What’s the difference between Oxford and Derby shoes?

We look at the two most common types of lace up men’s shoes, namely the Oxford and the Derby.

The Oxford shoe is generally considered to be much more elegant and refined than a Derby, which has a more ‘smart casual’ aspect to it. So let’s start off with the most obvious visual  differences rather than full technical definitions. The Oxford shoe can only open in a ‘V’  shape when unlaced and ready for the foot to enter into the shoe, as the eyelet facings are sewn under the vamp at the front of the shoe preventing that part to open up completely.

Ellington wholecut oxford with closed lacings.

Examples of black oxfords with closed lacings, (left to right) two wholecut oxfords and a classic cap toe oxford.

The Derby tie shoe pattern also commonly called a “Gibson” shoe can open completely as wide at the top as the bottom of the eyelets, this it allows a more generous foot entry as the eyelet facing are sewn on top of the vamp usually fixed in place by a rectangular box stitch at the front of the eyelet facings.  The vamp of course is the front part of the shoe, which can be plain or have a stitched toe cap for example.

The simple Oxford shoe, also commonly referred to as a “Francesina” in Italian, or“Richelieu” in French, are credited with being created by poor peasants in Ireland and Scotland who also added round holes or “Brogues” using a metal punch, to enable water logged shoes to drain and dry out. This process then developed into a decorative feature where the shoe upper was punched, and then lined (also known as ‘backed’) so that punched holes were covered by leather from the inside.

Most traditional Oxford shoes have a straight toe cap which can have the addition of a refined brogue pattern, consisting of two rows of parallel stitching and between them a pattern of a single hole interspaced by two smaller holes to great the classic brogue effect.

The other common feature is the “wing cap” which curves to a point just below the eyelet facings.  In Italian it is referred to as a “Coda di Rondine” which translates as ‘swallow tail’.

An example of this is our Derby Wingcap, Madison.  Note the open facings.

Here is another example of the open lacing of a derby, this time a plain toe derby blucher. Style: Buckingham.

Open facing and lacing of a derby blucher

The Whole-cut Oxford which as the name suggests is made from a large single piece of leather, joined at the back of the shoe and with the classic “V” cut for the eyelet facings.

This single piece of leather usually attracts a premium price, as the leather consumption  compared to other patterns is much higher as there is more wastage of leather. The whole-cut pattern cut from a hide of leather cannot include any scratch marks found in the leather, so it has to be cut around these defects. In simple terms, more square footage of leather is needed per pair and more leather is discarded. Patterns with many small pieces of leather can be cut around any defects, meaning more pairs can be manufactured from the same hide; hence a lower consumption of expensive leather. The Thomas Bird whole-cut is one of our flagship items and represents the pinnacle of good Italian shoemaking.

Finally, the Derby or Gibson shoe, (occasionally called a “Blucher” which is a variation on the Derby shoe design and originally commissioned by General Blucher the Prussian general as an army boot worn during the Napoleonic wars), was popularised during the early Victorian era developing from a sporting and hunting boot into a shoe version for wear with smart country tweeds and clothing. The advantage of the Gibson over the Oxford is a more relaxed fit for people with wider feet or higher instep and allows easier foot entry into the shoe. A popular derby/gibson is Richmond in black.

And you can see lots more photos of our shoes and boots being worn on:

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All the best

Thomas Bird