Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Saddle Shoes: A short history

Saddle shoes are two tone lace-up oxford shoes. Sometimes called saddle oxfords they began to appear in the early twentieth century as a leisure shoe. Saddles date from the early 1900s and were originally white soled shoes with black & white uppers worn by young Americans.

Spalding,the sporting goods company, claims to have introduced the “original saddle oxford” in 1906 as a gym shoe. The overlaying saddle gave additional strength over the flexor surface of the shoes where the point of greatest stress occurs.

By the 1920s saddles were regularly worn to play sports such as tennis, hockey, fencing and badminton. Quality sports footwear at that time was made from kangaroo skin and saddle shoes would have been a cheaper alternative. The shoe style is also contemporary with spectators (two tone brogues), worn for golf, and were possibly a cheaper alternative. Canvas topped shoes (sneakers) were less robust at this time and whilst plimsols were available, saddle shoes offered a better quality shoe for exercise.

The shoe doubled an acceptable dress shoe and became part of school uniforms. Often the shoe colours matched school colours. In any event the shoe style became associated with younger people.

The style met with condemnation from the foot police and contemporary reports confirm doctors, shoe clerks, grandmothers, and even men of the cloth all opposed the new style of shoes for adolescents. A flat, broad-toed shoe, they said, was bad for the arches, and predicted doom for girls’ feet. Spalding incorporated high quality rubber soling (coral in colour) to improve traction for gym work which made the shoes lighter in weight. Kids started to wear them as street shoes but a practical problem arose when accumulated dirt caused by everyday wear was taken into the gymnasium. Light coloured soles were preferred to reduce rubber marking of gym floors and eventually gym shoes were developed leaving saddle shoes for dress wear.

The Jazz Age encouraged greater acceptance of black musicians and fans of jazz supported racial harmony by wearing two-tone footwear. During the Depression there was a distinct cross over to everyday wear and throughout the late thirties the physical culture craze encourage girls to wear lacing shoes. Throughout the war years, fans of swing continued to wear saddle shoes as a mark of fashion but brown & white saddles replaced black and white shoes when black leather dye became scarce due to war rationing. The shoes were also available with crepe soles (orange).

By the fifties the Ivy Leaguers wore Norwegian Loafers but adolescent teenagers continued to wear saddle shoes especially when the style was seen in pictures of teen idols such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Marilyn Monroe. The shoe was good for faster dancing which had become vogue after the War. Saddles were worn by men, women and children but the style was mainly popular in the US. Saddle shoes continued through the latter part of the 20th century to be an important part of school uniform in the US. However as the decades passed and saddle became passé. From the 70s onwards the fashion for saddles shoes dwindled and sales dropped off. Specialist companies were subsumed with corporate takeovers and the manufacturers discontinued production of saddle shoes. When warehouse caches of saddles shoes were discovered the contents were snapped up by entrepreneurs and now sell as retro collectables. Many older conventions including uniformity such as high school uniforms have been resurrected bringing the saddle back into vogue. For many years Willits Footwear was a leading maker of saddle shoes and supplier to High Schools in the US. Saddle shoes were available in many colours including kelly green, pink, burgundy, red and blue.

Interesting Sites
Welcome to Muff’s Enterprises, LLC.
Classic Saddle Shoes

Reviewed 4/01/2016

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