The Oxford shoe first appeared in Scotland and Ireland, where they are still occasionally called Balmorals after Balmoral Castle. Later the shoe was named Oxford after Oxford university.
17th – Century
During the 17th century men’s footwear was dominated by boots. Often tightly fitting with buttons instead of laces, they were worn both outdoors and indoors. These boots often featured rather high heels. This style of heel was popularized by King Louis XIV of France, who as I’m sure you can guess was of a modest height.
France was the cultural epicenter in Europe, this explains why most gentlemen aligned their tailoring with the French Court, and footwear was no exception.
18th – Century
This style of footwear was very uncomfortable and although it’s not entirely clear who invented the Oxford shoe, its seems plausible that it was the students of Oxford university who popularizes a “half boot” called the Oxonian shoe around 1825.
At first the shoe featured narrow slits on the sides, this made it a much more comfortable shoe to wear around campus than the high boots that were then in fashion. Over time the side slits were replaced with laces (on the sides). These side laces eventually ended up on the instep of the boot.
Further developments to the boot included lowering of the heel and the height of the boot being lowered to expose the ankle. It is still unknown whether all these changes took place on campus, however it seems highly likely.
What Makes an Oxford shoe an Oxford Shoe?
Unlike most other shoes and items of menswear, the Oxford shoe has one principal defining characteristic: the lacing.
Firstly, an Oxford shoe is a shoe with laces, and not a slip-on Chelsea boot or monk strap. Secondly the shoe has a closed lace system vs the open lace system of a Derby shoe. Here is an example of the two difference: