When it comes to dress shoes, the three most prominent are the oxfords, derbies and brogues. This is because they are about the most formal you can get.
However, even between them, certain characteristics make some more formal than others.
You might know the names, but it is just as important to note what they are, what makes them that and how to identify them.
In this article, we will be comparing oxford vs derby and then brogues, to understand their differences and similarities.
Let’s look at it this way; if formal shoes were artists, Oxfords would be the Picasso. These shoes are about as formal as you can get.
Oxfords, or Richelieu, as they are called in France, were originally referred to as Balmorals, as they are still called in the United States. However, they became known as Oxfords after they gained popularity at Oxford University.
This type of formal shoe is characterized by their lacing system. They refer to any shoe where the space between shoelace eyelets are made to form a ‘V’ shape.
This means that the tabs (the part containing the eyelets) are sewn together under a vamp (the front part of the shoe).
The original design for oxfords was plain; which is the most formal version of the shoe there is. However, the need for modern styles has inspired a bunch of other designs to be added to them.
The more number of designs added to an oxford, the less formal the shoe becomes. There are 6 basic types of oxford shoes by design;
A wholecut oxford is one that is made from a single strip of leather. They are often carved from toe to ankle without a seam.
Plain wholecut oxfords and plain-toed oxfords are about the most formal shoe you can find. They are characterised by their V-shaped eyelet tabs. They are versatile and can be worn with a whole range of formal and semi-formal outfits.
Plain-toed oxfords are another simple oxford design, made for formal outfits and occasions. Wholecut oxfords may be open to several forms of details, but plain-toed oxfords are just what they are; plain.
One of the most popular oxford designs of the day is the cap-toe. It is crafted by adding an extra piece of leather at the top of the toe area of the shoe, usually joined to the rest of the shoe using a seam.
It usually features seams at the sides, and sometimes the back as well. This design makes the cap-toed oxford as the most elegant of the set. It can be worn with casual outfits, to semi-formal occasions, etc.
Saddle oxfords usually feature a plain-toe design, but with an extra layer of leather. This leather is usually of a different colour, preferably one that contrasts the main colour.
This extra layer runs across the middle of the shoe from the sides to the eyelet tabs. It is classy and can be worn over a range of semi-formal or casual outfits.
Wingtip is generally used to refer to brogues; that will be discussed later in this article.
If oxford shoes were apes, then derbies would be monkeys; so similar, yet quite different. Derbies are another form of shoes that are known for their formality, even though they are not regarded as formal as their Oxford counterparts. In the United States and derbies are also referred to as bluchers.
These shoes generally came to light in the 19th century and have only gotten better ever since. They are characterised by a system known as “open-lacing system”. In this system, the shoelace eyelet tabs are sewn over the vamp.
Derbies are generally seen to be more versatile than oxfords for the sole reason that they are less formal when comparing similar designs, hence, can be worn with more non-formal outfits.
The classifications used for oxford shoes is the same with derbies (i.e. Wholecut, plain-toed, cap-toed, saddle and Wingtip). Just like oxfords, their formality reduces as more designs are added.
A brogue refers to any shoe that possesses the unique design known as ‘broguing’. Brogue is a derived term for the Irish word that means ‘shoe’.
Broguing, however, refers to the very unique decorative perforations made on the uppers of a dress shoe.
Brogues are not so much of a major design in shoes as they are an add-on. Due to this, they are not mutually exclusive to oxfords and derbies. That is, a shoe can be oxford and brogue simultaneously. However, as they have evolved over the years, there are 5 types of brogue shoes;
Full brogues are the most popular style of brogues. They are known to have an ‘M’ or ‘W’ shape at the toe area of the shoe, with the M or W stretching to around the middle of the shoe.
It also features the characteristic brogue perforations at the seams and toe area of the shoe. Full brogues are known to be classy and can be worn with any casual or semi-formal outfit. They are the least formal brogue shoes.
The longwing brogues are the same with Wingtips. The only difference here is that the M or W extends to the back of the shoe and wrapped around it.
Half brogues refer to cap-toe shoes; whether oxford or derby, that feature brogue perforations on their seams and toe cap centre.
Quarter brogues are cap-toe shoes that feature brogue perforations only across the cap-toe seam. These are the most formal brogue shoes there are. They are best worn with semi-formal clothing.
Blind brogues are brogue shoes that contain decorative perforations similar to wingtips/full brogues. The difference here is, there are no seams. The toe cap isn’t sewn. Instead, the perforations are made to look similar to the cap-toe seams of a Wingtip.
Similarities & differences between Oxford, Derby and Brogue
- Oxford has a closed lacing system while Derby has an open lacing system. They are mutually exclusive.
- Oxford and Derby have the same classifications; i.e. They can be designed the same way.
- Brogues are NOT mutually exclusive with either oxfords or derbies. That is, a brogue can also be oxford or derby.
Now, in your own opinion, which of these shoes do you feel are most formal.
Oxford, Derby or brogues?