The Brogue Shoe has changed quite considerably since it was first produced for farmers in Scotland and Ireland at the start of the 19th century, it was designed primarily for use outdoors and wearing in the countryside. It was pretty much a Farmer’s shoe. Brogues, when they were initially manufactured, were usually made in black leather, and were perforated in order to allow water from the boggy landscapes of Scotland and Ireland, to get out of the shoe, so, they could dry much more easily, and quicker.
During this period Brogues were never seen as smart shoes appropriate for the more upper-class business. Those upper classes when going to meetings or formal occasions, would not have thought of wearing such a shoe, as they were normally worn by the working classes. They were quite simply, just considered a working shoe.
In the 1920s the style grew increasingly elegant, with the Brogue element of the shoes becoming quite elaborate, and as a consequence, a new market for these shoes opened up. They were soon to be seen on the feet of women, usually on outward-bound pursuits, as the shoe became associated with sports and sporting life. Its highest point of development was reached in the 1930s when the world’s arbiter of fashion the Prince of Wales wore it as a bespoke golfing shoe made in suede with a grey lounge suit.
Thanks to two separate tones of the leather, these sportier shoes became known as Spectators or Co-respondent shoes in the UK. The reason for the UK term is in relation to English Law: “co-respondent in English practice, the alleged paramour of the spouse in a divorce action who is designated on the summons and served with the papers as well as the spouse.”
King Edward VIII’s relationship with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson, and their fondness for Spectator shoes, is no doubt the reason why they became known as Co-respondent shoes. The King's abdication and relationship with the divorcee was a real sensation across the globe, and it rocked the very fabric of English sensibility, duty and correctness at the time.
The two-tone leather brogue style was also favoured by the fashion-conscious during the jazz era. Later, screen greats such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly wore the highbred brogues in many of their famous dance routines. Another variation on the theme was the saddle shoe. Originally created for adults and children in 1910 the modified brogue was made from white buckskin with a black or brown leather instep (hence the saddle).
By the ’50s this style of shoe had been adopted by the newly liberated teenagers and was worn by both girls and boys. The former with bobby socks. The style became official when a young Elvis Presley appeared in the film ‘Jailhouse Rock’ wearing white buckskin saddle shoes. But, jumping off the saddle, and getting back to Brogues, there are many great shoemakers and brands. Famous manufacturers like Florsheim have continued to make brogues in various guises.
Florsheim’s “Imperial” line of the mid-century cannot be improved upon by any modern shoe at any price in my mind, it seems to be the perfect shoe. Even the ordinary Florshiems (non-Imperials) of the ’80s and earlier are an excellent single-soled shoe, similar in quality. But, it is the Imperials Full Brogues, that have a massive, armoured heel, a double-sole Budapester with a storm welt, (technically, a “split-reverse-welt”), and the Florsheim Imperial Plain Front “Wholecut” Derby (Blucher) built on the same indestructible frame that is truly the standard-setters of the whole shoe industry.
These are better made than any ready-made shoe today and many bespoke, and well-established brands - Including all the famous names, Lobb, Church, Crockett, Loake, Alden and so forth. These, in the best cases, may approach the Imperials, but never do they exceed them in terms of build or material quality. John Lobb ready-made is a great shoe for example, but somehow, do not achieve the same status and quality of Imperials.
Suggs, the Frontman of Madness swears by them, as do many individuals who have an interest in the true quality of such heritage brands. In fact in the UK, those that evolved out of the whole Mod and Skinhead scenes, and became Suedeheads, took to wearing Brogues, when they wanted to wear a more dressed up look. So it isn’t surprising Suggs likes them so much.
Both the Full Brogues and Plain Toe Derby’s, in Scotch grain Calfskin and Shell Cordovan are quite possibly more supportive and comfortable, than most shoes, which is undoubtedly a godsend for a large or heavy man, or for any gentleman who happens to be on his feet all day. Florsheims really do seem to be the brand that has achieved the benchmark that other shoes can only be compared to.
Getting back to the two-tone styles of shoes:
Before the days of the spectator, it was the style — for many years — for men to wear spats. Spats were worn over the cuff of the shoe to accent the colour of the shoe and match the suit, while also protecting the wearer's calves and ankles from dust and dirt kicked up while walking. Because spats were relatively inexpensive compared to shoes, they allowed one pair of shoes to be worn with a wide variety of colours and patterns. When spats went out of style, the spectator came into style, leading some to believe that the spectator's colour design was an attempt to duplicate the look of spats worn over a black shoe.
Another theory is that the black toe and heel was intended to hide any grass stains incurred from walking while maintaining the white Summer dress shoes that were fashionable at the time. Specifically, these grass stains would be expected to be incurred by a spectator (the man, not the shoe) at the races or on the golf course.
Whichever, the truth is about the reasons for the two-tone style of Spectators, the Spats idea, to me is the most plausible, the grass stain theory is just contrived enough to be a stroke of creativity that, I want to be true. It kind of adds to the romanticism of bygone times.