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Is It Really About "Oxfords not Brogues"?

You know not to wear sneakers to a formal event. Some slip-ons are okay if they look like fancy loafers. Lace-ups are good, too, unless they look too much like Dr. Martens.

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Men’s dress shoes sit somewhere between these extremes. Sometimes, an oxford is expected. Other times, you can get away with a derby or a Chelsea boot. On many of these footwear choices, brogue details have practically carved out their own niche: The embellished, intricate dress shoe.

But what sets Oxfords and Brogues apart, and how do you choose the right one for your outfit and occasion? We asked four style experts to guide us through these contending pairs of fashionable footwear. 

In this analysis, we'll define the essence of Oxfords and Brogues, explore style experts' preferences, and offer expert tips on how to master the art of styling with both.

But first, to extinguish all the gentlemanly airs, this guide makes sense of these overly traditional terms:

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Oxford Brogue - ASOS

Kingsman: “Oxfords Not Brogues.”

Menswear purists who caught the first Kingsman movie noted Colin Firth’s “Oxfords not brogues” line. Since then, think-pieces and fashion guides have attempted to make sense of it. Both styles offer some degree of overlap, so, what exactly is the difference?

This question marks a good starting spot – and, if we’ll be honest, a solid intro to men’s formal footwear. We're not going to debate the meaning of this quote, as plenty of bloggers and menswear writers have done this already.

Instead, its intentions all boil down to a traditionalist sentiment: Men’s dress shoes should be smooth and pure looking. Brogue details mar that.

Oxfords vs Brogues

What’s an Oxford?

So, to start, what is an oxford? Deceptively similar to the derby, which we’ll address further down, an oxford shoe has a closed lacing system.

The eyelets are added under the vamp – not on top, as is the case with many shoes – and the laces “close” the front. For reference, look at the area between the tongue and foot box: With derbies, you’ll notice an upside-down “V,” and with oxfords, it’s a clean line. This precision makes it a given for black-tie dressing.

As a note, British oxfords tend to have five pairs of eyelets, while American oxfords usually have six. As you break in your pair, regardless of origin, you might notice that “V” space, but with time and wear, the break closes and is no longer visible.

Origin wise, this shoe doesn’t have a clear place. Many attribute it to the Oxonian, worn by students at Oxford University in the nineteenth century. Others take it back to Scottish and Irish styles, while the cap toe Balmoral – from Balmoral Castle– is considered another possible source.

Oxford - Frye

How to Wear Men’s Oxfords

Within this template, the oxford is open to plenty of possibilities. You may encounter:

  • Plain toe oxfords, featuring a smooth, rounded front.
  • Cap toe oxfords, distinguished by a cap-like detail around the toe, which may appear a bit more angular.
  • Brogue and wingtip oxfords, which stand out with different levels of detailing around the front and sides.
  • Saddle oxfords, which feature an extra strip of leather resembling a saddle across the top of the shoe.
  • Whole-cut oxfords, which appear similar to plain toe oxfords but are constructed from a single piece of leather. Certain designs, taking this concept to extremes, may even be totally seamless.

To return to the Kingsman reference, separate your true smooth oxfords from the detailed brogue styles, as embellishments are typically frowned upon for more formal occasions. Thus, reserve the classics for black and white tie events and traditional business-dress office environments. Here too, follow standard rules of dress: black, navy, or charcoal trousers hitting the tops of your oxfords, with just a slight break. Stick with black dress socks, and know your rules concerning brown shoes and black pants.

If the oxfords have brogue details, step it all down a notch. They’re not quite casual lace-up shoes like the derby, which frequently sports brogue accents, but this addition makes them too much of a gamble for formal settings.

Instead, keep this pair on hand for the business casual and smart-casual dress codes. Then, match it to wool pants or chinos, button-fronts, and sports coats, with the understanding that you can take a looser approach to colors, materials, and details in these environments.

Master the Art of Oxford Shoe Styling by the Experts

  • Formal: Think black-tie events, office settings, or anytime you're in a suit. Black Oxfords are a fail-safe choice here. 
  • Smart-Casual: You can totally dress down Oxfords by pairing them with chinos and a crisp button-down shirt. Brown or tan would be fun colors to try. 

- Peter Martinez | Fashion Designer | Leather Skin Shop

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Pair black Oxfords with a black suit or tuxedo. Brown Oxfords can be worn with navy or charcoal gray suits.

  • Business Casual: Brown or burgundy Oxfords can be worn with dress slacks and a blazer for a smart business casual look.
  • Casual: While Oxfords are primarily formal shoes, they can be worn with well-fitted jeans and a sport coat for a dressy casual look.

- Dmitriy Mirosh | Owner | Styletyx 

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The Oxford is an easy shoe to class up any outfit. It is the finishing touch for any tuxedo and can also be a standout element for business casual attire. Here, color coordination is key.

If you are wearing black Oxfords, stick to neutrals such as grey, white and black. Brown Oxfords will pair nicely with navy and tan, and can even dress up denim in some cases. Don't wear black Oxfords with denim. Additionally, in almost all cases, black and brown do not and will not mix. 

- Roger LaGrone | Fashion expert & Founder | Alexander Noel


Oxford - Dockers

Derbies – Often Confused with Oxfords

At a glance, a derby shoe doesn’t look all that different from an oxford. The demarcation, frankly, seems a bit nitpicky. Yet, if you’re abiding by formal dressing rules – and, let’s be honest, we all have to follow them at some point – derbies have always run a bit on the casual end.

This, as an asset, makes them a far more versatile shoe. In fact, in today’s smart-casual environment, a man could easily get away with a couple of derbies in his closet. An oxford, by contrast, starts to feel as limited as a solid black suit.

Still, to grow, you’ve got to understand the classics. So, in terms of decades-strong menswear rules, oxford shoes, without any style details, rank the highest on the formalwear pyramid. You can pair them with a tux or another black-tie appropriate suit, and you’ll always fit the dress code.

For the next level down – think client presentations, weddings, and networking events – the derby fills its duty. It’s dressy enough, without coming off as stuffy. These days, they’re a natural match for your chinos.

Unlike the oxford, the derby’s story is a bit clearer. They were first worn in the mid-19th century as a hunting and sporting boot. Early on in the 20th century, it transitioned into an urban gentleman style, as the open lacing offered a more comfortable, adaptable fit.

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Oxford Brogue - Rockport

What are Brogues?

Like the derby, the brogue has more rugged origins: Specifically, a workman’s shoe dating back to the 16th century in Scotland and Ireland. As its most distinctive feature, they sported functional perforations: They allowed moisture to pass through as the wearer walked through wetlands.

They turned into a gentleman’s staple when the Duke of Windsor started wearing them casually in the 20th century. These styles tended to have a sleeker look and floral-patterned stitching.

Oxford Brogue - Allen Edwards

The Difference Between Oxfords and Brogues

Although many men (and fashion blogs) casually refer to “brogues” as a style of shoe, they’re not a footwear category in the formal sense. Rather, all types of dress shoes – oxfords, derbies, and plenty of boots – can feature brogue details.

The perforations or holes, which vary in size, differentiate a brogue from a smooth, plain-toe pair, and for this reason, the addition’s seeming ostentatiousness pushes the usually formal-leaning oxford out of the black-tie dress category.

That’s not to say an oxford brogue isn’t a dress shoe. Instead, shifting style rules have turned it into a more adventurous formal item – the broguing, in this case, adds statement appeal and shows a man’s not afraid to put himself out there, to a certain extent.

Outside of these strictly formal occasions, brogues have the same effect: They’re far from plain, but they’re not like you’re showing up in gold-colored snakeskin loafers.

Stylish Brogues

Rather, they’re a happy (and often workplace-appropriate) medium for flexing your style muscles. Generally, a “brogue” is built upon a derby silhouette.

"Oxfords are often preferred for their sleek and formal appearance. They’re characterized by their closed lacing system, which gives them a clean and minimalist look. Oxfords are an excellent choice for formal occasions like weddings, business meetings, and black-tie events. 

Brogues, on the other hand, are known for their decorative perforations and are considered slightly less formal than Oxfords.

They have a more intricate design and can add a touch of personality to your outfit. Brogues are versatile and can work well in both casual and semi-formal settings. "


- Dmitriy Mirosh | Owner | Styletyx

Oxford Brogue - Johnston & Murphy
Oxfords vs Brogues

How to Wear Men’s Brogues

Design-wise, brogues fall into a couple of types:

  • Semi-Brogue: Sometimes called a half- or quarter-brogue depending upon the detail level, these shoes sit along the line of formal and casual, and don’t go far into statement territory. You can easily wear them to work, weddings, and any occasion that doesn’t call for black-tie dressing.
  • Wingtip Brogue: Although the degree of detail varies, one feature distinguishes a wingtip from other types of brogues: the “M” or “W” design on top of a cap toe. At one point, they were a more flashy, upscale style. These days, wingtips have migrated into a more sophisticated casual shoe – essentially, smart-casual footwear with some panache.

With these two aspects in mind, wearing brogues comes down to the style on which it’s based. Oxfords? Keep it formal but within reason. With derbies?

You’re walked into smart-casual – or very lenient business casual. All that said, abide by the setting’s general style rules, and regardless of whether you’re wearing solid black oxfords or derbies, never, ever sport solid white socks in the break.

Master the Art of Styling With Brogues by the Experts 

  • Formal: These are best suited for occasions that are formal but have room for flair, like cocktail parties or business casual settings. Stick to darker shades. 
  • Casual: Brogues can effortlessly vibe with jeans and a casual shirt. The perforations add that fun element, making them less stuffy. 

- Peter Martinez | Fashion Designer | Leather Skin Shop

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Semi-formal: Brogues work well with suits, especially in less formal settings. Pair them with a navy or gray suit to add some personality to your outfit. 

Business Casual: Brogues are a great choice for business casual attire. Wear them with chinos or dress slacks and a dress shirt, with or without a tie. 

Casual: Brogues can also be worn with jeans and a button-down shirt for a stylish and relaxed look. 

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- Dmitriy Mirosh | Owner | Styletyx 

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Brogue styles are ideal for styling tapered slacks, denim and chino pants. Brogue's are slightly more subtle than the Oxford - meaning they’re a more versatile shoe that can take you from the office to casual and more formal dinners and events.

On your top half, a freshly ironed button-down pair with either a sports jacket, suit coat or even a leather jacket, and you have a classic put-together look suitable for a variety of occasions. 

- Roger LaGrone | Fashion expert & Founder | Alexander Noel


Kicking It Up a Notch: Oxford & Brogue Style Hacks

Wearing colorful socks with brogues

Socks Matter: Don't forget your socks can be a statement piece too. With Oxfords, maybe stick to something understated. But with Brogues, feel free to play a little—think subtle patterns or textures. 

Leather vs Suede: Leather is generally more formal and easier to maintain. Suede looks great but tends to be more seasonal and is a bit high-maintenance. 

Whichever you choose, it's all about how you wear it. Confidence is your best accessory. Both Oxfords and Brogues have their place, and honestly, why limit yourself? A well-rounded wardrobe has room for both! 

- Peter Martinez | Fashion Designer | Leather Skin Shop

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Always ensure your shoes are clean and well-maintained. Regular polishing and shoe care are essential for both Oxfords and Brogues.

Match the color of your shoes to your belt for a polished appearance. Consider the occasion and dress code when choosing between Oxfords and Brogues. Oxfords are a safer bet for formal events, while Brogues offer more flexibility in semi-formal and casual situations. 

- Dmitriy Mirosh | Owner | Styletyx 


Style Experts' Preference: Oxfords vs. Brogues

Oxford shoes

Oxfords and Brogues! Both are classics, but each with its own flair! Let's dig in, shall we? 

I lean slightly towards Oxfords. They're just so crisp, so timeless. That said, I adore Brogues for their detailed perforations which add texture and a bit of sass to any outfit. 

- Peter Martinez | Fashion Designer | Leather Skin Shop

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I'm much more of an Oxford person, but that's because I like understated fashion. Brogues look too busy like they're trying to be sophisticated and failing at it.

Oxfords look more simple and understated, something I can wear with numerous outfits. If you're going to a wedding, go with Oxfords. 

- Dustin Sitar | CEO | The Groom Club


Wedding Footwear Dilemma: Oxfords or Brogues?

Man getting ready for wedding

For a wedding, especially a formal one, I'd recommend Oxfords. They're cleaner, sleeker, and give off an air of sophistication.

The minimalist design really complements a sharp tux or a tailored suit. Brogues aren't a total no-go; they can work for a less formal, rustic, or outdoor wedding where you can afford to be a bit more decorative with your style. 

- Peter Martinez | Fashion Designer | Leather Skin Shop

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Oxfords are typically the better choice for a wedding, especially if it's a formal affair. A well-polished pair of black or brown Oxfords can complement a classic suit or tuxedo perfectly. 

They exude sophistication and elegance, making them a traditional choice for grooms and guests. 

Dmitriy Mirosh | Owner | Styletyx 

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Really it depends on the wedding. If we are referring to a traditional, black-tie weddings, Oxfords are the safest bet and may even be expected.

The characteristic punching and trim of the brogue make it a more casual shoe by nature, albeit still a classic option in many cases that can be appropriately dressed up. In any case, if the wedding invite says black tie, you should opt for a traditional glossy Oxford-style shoe. 

- Roger LaGrone | Fashion expert & Founder | Alexander Noel


Final Thoughts

Oxford vs Brogues

In the world of formal footwear, Oxfords and Brogues shine. Oxfords are sleek and perfect for formal events, while Brogues have more of a decorative flair, suited for casual and semi-formal settings.

Our four fab style experts have varied in their preferences when it comes to Oxfords vs Brogues. Some are team Oxford because of their simplicity, while others admire the intricate designs of Brogues. But if you’re heading to a wedding - definitely go for the Oxfords.

Apart from dressing either of these dapper kicks up or down, as suggested by the experts, don’t forget about the style hacks for your sock or leather selection. 

All up, we can confidently say that Oxfords and Brogues each have their place in the world of fashionable footwear. Choose the right shoe for the occasion, maintain them well, and match them with your belt. 

Your footwear is a reflection of your style, so embrace the choice that suits your personality and stride confidently into every chapter of your narrative.

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Oxfords not Brogues
Writer

Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.