Oxford Shoes

AKA: Balmoral Shoes, Richelieu

How to say it: oks-ferd

Traditional Features: 

Oxford Shoe

  • formal style of shoe
  • leather
  • closed lacing system
  • can have a toe cap, brogue detailing
  • traditionally low heeled but can have a higher heel

21st Century Oxfords

The Oxford shoe is still widely available for women on the modern footwear market. Available in traditional forms as well as versions that have been modified to fit the 21st century, the shoe is endlessly versatile and thus widely popular in both flat and heeled versions.

Barneys NY Dr Martens

Barney’s New York, Dr. Martens

Steve Madden Topshop

Steve Madden, Topshop


…of the style: There seems to be some disagreements over where the Oxford shoe hails from. Some sources state that it comes from Scotland or Ireland (hence the alternate Balmoral title), other say that it evolved on the campus of Oxford University. I couldn’t find the story behind the Scottish/Irish origins, but the Oxford theory claims that 17th century students at the university took to wearing a half-boot in place of the high reaching and often high-heeled boots that were popular at the time. This Oxonian Shoe became popular around 1640 or 1825 (depends what you are reading) and featured a side-slit, which evolved into side laces and then front laces. These changes were accompanied by a lowering of the heel, and the height to expose the ankles; thus taking on the shape of the modern Oxford shoe. Whether or not all these changes happened on the university campus is debatable, but the idea that the new style of shoe was brought about by young men searching for a more comfortable style does seem plausible so I am going to go with it.

By the mid-1800s the new Oxford style had become an acceptable form of footwear for men outside of the university and took the place of boots in regular society. The style continued to spread throughout the 20th century, reaching Europe and America, with the versatile style appearing in various shapes and with various detailing (toe caps, Brogue detailing, sadle shoe, round toe, pointed toe etc), allowing it to be worn for all occasions – from formal to sportswear. The 1900s also saw women adopt the shoe in everyday wear, as the style fit perfectly into their new active lifestyles.

Over the intervening decades the Oxford has continued to evolve in women’s footwear, appearing with heels of various heights and shapes, with Brogue detailing, plain, coloured, sequined etc. You name it, it has been applied to the Oxford. In the 21st century, the Oxford style continues to appear in a variety of forms, but in recent seasons there has been a distinct return to the flat, leather Oxford from back in the day. While somewhat updated in materials and colour, the styling of the former men’s dress shoe has definitely taken a step back to the days when men wore suits to university and women were just beginning to fully realise their potential in society.

This trend for the old-school look has maintained a steady presence in street fashion for several seasons now, and while the look is classic and sophisticated, who knows how long it will last. After that, who knows what form the Oxford will take on next.

…of the name: The shoe is named for Oxford University where the style apparently evolved.

Random Facts

  • Amelia Earhart, the pioneering female aviator, apparently loved the Oxford, and was often pictured wearing a pair.

For more info on Oxford Shoes try Wikipedia, Gentlemen’s Gazette, Fashion Encyclopedia or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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