For the past 200 years, men's dress shoes have fallen into two main styles - Oxfords or Derbies. When it comes to telling them apart, you need to look at the laces.
An Oxford is what most of us envision when we think of a dress shoe - what financiers wear to close deals or nervous young men put on for church weddings. Sleek, with laces emerging from the surface, an Oxford relies on a bit of legerdemain whereby the shoemaker stitches eyelet facings on the interior.
The Derby is a bit more of a workhorse - a style more traditionally associated with walks in the country. The Derby doesn't put on citified airs, letting its eyelet stitching and seams hang out for all to see. Because of its versatility and comfort it has gained in popularity and is poised to dethrone the long-reigning monk strap as the style that steals the limelight this autumn.
The Derby doesn't put on citified airs, letting its eyelet stitching and seams hang out for all to see
"The Derby is more of an everyday shoe that can be worn with a suit or with jeans and chinos,'" says MR PORTER's shoe guru Mr Sam Lobban of the style's virtues.
Unlike Oxfords, Derbies can easily be dressed down as well as up. Plus, thanks to the open front that allows laces to be tightened or loosened more easily, they are quicker to put on and take off. They also fit a wider range of foot shapes, and breathe a bit more in summer.
According to the Gentleman's Gazette, the Derby dates back to the 14th Earl of Derby, who was three times the prime minister of England in the 1860s and had an impressive thatch of facial hair that would make a Williamsburg mixologist jealous. Aside from his healthy sideburns, he was also a portly chap with wide feet. So his bootmaker designed the open-lace system for him. By the 1870s, the style had taken off. Shoemaker Crockett & Jones cites the Derby's first press coverage in an 1872 edition of St Crispin's Magazine, which described it as "a new tie shoe better than the Oxonian as the seam is not near the tender part of the foot'".
Derbies are sometimes called bluchers, and while there are subtle differences between the two that shoemakers love to debate, the lacing system is similar. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Prussian army officer Gebhard von Blücher developed lacing that was easier for his men to put on and take off. His men played a key role in defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo incidentally.
Of course, the above story might well be a load of old cobblers - some of the source material is sketchy - but what we do know is that in 2014, the Derby is considered the ultimate crossover shoe, straddling formal and smart-casual, and as such represents an important addition to any wardrobe.
Words by Mr Dan Rookwood, US Editor, MR PORTER