Name the most indispensable style of shoe. Tricky isn't it? There are many different and wonderful styles of shoe - each worthy and timeless in their own right, and each with their own time and place. However, if I was told to flee to a city and wasn’t privy to where I was going, and could only pick one style of shoe, it would always be the Oxford. Elegant, unassuming, stalwart. Characterised by its closed vamping - that is, eyelet tabs attached underneath the vamp - it offers a sleek and elegant silhouette, most commonly completed with a capped toe. It is a clean, classic shoe, offering a great canvas for leather to shine, with the construction adding soft touches of delineation. Tradition holds that its formality sits above that of a monk strap or a derby shoe, and this is mostly true, though obviously the leather plays a key factor. A cinnamon suede pair, for instance, would still be comfortably worn with weekend separates where a high-shine monk strap would not.
As with many traditional items of dress there is no clear story of the Oxford’s origin and no shortage of apocryphal tales. What is clear is that it’s a descendant of the heeled boots worn in both the French and British courts during the 17th and 18th centuries. As early as 1830, there are reports of Oxford University students sporting a ‘half-boot’ variation on this style that lost much of the original’s height called the Oxonian Shoe. The Oxonian was prized for its comfort, and whilst there is no clear record of when (or where), over time the closed vamp lacing system was added, the heel lowered and the boot height whittled down to its current form.