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Go Way Back

Go Way Back: Oxford Shoes

Go Way Back BY maura brannigan 10/24/2014

They’re preppy, they’re boyish, they’re cool, and they’re a whole lot more comfortable than a four-inch heel. Read on to see how the collegiate invention got their foothold. 

 

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The Origin: True to their name, oxford shoes are born at—where else?—Oxford University. But first, the half-boot contraptions go by the very-clunky moniker Oxonian, which make their debut around 1825. 

 

 

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The Evolution: It doesn’t take long for the dudes on Oxford’s frou-frou campus to start wearing the school’s namesake shoe for just about everything—relegating their boots to horse-riding.

 

 

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In the late 1800s, narrow stitching and perforated holes take the place of the kind-of fussy side slits…and the shoes win over American (male) feet.

 

 

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Here’s a cartoon of the 21st president Chester A. Arthur wearing a very early take. Note the ladylike detailing—very fetch.

 

 

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Come the 1920s, gals—wanting to try out that borrowed-from-the-boys look, obviously—begin gravitating towards the style…

 

 

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And, soon enough, the mid-height heeled oxford becomes a flapper staple.

 

 

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But in the 1940s, when women hit the factory floors, that heel disappears. The working-girl look: hat, skirt suit, gloves, and oxfords.

 

 

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The sensible oxfords of the World War II era give way to a major 1950s staple: the school-girl-appropriate saddle shoe—one of the first lace-up loafers marketed specifically to women.

 

 

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Take Lucy of Peanuts fame—she’s been rocking her black-and-white saddle shoes since the comic strip’s launch in 1952.

 

 

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Over the next couple decades, women’s footwear options expand to even include—gasp—sneakers, but some ultra-chic ladies get the power of the oxford. See: Twiggy.

 

 

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Once the nineties hit, oxfords get bigger and, er, clumpier—with Doc Martens leading the way.

 

 

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But the shoes never lose touch with their academic heritage, as Molly Shannon demonstrates in her mid-1990s portrayal of armpit-smelling, knee-sock-wearing Mary Katherine Gallagher on Saturday Night Live.

 

 

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The Right Now: Everybody’s on-board: Sienna Miller, Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung, and even envelope-pushing Rihanna, who works ‘em with suits, cut-offs, see-through skirts—you name it.

 

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