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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Espadrilles and Penny Loafers




Wedge shoes are never far away from fashion collections. Designs range from upgraded espadrilles to fancy cotton versions fit for a royal wedding. The round toe, cone heel and wedges are très chick and distinctly feminine. Espadrilles are available in every colour combination and style from a whole plethora of designers.



If you prefer a more traditional version, try André Assous, who has been making espadrilles for 25 years.



The "espardeña" or esparto grass shoe dates back to antiquity although it became associated with the Basques and a symbol of Catalonia. Its fame and comfort spread across the Mediterranean and South America becoming a cottage industry.



Espadrille comes from the word sparte (a type of grass which was used to make rope). Other natural fibres like Hemp, Linen, Alfa, Jonc, Sisal and Burlap were also used to make the braid which forms the sole of the espadrille.



In the 30s shoe designer extraordinaire, Salvatore Ferragamo took the concept of the Mediterranean espadrille and brought it into the 20th century when he forged the fashion cork wedge when war rationing in Italy meant he had to use raw materials in his creative shoe designs. Wedgies became synonymous with the most glamorous time in fashion in the last century, the 1930s, sandwiched between the Depression and the Second World War. Literally anything went and ever known shoe style enjoyed vogue worn by the Hollywood greats of the time.



Currently as fashion trends go and in our celebrity led culture we are experiencing a similar run and glamour is back with a vengeance. Male fashion is also experiencing a similar renaissance with the English Look and Preppy shoes or Penny Loafer the coolest gear for the feet. Preppy is an American term which describes a university type from privilege background, men in the thirties were influenced by a well cut suits worn with shoes of distinction.



A popular shoe was the Penny Loafer or Norwegian Moccasin (Weejens). The shoe style was brought to North America by Scandinavian immigrants from the century before. The shoes were more robust than Native American moccasins albeit they were vaguely similar in construction. A lucky penny was kept in the shoe latch and hence they were known as Penny Loafers.



This is not the first time in history university types gave their name to a shoe style, the Oxford shoe refers to foot sartoria of the academic dandies in the 17th century who wore heeled lace up shoes which were too tight for their feet. This meant they minced, sometimes painfully. The Oxford style took some time to become accepted amongst the Establishment as laces were thought to be effeminate and real men wore shoe buckles, bows or (my favourite) roses.



But by the 30s they were well and truly the choice of the well-dressed man and competed with Penny Loafers for popularity. By the fifties the penny loafer became vogue with teenagers who challenged convention and wore them in colourful suedes.



This is the origin of Carl Perkins’s classic Blue Sue Shoes.



Elvis had the hit which cemented adolescence across the globe, ironically the suede shoes the English Teddy Boy and Australian Bogies wore were not the suave penny loafers from the states but wedged dessert boots from Egypt. But that is another story.



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