretchy gore under the tongue so that they would hug the foot like a loafer; the laces were made to be removed. See below for a laceless, off-white suede full brogue version:
This author once owned a gorgeous pair of caramel-ish tan cap-toe oxfords made in this way. Having the option to go laceless or not was great. Those shoes got worn into the ground, and sadly they’re no longer with us.
Some folks loved this look, especially without socks. Others found it to be affected, the opposite of the sprezzatura it was trying to convey.
We say that if you’re going to go laceless, do it with a lighter-colored, more casual oxford. This is more sartorially logical; dressy black oxfords will look incomplete without laces.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s a nice touch to use black ribbon as laces for formal occasions.
Oxfords are the most formal shoe available for civilian men in the Western world. Generally, they go best with suits and evening wear.
Keep in mind that their formality level will decrease as the amount of ornamentation on the shoe increases. A full brogue, for example, may be an oxford, but it cannot be worn with a tuxedo. The only exception to this rule is a cap-toe, which retains formality when it’s not the perforated variety.
Given the wide range of options in terms of material and color, they’re incredibly versatile and can be worn with:
- Tuxedos (black patent leather)
- Suits (any medium-to-dark colored leather or suede)
- Odd Jackets & Trousers (various shades of brown leather and suede
- Chinos & Other Casual Trousers
Oxfords can be worn any time of day, any time of year. You just have to be mindful of color and material. Here are some suggestions, but know that there’s much more that can be done with this shoe:
- Spring: Light-to-medium brown leather or suede
- Summer: White nubuck, beige leather, canvas sneaker
- Autumn: Burgundy cordovan leather, dark brown suede
- Winter: Black and dark brown leather
How Oxfords Are Constructed
We’ve referenced different lacing systems and we have an entire article based around the difference between an oxford and a derby.
In case you’ve missed both of those, here’s a very quick explanation:
- Closed throat lacing (oxford / balmoral): Quarters (leather sides through which laces pass) are sewn down to the instep. Creates a “V” shape under the center of the laces.
- Open throat lacing (blucher derby): Quarters are not sewn down to the instep. No “V” is created.
As a result of this construction, oxfords offer a less forgiving fit than bluchers. If you have a smaller foot, this is great. If you have a larger foot, or even a foot with a high instep, be sure to try on many pairs before buying, and buy the most comfortable pair you an afford.
Parting Words On Balmorals
From a wardrobe-building perspective, the oxford is the first dress shoe a man should buy. It will go with just about anything, so if he invests wisely (i.e. doesn’t get a cheap pair and doesn’t wear them every day), the cost per wear will be peanuts.
College grads, men re-entering the workforce, and guys just looking to expand their wardrobes: buy a high-quality oxford shoe. It’ll provide years of stylish pleasure.
Now that you have learned about Oxford shoes, check out some our related footwear guides for men: