What is the difference between an Oxford and a Derby shoe? An Oxford is a lace-up shoe where the eyelet facings are stitched underneath the vamp (front section of the shoe). This style of shoe is sometimes called a closed front
A Derby (also often referred to as a Gibson) is a lace-up shoe where the eyelet facings are stitched on top of the vamp (front section of the shoe). This style of shoe is sometimes called an open front.
The Derby was popular as a sporting and hunting boot in the 1850s, but by the turn of the 20th century, it had become regarded as appropriate for wear in town. In the USA, a Derby shoe is sometimes referred to as a Blucher. If an Oxford fits the wearer well, it can be incredibly comfortable. However, a Derby, with its open tabs, allows more adjustment by pulling the laces tighter or looser. This means that a Derby will probably fit a wider range of foot shapes.
Oxfords are traditionally fairly formal shoes with a toe cap, but there are now variations available to suit both formal and casual dress. One theory of its origin is that the Oxford evolved from a popular style of boot with side slits. The side slit evolved into a side lace that eventually moved to the top of the foot and the lighter-weight shoe became popular with the students at Oxford University, who rebelled against the more traditional boots of the day. An alternative theory holds that the style originated in Scotland, where it acquired the name ‘Balmoral’, presumably after the castle of the same name.
Certainly, in the USA, these shoes are known as Balmorals. Today, the shoes would normally be referred to as ‘Oxfords’ by the English and ‘Balmorals’ (or ‘Bals’) by the Americans.
The term Oxford is normally used when the shoe has a plain toe cap. However, the straight toecap and other parts of the shoes can be decorated with some punching – this is known as a ‘semi-brogue’ or ‘London brogue’. Or, the shoe can have a ‘wing tip’ cap and more detailed punching – this is a ‘full brogue’