The History of Oxford Shoes: From University Grounds to Red Carpets

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Whether you’re more prone to wearing jeans or trousers, Oxford shoes are a great way to elevate just about any look.

This iconic shoe silhouette has been around since the 19th century, when they really took off in popularity on the university grounds of, you guessed it, the University of Oxford. During this time period students at the university wore knee-high boots, and one origin story of the Oxford shoe suggests that they got shorter and shorter as time went on. By 1825, the boots were about midway up the calf and referred to as Oxonianas. It was around 1846 that the term Oxford started appearing in writing, particularly from Joseph Sparkes Hall, who is known for creating the Chelsea boot.

Men’s leather shoes flat lay with polishing tools
Men’s leather shoes flat lay with polishing tools.

Another story behind the creation of the shoe suggests that it was created at Balmoral Castle by Prince Albert. Apparently, the prince wore lace-up boots for hunting, and the laces are one of the more iconic features of the shoe — and one that was novel during that time period.

It wasn’t until the start of the 20th century that shoes became a popular choice for women as well. This is because more women were working and searching for cozier shoe options that they could wear for longer hours. Since that time, shoes have maintained a stronghold in both menswear and womenswear.

The Design of the Oxford Shoe

Regardless of how the shoe came to be, it was certainly favored at the time over other shoe styles as it prioritized comfort while still looking chic. The Oxford has discreet laces due to the eyelet tabs being tucked under the vamp of the shoe. This is referred to as closed lacing and contributes to the clean, sleek look of the silhouette. This also makes for a shoe that is more structured and ideal for more formal occasions.

Elegant men shoes in detail

To further embellish this sleek design, the Oxford Brogues became more popular. The shape, low heel height and discreet laces are still prominent features of the Brogue, however, the seams of the shoe usually feature perforations in the leather that create little dot formations.

The cap-toe Oxford is another option. While the design itself is still simple, it does have a couple of additional features. To be considered a cap toe, the shoes must feature an additional layer of leather stitched onto the front portion of the toe area. Sometimes, these little leather additions will feature perforations or embellishments at the stitching, and sometimes, the leather strip alone is the only addition.

Most brands of Oxfords are available in both brown and black, and for dressier occasions, it’s common to see them in shiny patent leather.

The Oxford Shoe in Pop Culture

The Oxford is still a shoe that is seen during nearly every single formal event — from red carpets to weddings. Prince William was recently spotted at the BAFTA Awards wearing a shiny black patent leather pair with his tuxedo. That said, they are still a staple on runways as well, with many high fashion brands sending models down the walkways in the sleek silhouette.

Since Oxfords are such a staple when it comes to dressing for fancier occasions, it is likely that their broad appeal will continue for years to come. That said, always remember that they are also a great way to elevate a casual look.

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