The Rich History of Oxfords

If you’ve been browsing the latest in shoe styles, chances are you’ve encountered the oxford shoe more than once. If you’ve been to a formal event such as a relative’s wedding, an important business conference, or a high school dance, you’ve most likely seen someone sporting a pair of oxfords, or have even worn a pair yourself. 

Often described as a timeless classic and one of the most elegant styles a man can wear, the oxford is a flat-heeled shoe characterized by eyelet tabs and closed lacing. In fact, the shoe’s anatomy and lace style are so defining that there are guides dedicated to explaining the proper way to lace up a pair.  

With such a pronounced presence in the world of footwear, how did this simple yet sophisticated style get its start, let alone gain traction to become one of the most popular options for men’s dress shoes? 

Humble Beginnings 

Oxfords have supposedly been around since the 1640s, which really emphasizes its status as a “classic” style, but the exact origin is disputed and the timeline of its transformation into the shoe we know today isn’t so clear-cut. 

According to Poppy Barley, there are two competing origin stories detailing how this classic style came to be: 

  • The first claims that the shoes started out as boots with side slits that eventually evolved into laces. Most men’s footwear in this time period consisted of boots, before boots became synonymous with specialized outdoor activities, such as horseback riding and polo playing. 
  • The second states that the oxford traces its roots back to Balmoral Castle in Scotland (some people use the terms “oxford” and “Balmoral” interchangeably).  

Regardless of its origin, the oxford experienced a rise in popularity after students at Oxford University began sporting the style, which eventually caught on in the United States and other parts of the world. 

A Multitude of Styles 

While a shoe must possess certain characteristics to be properly labeled as an “oxford” (a closed lacing system, low heels, and exposure of the ankle), many styles have evolved from the traditional two-toned prototype worn in the halls of Oxford University. 

With countless options to choose from, how do you differentiate between the seemingly similar but creatively nuanced styles? 

  • The simplest yet most formal option is the classic plain-toe oxford, characterized by the absence of excessive detailing and focus on the sleek, single-colored appearance. Our Essential Details II Plain Toe Oxford is a classic favorite composed of waterproof leather, pairs perfectly with a suit or a dressed-up pair of jeans, and provides some of the best sole traction a dress shoe has to offer.  
  • The cap-toe oxford builds upon the “base model” plain-toe by including an extra piece of leather over the front of the shoe which, as the name suggests, caps the region covering the toes. Our Charles Road Cap Toe Oxford offers a soft knit lining and advanced cushioning, making it a viable option for both business conferences and dinner dates.  
  • Referring back to its contested history, the Balmoral-style oxford features a toe cap crafted into the shape of an M or double arch. 
  • Wingtip oxfords are an offshoot of the Balmoral, as it also features an M-shaped toe cap. The wingtip, however, extends further and drapes along both sides of the shoes, making it a slightly more pronounced and less formal option.  
  • Whole-cut oxfords are made from a singular piece of leather, resulting in a smooth and sleek finish, versatile enough for a wide range of formal occasions.  
  • Saddle oxford shoes aren’t quite as common as the aforementioned styles, but have experienced considerable popularity in the United States. This two-toned style provides a striking contrast as compared to the usually seen all-black or all-brown shoe.  

We also offer unique styles, such as the athletically influenced Men’s DresSports 2 Fast Sport Oxford, composed of both wool and leather for increased flexibility; the Ellingwood Oxford with an exclusive kinetic air circulator for maximum breathability; and the Men’s Rugged Bucks 2 Plain Toe Oxford – perfect for those looking for a toughened-up look or a stylish option built for the outdoors.  

Oxfords Today 

Due to their simplicity and versatility, the oxford remains one of the most popular men’s shoes for formal events, meetings, and even days at the office.  

How have they managed to stand the test of time? Building upon the previously mentioned simplicity and versatility, the oxford is an easy, go-to option for nearly any occasion that requires some type of formal or business dress.  

The shoe works with a wide variety of styles and can even be paired with casual jeans given the right combinations.  

While most styles come in muted blacks and browns, it’s not uncommon to find oxfords in more adventurous colors for bold, fashion-forward shoe enthusiasts looking to make a statement. 

Finding the Right Pair for You 

With seemingly endless options to choose from, how do you find the pair of oxfords that’s right for you? As with everything else, this answer depends on your personal sense of style, your preferences, and the type of events you plan to wear them to. 

Here at Rockport, we carry a variety of different styles at various price points appropriate for almost any occasion and guaranteed to suit your specific style needs, from traditional to modern, and from muted to loud.  

Whether you choose plain-toe or cap-toe, our selection of the highest quality oxford shoes are durable, lightweight, shock absorbing, and comfortable enough for all-day wear, so you can look and feel your best without giving your shoes a second thought.  

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