Shoe Glossary: Oxfords

This classic style can be worn by men and women

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Simply put oxford shoes are shoes with laces. They're characterized by closed lacing, meaning the shoe has shoelace eyelets that are attached to the vamp but hidden by the throat of the shoe. Traditionally oxfords are men's dress shoes, but they've evolved into several forms, including sneakers and even women's heels. Any shoe that contains the oxford's signature closed lacing can be categorized as an oxford.


Oxfords originated in Scotland and Ireland and were called Balmorals after Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The boot had dominated men's footwear for several centuries until the Oxonian, a half-boot, emerged at Oxford University.

Oxonians were a rebellious response to the stiff, uncomfortable men's boots that were popular at the time. The shoes had slits on the sides that made them more comfortable to wear while trekking around campus, unlike stiff boots. Over time the side slits were replaced with laces, which eventually moved to the instep. The heel was lowered and the throat of the boot was lowered to expose the ankle, and the shoes became known as oxfords.

The shoes became the preferred style in men's footwear. Boots were now only appropriate for outdoor activities, like horseback riding, while oxfords were the perfect everyday shoe. They have been in style ever since.

Types of Oxford Shoes

The Oxford is characterized by closed lacing, a low heel and a low cut that exposes the ankle. Every Oxford contains these three characteristics, and there are a few different styles:

The plain oxford doesn't have any intricate piecing or perforation. Its simplicity makes it a good choice for a formal evening shoe. A plain oxford made with black patent leather is appropriate for a black-tie event. Some plain oxford shoes are brown or other shades of polished leather, but you will almost always find them in black.

The cap toe is one of the most mainstream oxford styles. It features an extra piece of leather on the toe cap that might also feature very understated perforations. Cap toe oxfords are considered dressy enough for the office, but not dressy enough for a formal event.

Brogues, or wingtips as they're called in the United States, are often referred to as oxfords and they are, so long as they feature that signature closed lacing. Brogues have perforated toe caps that spread toward the sides of the shoes in a wing-like shape, hence "wingtip." Despite the intricacies of the design, brogues are considered less casual than the cap toe oxford.

How to Wear Oxfords

Oxfords are workhorse shoes. The right pair of oxfords can transition from day to night, and is appropriate for work, evenings out and dressy occasions. The cap toe oxford strikes the perfect balance. Although it's not considered a formal shoe, if it's the right style and color, it can be worn to any event.

The material also adds to versatility: oxfords can be made from leather, suede, and canvas. Many times shoe manufacturers will make the soles of oxfords a bright color to add a unique touch.

Menswear is a growing trend in women's fashion, and the Oxford is a prime example. They're comfortable and they add flair to any outfit. Their functionality also makes them great shoes to wear to work, especially if your commute includes a bit of walking, and they pair with any kind of casual outfit as easily as other shoes.

If you like height, try an oxford heel. Oxford heels resemble ankle boots and they are sensible, yet stylish. The heel is usually stacked and sturdy, and it also appears as a wedge.

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