The split toe derby is a model that has been extra popular in recent years. A derby with a so-called apron and then a vertical stitch at the tip of the toe. The history on how the model evolved is, as is often the case with footwear and clothing, about practical function.
As often is the case when historic events are described, there are several different versions, and it’s not always easy to know which one is true, or if all is. The story of how the split toe derby was developed technically does not differ between the two most popular explanations in this regard, it’s more about what of them that was actually the first, the “original”, so to speak.
It all started with a desire to improve the water resistance of shoes. A derby is generally more water resistant than an oxford, as the vamp and tongue is connected and the entrance into the shoe is located higher up. But with that, you often had to have several seams that went down to the transition between the upper and the sole edge, which meant that you would have water coming in through the stitches here. One began to make a so-called apron on top of the vamp, to move the seams a bit up from the ground. But the problem here was that you needed big leather pieces, and it would be quite complicated to keep the pattern with quarters and facings in one piece. Then it came to mind that one could make a split in the toe, and ideally then sew with so-called skin stitch, which means that the thread never goes through the entire leather. A stitch that is actually stronger than regular stitches, and which in addition does stand against water a bit better. Then they had solved so that it was both practical use of material, pattern and with high resistance to moisture. The only weakness at the bottom of the upper now is the back stitch, but it ends at least a bit above the heel. Often the shoes had a storm welt or similar for water resistance. Below explanation in pictures made by British bespoke shoemaker Nicholas Templeman.
Then we have the discussion about where the model was born. One version states that it was developed for fishermen in Norway who needed water resistant shoes, hence the name Norwegian derby as it is often called. Another says that the model derived from England, with shoes made for workers who during the 1800s and early 1900s built large infrastructure projects such as channels, railways and similar, so-called navigational engineers with the nickname navvys. When the channels were dug, there was often a wet field in which they worked, and shoes that resisted water were required. In England, the model is often also called navvy cut.
Below a movie where Andy Peach of Edward Green stitch their split toe derby Dover: