Getting new shoes was a big event. They were the most expensive items we bought and a lot of care was taken by the assistant in getting the correct fit. Clarkes did halfsizes and they had different width fittings. Sometimes we would spend ages getting the right fit in the shop - and the assistants were always very patient too and had time for you. I, as ever, used to get frustrated spending so long in getting shoes as I wanted to just get out and play - but now I'm glad that my Mum did take so much care as some people still have foot trouble due to wearing ill fitting shoes as children. Even if our shoes hadn't worn out but our feet had grown so that they were pinching Mum always found the money for a new pair for us. Anyway - I could tell you a bit more about procedure in the shoeshop if you want - that and the barbers was always an event for me as Mum would get off work early and meet us from school to take us for new shoes or haircuts. It's funny what you remember once you start writing.When you're a kid little things seem so big at the time - and then they are just forgotten!
I always remember that buying new shoes was always such a big thing in our family.Relatively I think that shoes were a much more expensive item than they are today (I'm not talking about expensive trainers or such - just the everyday school shoes - although trainers are allowed in some schools now!). As I said - when it came to new shoes, and haircuts, my Mum would get off of work early and meet us from school. We were always too busy doing the normal shopping on a Saturday and the shops were much more crowded then anyway and my Mum liked to make sure that we had the right shoes for our feet. When it came to haircuts we all were due for one so we went through it
together. I could tell you stories about the barbers about which I have very vivid memories too if you like. But when it came to shoes there was normally only one of us who needed a new pair. But Mum met us from school and we all had to go down to the shop. That meant that it was an occaisioin anyway - Mum rarely met us from school when we were older and she normally took the opportuity to talk to other Mums or sometimes out teachers - which could be bad news!
Once Mum got us into the shoeshop whoever was to have new shoes was the centre of attention and the other two had to sit quietly on the row of seats. I don't know what I hated worse - having to sit there while my Mum chose the new shoes for one of my brothers or if it was me having the new shoes. Whatever it was I resented it as it was taking up time from play - and what is more Mum would take us straight home afterwards and there was little chance of getting out again.
Anyway Mum always stopped at the window first and looked over the shoes on display. Normally some new style of shoes were in there and whoever was to have the new shoes might ry to persaude her to buy them - but she soon saw through that they were just gimmicks (like the "slip-on" laceless shoes that came out in the late 60s or the ones with animal tracks on the soles ("Tuff"). We always had the same style of Clarke's round toes shoes and so did most boys at my school. There was no big shoe fashion at primary school when I was a boy and those who did have slip-ons or such got given a hard time - and then the school banned them.
Clarkes didn't just have length fittings - they had width fittings too. Once in the shop you sat down and the assistant would bring a special device where you put your foot on and then she would slide a measure down to get your foot length. Then a clamp would be adjusted to measure the width. It was very good - but you can imagine how frustrating it was for a boy who just wanted to get any old pair of shoes and then run off and play. Anyway - the assistant would then dissappear into the backroom and would seem to spend ages returing with the shoes. During this time I was always impatient - whether it was me or one of my brothers who was having new shoes. My Mum though was always in quite a bad mood - after all she was spending a lot of money - and it was best to sit quietly. If I was the one having new shoes it always felt odd sitting in the shop with my shoes off waiting for the assistant. At home we always had to take off our shoes before going into the house - but it seemed funny in a shop on the High Street. Eventually the assistant would return and help you into the shoes. She always used a "shoehorn" - which we were meant to use at home too but rarely did - and then she put in the laces - not how I ever laced my shoes but so every lace was parallel - and then you had to walk up and down in the shoes. They always felt uncomfortable anyway as they were new - but I always said that they felt alright. Mum would always press at the toes though to make sure that they weren't pinching and also at the sides. If she was not happy the assistant was sent off for a pair in a bigger size. That was a nightmare as it meant going through the whole process all over again!Even worse was when the next size up was not in stock and that meant that we would have to go back another day.
I know that this sounds very selfish - and it was! But at that age you never really understood what a big outlay it was for Mum to buy us new shoes. And to spend the time making sure that they were just right for our feet. I did always have an idea of the cost when Mum came to pay for them. She had a 5 pound note - something that you would normally never see in our normal shopping and it had a sort of solemn signicance. The 5 pound notes were blue and to see one was unusual. The shoes cost about 2 pounds - and that was a lot of money.
You carried your new shoes home in their box. The box wouldn't fit into the satchell - and once home Mum always had you take them out and polish them up even though they were new. For her polishing was as much about preservation as about looks. She always bought a couple of pairs of new laces too - but not in the shoeshop as their laces were more dear [expensivde]. We stopped off in the old womans' shop for laces and they normally gave her a card of shirt buttons and some garter elastic too while we were there. Tthey knew that she had just spent a lot of money and they
normally looked after families like us - in small ways but important to people like my Mum. And not just for the money side of it but feeling she had someone to fall back on if in need.
Once one of the new style of shoes - the slip-ons - tried to sell them by giving
away a new type of "liquid polish" with each pair bought. The polish came in a plastic tube with a soldier painted on it and the cap was like a black bearskin hat! What a come on for a kid. My Mum never fell for that but my little brother did even though the slip-on shoes didn't even come in his size. He caused such a fuss in the shop that even the manager had to come out and people were looking in from the street. I was really embarrassed but my Mum just let him blow out his temper and then got him into our normal type of shoe. When she paid the manager gave us a tube of the new polish anyway for nothing - but my Mum said that it was useless and even though my little brother wanted to play with the "soldier". She threw it away as playing with it meant him getting polish all over himself. He complained about his "soldier" for weeks whenever we passed the shoeshop when shopping on Saturday and Mum always ended up losing her temper with him - which at least let me off of the hook for a change!
What I will say though is that for a couple of weeks after we had new shoes Mum would check them out when she got home and any bad scuff mark would have to be explained. After a while though they just settled in to being "normal" shoes and as long as we kept them polished she didn't have a lot to say - until we needed a new pair of course!
Anyway - that's just an idea about buying new shoes. I have even more strong memories about buying sandals and also about an incident when my Mum did teach me about the value of looking after shoes when I was little but I can tell you that some other time if you'd like.
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main Bill's Footwear page]
[Return to the Main Bill's Buying Clothes pge]
[Return to the Main Bill page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Style Index]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossary] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[School uniform] [Short pants] [Scouts] [Cubs]
[Caps] [Socks] [Jeans] [Kneesocks] [Shoes] [School sandals]