Herring Shoes

What makes a Derby men’s shoe?

17 February 2022

To follow up our blog on Oxfords, we are now turning our attention to its chunkier contemporary, the Derby shoe, also known as the Blucher in the US or the Gibson on this side of the pond.

We love a bit of background when it comes to classic shoes, but footwear history can be a little blurry. Some of the earliest references date back to the Earl of Derby of the 12th century while others report the 14th century Earl of Derby was their namesake when he needed larger shoes for his unusually large feet. I prefer the latter story!

The Derby may have also been intended as military footwear during the Napoleonic wars, but where it really came into its own was as a popular hunting and sporting shoe during the mid-19th century.  In 1872, the Saint Crispin’s Magazine described the Derby as “a new tie shoe better than the Oxonian as the seam is not near the tender part of the foot.”

And this is where we come to the nitty gritty around the construction of the Derby. Saint Crispin was the patron saint of cobblers and the magazine that bears his name refers to the way the quarters and vamp allow the shoe to expand as the foot swells, making it more comfortable for people with larger feet. See…the 14th century Earl story looks like a good bet now!

Herring Pershore

It would also explain why the Derby was suitable for military footwear. Soldiers’ feet swell in the heat of the day as they march, so this shoe style could expand to maintain comfort.

The defining feature of a Derby shoe is its open lacing system. It’s not just a case of where the eyelets are stitched. To achieve the Derby’s open lacing system and expansion ability, the quarters are sewn on top of the vamp with the eyelets sewn on top of the quarters. 

This means there is a slight gap even when the shoes are laced up, which is why the lacing on the Derby is considered ‘open’ lacing and why it is different to the Oxford shoe. The quarters on an Oxford shoe sit underneath the vamp to create a closed style that makes for a tighter tie and no gap. 

So now you know what defines a Derby. What different styles can we offer to you?

The trail-blazing, large-footed Earl paved the way for footwear for men with wider feet. While the open lacing defines the Derby as a more casual shoe in comparison to its super-sleek and formal Oxford counterpart, we have plenty of smart styles available that would have suited an earl.

Herring Leconfield

The Boothroyd, Burlington, Carroll, Epping and Golding are all office or event-ready shoes. Some come with rubber soles for further bounce while there are leather-soled versions available too. I like the Golding for its gorgeous finish. I guess I prefer a plain finish rather than the toe-cap versions. 

There are brogue-style office shoes too with the Burlington II, Longford, Leconfield and the new Fawcett brogue in tobacco calf with a chiselled toe. For a bit of flair, we can offer a crocodile effect leather Santano Derby. These could take you into the evening…even if your feet have swelled during the day. 

We can also have split-toe Derby shoes with a raised apron detail running around the toe. Again, a smart shoe with a little extra detail. See the Pershore and Tiverton examples.

With the smart shoes ticked off, we can look at a few country casuals where the Derby brogue is king, either blended with tweed as seen on our Dartmoor or all-leather in the case of the Burford and the Kirkoswold styles. The Chippenham though almost has a bovver boy edge with its chunky rubber sole and standout cedar calf upper.

Herring Wasdale (now made in Burgundy grain)

If you are not a brogue fan, may I suggest the Wasdale or Wasdale II. These are ‘man shoes’ with a Veldtschoen construction that makes them highly water-resistant.

For a relaxed, weekend vibe, I like the Polegate, which has the split toe and apron detailing but is made from suede. Spring is on it way, so we can officially start talking about suede now! Similarly, the Cobra is a low-top crepe rubber shoe for chic slouching days. 

We also have plenty of Derby style boots available but as this was all about Derby shoes, I am staying faithful to the shoes! 

If your Oxfords pinch, you have slightly wider feet or have a propensity for swelling as you are on your feet all day, the Derby could be for you. Our customer service team are on hand to answer any queries you may have about the shoes we sell, so contact them if you are unsure what style would suit you best or would give you the most comfort.

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