It’s one of the most underrepresented boots out there. Chances are you’ve never owned a pair. In fact, you might not even know the style exists. It’s a shame, though, because in spite of its relative obscurity the Oxford boot remains one of the most stylish, characterful and unapologetically British footwear styles a man can own.
This is the type of boot you might have worn to stride around the streets of Victorian-era London; cane swinging beside you, handlebar moustache curled to perfection. Or to march around an early 20th-century country estate in; an open shotgun resting in the crook of your arm, as a team of gamekeepers frantically scramble around collecting the trail of dead poultry in your wake.
Today, however, you don’t need to be a Victorian city slicker or a member of the landed gentry in order to pull this style off. The merging and melding of dress codes has granted this throwback silhouette a fresh lease of life, making it a valuable addition to any stylish man’s footwear rotation.
Here we take a look at the fundamentals of menswear’s most underrated boot, including what to buy and how to wear it.
What Are Oxford Boots?
Unsurprisingly, the Oxford boot is a high-ankle variation of the Oxford shoe. Like it’s less lofty counterpart, its main identifier is the fact that it has what is known as a closed lacing system. This means simply that the eyelets are stitched together at the bottom, giving the boot a more streamlined, formal look.
You may also hear this style referred to as a Balmoral boot, so called because it was designed for Prince Albert to use on his country estate of the same name. However, a Balmoral boot often features two different materials for the main body of the shoe and the upper part. Most commonly leather and suede, respectively. Oxford boots in general, however, can be made from one or many materials. Most commonly leather.
How To Wear Oxford Boots
One way to bring this historic style up to date for the 21st century is to wear it with contemporary tailoring. That means a big no to spats and pocket watches, and a big yes to trend-led tweaks and modern cuts.
Take a classic grey two-piece in a slim fit, for example. In place of a shirt, opt instead for something like a rollneck jumper or a knitted polo, and accessorise by simply not accessorising at all. This will still look smart, but also adds a little touch of modernity to proceedings, balancing out the boots’ heritage feel.
Oxford boots were built with leisuretime in mind, and while you may not be spending your weekend shooting grouse in Aberdeenshire, a pair of these country classics can still see you right on your time off.
For a simple smart-casual look, team dark indigo denim with a black pair of Oxford boots, dark knitwear and a tonal jacket. A suede bomber jacket or wool overshirt would work well.
Of all the dress codes out there, black tie leaves the least amount of room for interpretation. That could be a good thing depending on how confident you are styling yourself in formalwear, but if you like to let a little bit of personality shine through it can be tricky.
That’s where the Oxford boot can come in. Naturally, a patent leather Oxford shoe is the traditional choice for black-tie attire. However, opting instead for a simple, minimalist Oxford boot is a subtle way to make the look your own without flouting the rules.
The Best Oxford Boots Brands
It doesn’t take a footwear connoisseur to recognise a pair of Grensons when they see one. Since 1866, this much-loved Northamptonshire shoemaker has been making footwear as packed with personality as it is high in quality. Expect a combination high-end manufacturing techniques, like Goodyear welting, combined with contemporary twists like wedge soles and playful broguing.
Working out of the same Victorian red-brick factory for more than 130 years, Cheaney’s skilled shoemakers have excelled in creating some of the finest, traditional, bench-made shoes and boots the British Isles has ever known. Smart, elegant, beautifully made, and with lofty price points to match.
With a list of customers past and present that includes David Beckham, Sir Winston Churchill and Ralph Lauren, luxury British shoemaker George Cleverley is no stranger to catering for expensive tastes. With a pair of handmade boots fetching anywhere up to £800, a pair of Oxford boots from this esteemed label might not be for everyone. Still, if you’ve got the money and are in the market for a pair, there’s nowhere finer to buy your winter boots.
Crockett & Jones
From contributing to the British war effort in the 1940s by supplying over one million pairs of officer’s boots, to making footwear for James Bond himself. Crockett & Jones’ impressive company resume is something for all other shoemakers to aspire to. Specialising in handmade, Goodyear-welted boots since the 1800s, this is a brand whose experience truly justifies its premium price tags.
Shipton & Heneage
Shipton & Heneage may not be one of the best-known brands in British bootmaking, but it is one of the most reasonably priced. After all, where else could you pick up a pair of beautiful, leather-soled Balmoral boots for less that £200? If it’s British-made footwear and fair prices you’re after, there are few better equipped to deliver the goods.
A century ago, Bodileys began to establish itself as one of the leading footwear retailers in England’s shoemaking capital of Northampton. One hundred years on, and it’s now also a successful footwear manufacturer in its own right. In 2008, the company launched its first in-house line, the London Collection: a range of high-quality, classic shoes and boots that can take as long as eight weeks each to complete.
You may not have heard of Spanish footwear brand Crownhill, but they’re one of the few labels for which the Oxford boot is a signature piece. Most shoemakers might have one or two options in this style, where Chrownhill has a sprawling collection. Every pair is painstakingly handcrafted in Madrid and with prices starting at around €300, it’s actually one of the cheaper brands When it comes to this particular style of boot.