Question: Of all the shoes, which is the one pair every man absolutely must own? The answer is clear: a pair of black oxfords. Why is this shoe so important? Today, the Mad Tailor will shed some light into the dark recesses of the gentleman’s shoe closet!
The origins of the oxford lie in an erstwhile popular shoe with side lacing similar to the Bavarian Haferl shoe. Over time, as the construction became lighter and the lacing was moved to the centre of the shoe, it became a staple of students’ dress at Oxford University. British society being as it is, these people often went on to hold high office or become influential businesspeople. As formality follows class lines, the shoe became quite formal. Similarly, the choice of colour is not down to aesthetics alone. Black leather can only be achieved through dying; a luxury not all can afford. Beyond all of this needless luxury, it is worth nothing that the oxford is actually not practical in terms of fit. It can be much more difficult to find oxford in different widths due to its closed lacing system.
As mentioned above, the key feature of oxfords is their closed lacing system. In other words, the two sides which are pulled together by the shoelaces are sewn under the upper material of the shoe. Below the sides is the attached tongue: a piece of leather under the lacing.
How to wear
A black straight cap-toe oxford is your go-to formal all-rounder. It looks equally elegant with silk laces and a mirror shine worn with a dinner suit as it does with a navy or charcoal suit. It can also be worn with most dark pinstripes and even discreet windowpanes. Frankly, this list is basically endless.
Some of my more astute readers will (gleefully) point out that there are perhaps more adequate choices for all of the above. This is definitely true. The dinner suit could be worn with an opera pump, a black quarter brogue might be more suited to the charcoal suit, a pinstripe can tolerate a black or oxblood half brogue, while the windowpane is informal enough to be matched with brown penny loafers. Basically, what that shows is that the black oxford is your Swiss army knife. If you can afford to buy all of the shoes named above, by all means, do. However, if you only have one pair of shoes, make them a black oxfords.
Something I hear more and more these days is that the black oxford is redundant for many gentleman, as they simply never wear formal suits. While there is no true or false in terms of a man’s wardrobe (it should match his lifestyle), I would still always recommend having a black oxford somewhere within reach as it allows a gentleman to fulfil the requirements of any dress code.
I have heard it said that Americans call their oxford balmorals. While I cannot say from personal experience whether this is is the case or not, I will gladly share the knowledge that the name Balmoral comes from the Scottish castle of Balmoral and was brought over to the US by Scottish immigrants. The balmoral is a type of oxford. The key feature here is a horizontal seam parallel to the sole. Historically, the balmoral was a boot with the horizontal seam designed to keep feet dry. For those who are unaware, Scotland has bad weather. MM/DPFC