The Derby shoe is an unsung wardrobe hero that deserves a firm place in every man's footwear rotation. All too often overlooked in favour of Oxford shoes or brogues, Derbies are arguably more versatile and wearable, with the ability to transcend trends, seasons and settings. Whether you're a long-time fan of the Derby or a more recent convert, we've got the guide for you. Read on for everything you need to know about Derbies, including their history, how to wear them and our pick of the best men's Derby shoes to buy in 2021.

What are Derby shoes?

Derby shoes are often confused with their more formal cousin Oxford shoes, but what sets them apart is their open laces. On a Derby, the space between the eyelets tab will flap open when the laces are undone, while it is typically sewn shut on an Oxford. This lends Derby shoes a more relaxed air, making them perfect for bridging the gap between smart and casual. Plus, the chunky sole and loose lacing lends them more comfort than formal dress shoes, guaranteeing you'll reach for your pair time and again.

History of Derby shoes

Many credit the 18th century Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blüche as the inventor of the Derby. It is said that in an effort to provide his troops with improved footwear, he designed a boot with side pieces that lapped over the front, which provided more space and made it easier to pull off off at the end of the day. These shoes became known as Blüchers, a term that is still used for the US version of Derby shoes today.

The Derby design was soon adopted by armies across Europe, before it became a popular shoe for hunting. Soon enough, it worked its way into the everyday wardrobes of the wider population, becoming adopted by everyone from postmen to city workers. It remains a beloved staple that's certainly not set to go out of style anytime soon.

How to wear Derby shoes

Derby shoes are the Swiss army knives of the footwear world: utterly multifunctional, they pair effortlessly with just about anything. Their smart lace-up style makes them appropriate for formal or business occasions, but the open nature of the laces makes them equally as useful for everyday wear . Embrace their utilitarian roots and wear Derbies with hardwearing workwear staples like an overshirt and selvedge denim jeans or corduroy trousers. Otherwise, use them to take the stuffiness out of tailoring: teamed with a slim navy or beige suit, a pair of Derby shoes will add a subtle edge.

5 best men's Derby shoes to buy in 2021

KLEMAN Padror

French footwear label KLEMAN is renowned for its functional worker shoes that fuse timeless style and uncompromising durability. Its iconic Padror style is case in point. The Padror's design has remained unchanged since the '90s, when it was introduced to fit SNCF (the French national railway company) agents. This a shoe that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so — both in terms of its timeless looks and its hardwearing construction. Read our review of the Padror here.

Royal RepubliQ Defender Derby Shoe

Royal RepubliQ is a Danish brand whose Scandinavian roots inform its emphasis on simple, functional design — characteristics that are perfectly encapsulated by its Defender Derby. The shoe is made from a buttery soft Italian leather that lends it a sleek and refined look. Its memory foam insole and super soft calf lining contribute to its exceptional comfort while a sturdy rubber anti-slip outsole makes it ideal for wet winter days.

Velasca Barabba Derby

This brogue-style Derby from Milanese footwear label Velasca epitomises the brand's commitment to meticulous craftsmanship and timeless style. The combination of smooth and hammered leather results in a unique blend of textures that will subtle elevate your outfit. The hardwearing Vibram winter rubber sole is crafted to withstand the elements, including rain and snow. Wear these shoes with denim jeans day to day or take them up a notch with tailored separates for an instantly sophisticated look.

Myrqvist Boden Derby

Handcrafted in Portugal from full grain country calf leather and finished with a 360-degree storm welt for water protection and a double studded rubber sole, these men's Derby shoes from Swedish footwear brand Myrqvist are as sturdy as they come. The leather board heel caps and cork filling only enhance their durability. We love the sleek, understated look, which will work with just about any outfit.

Acne Studios Leather Men's Derby Shoes

Fusing a classic silhouette with a contemporary chunky ribbed-rubber sole, these polished leather Derbies from Acne Studios are guaranteed to take your outfit to the next level. Wear them with a belted trench and heavy twill trousers for a fail-safe autumn look. Timeless style at its most effortless.

Now, read our guide to another footwear classic: men's Chelsea boots.