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What are Oxford Shoes?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Oxford shoes, which were among the first men’s laced shoes, were worn in the 17th century, often by men attending a university. Unlike their predecessors, early laced shoes were cut smaller than the foot, which gave men a mincing step. They were associated with foppery, fine dressing and a particular social class. These shoes are also sometimes called Balmorals, but because they were most associated with college men, they took on the name of Oxford University. Americans wouldn’t see many of these shoes until the early 19th century, and by then, many modifications had been made.

Today, Oxford shoes are considered men’s dress shoes that lace up. They are usually made of leather or suede, but some less expensive or vegan varieties feature non-animal hide shoes. These shoes are worn more by businessmen and less by the college set, where they would typically be considered too formal. They also fit better than did the early varieties, so men, and sometimes women, don't have the associated problems with comfort and walking.

Oxford shoes can be quite simple, and some feature patterns, like a line across the toe or cutouts in the leather or man-made material. The more expensive shoes feature a leather sole, but most mid-price shoes have a rubber or plastic sole with about a 0.25 to a 0.5-inch (0.64 to 1.27 cm) heel. A few have a slightly higher heel, which can make the wearer appear a little taller.

These are just one of many shoe choices for businessmen or for men attending semi-dressy or formal events. Tie shoes are another option, but slip-ons like moccasins and loafers are also popular. Oxford shoes may be the first choice for extremely formal occasions, and they are often worn with tuxes or three-piece business suits. Common colors include black, dark brown, and burgundy.

Some variations of Oxford shoes have been seen over the years. The saddle shoe is quite similar, but instead of being one color, as is the case with the dressier Oxfords, they have a strip of leather in a different color across the tops of the shoes. This style were greatly popular in the 1950s for women and children, and they remain a popular shoe for children today.

Though most saddle shoes are primarily white with a black strip, some versions are tan with dark brown “saddles," light blue with dark blue saddles, or a variety of other color combinations. The darker colors may be appropriate in business casual environments, but other combinations can be fun for non-traditional “retro-50s” attire at dance clubs and similar events.

Less formal Oxford shoes with sturdy rubbery bottoms are increasingly popular, and some styles are available in interesting colors like lime green. They may be popular with college kids for semi-dressy events since they add a little flair. Shoppers can also find a variety of shoes in this style for women, which can be available in comfortable flats or updated with heels for a more feminine look.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By TunaLine — On Oct 20, 2010

This was such an interesting article -- I of course had seen oxford shoes all my life -- I've got a pair of black leather oxford shoes myself -- but I never knew the history of the shoe.

Very interesting and well-written article.

By FirstViolin — On Oct 20, 2010

If you ever want a challenge, try finding some white oxford shoes. My husband wanted to wear all white for our wedding, right down to the shoes, and it took us forever to find a decent pair of white oxford shoes.

There's black mens oxford shoes all over, but ask for white oxford shoes and the shoe salespeople look like you asked for an elephant or something.

Some of them even offered us costume shoes, since those were the only white oxfords they had. Luckily, we ended up finding a pair eventually, but it was a close call -- so the moral of the story is, if you need white oxford shoes, start looking early.

By StreamFinder — On Oct 20, 2010

I have to say, I have never been a big fan of ladies oxford shoes. Now oxford shoes for men look great -- they're classic, yet not boring.

However, I think that the style is just not suitable for most women. Unless you can pull off a really androgynous look (which many of us can't), then you're either going to look butch or uncoordinated.

At least that's how I feel -- although I do have one exception: saddle oxford shoes, when worn with jeans as a casual shoe, do look very nice on both men and women. Just not the black leather oxford dress shoes.

By anon24572 — On Jan 14, 2009

There is a distinction between Oxford shoes and Derby shoes, which are certainly "men’s dress shoe that laces" but are certainly not Oxford shoes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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