Go Way Back: Oxford Shoes
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a cartoon of the 21st president Chester A. Arthur wearing a very early take. Note the ladylike detailing—very fetch.
Come the 1920s, gals—wanting to try out that borrowed-from-the-boys look, obviously—begin gravitating towards the style…
And, soon enough, the mid-height heeled oxford becomes a flapper staple.
But in the 1940s, when women hit the factory floors, that heel disappears. The working-girl look: hat, skirt suit, gloves, and oxfords.
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.
Take Lucy of Peanuts fame—she’s been rocking her black-and-white saddle shoes since the comic strip’s launch in 1952.
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.
Once the nineties hit, oxfords get bigger and, er, clumpier—with Doc Martens leading the way.
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.
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.