Saddle Shoes


Figure 1.--This 1949 ad for saddle shoes appeared in a 1949 Sears catalog. The shoes shown here have a black and brown saddle.

Saddle shoes are white shoes with a colored "saddle" across the middle of the shoe. Initially the saddle was black, but shoes with various colored saddles appeared. Saddle shoes were first marketed in 1906. I first recall seeing saddle shoes in the 1920s. I believe they were first worn by boys. I do not recall girls wearing them in the 1920s, but I could be wrong about that. Saddle shoes were considered to be a rather sporty shoe and were worn like loafers in the years before sneakers were fasionable. They were not worn on dressy occasions by boys, but might be worn for informal occasions by older boys with sport jackets. Saddle shoes were interesting in that they were worn by boys of all ages. Often older boys do not want to wear styles worn by younger boys, but saddle shoes appears to have been acceptable to all age groups.

Chronology

HBC has first observed saddle shoes in the 1920s, but they first appeared in the 1900s. The Spalding Company made the first saddle shoes in 1906. Their popularity, image, utility, and gender and age conventions have baried significantly over time. Spalding of course better known for baseballs and baseball bats was a manufacturer of sporting equipment and apparel. The saddle shoe was designed as an athletic shoe. They were not at first a shoe worn by little boys, but some younger boys are wearing them by the 1920s. The saddle shoe was adopted as part of a virtual uniform by girls in the late 1930s as the gitterbug craze hit the country, but were also widely worn by older boys and young men. Saddle shoes appear to have been particualrly popular in the 1940s and 50s. They were worn by boys through the 1960s. By the 1970s they had become a style primarily for little boys when they dressed up and for girls. They seem to be especially popular for cheer leading.

Types

There are two basic types of saddle shoes, blucher and balmoral styles. I nam not sure why these names were chosen. Both blucher and balmoral styles are made in more types of oxfords than just saddle shoes. A reader tells us, "Most of the saddle shoes you see on little boys are bluchers, while you see both types on girls." We do not yet have sufficent information to make any gender or age assessments concerning the two types, nor do we kknow how they varied chronologically.
Blucher: Blucher describes the style of shoe manufacture. Saddle shoes make it easier to describe, the black part of the saddle is made of two pieces that do not meet at the bottom of the laces. The toe and tongue are one continuous piece of leather. I'm unsure why the name was chosen.
Balmoral: The alternate style is bal, or Balmoral where the saddle in one piece of leather that is connected a the bottom of the laces, and the tongue is a separate piece. I'm unsure why a Scottish name was selected for this essentially American shoe style. As far as we kniow, saddle sjoes are not worn in Scotland.

Shoe Characteristics

Style

Saddle shoes are white shoes with a colored "saddle" across the middle of the shoe. Initially the saddle was black, but shoes with various colored saddles appeared. I first recall seeing saddle shoes in the 1920s. I believe they were first worn by boys. I do not recall girls wearing them in the 1920s, but I could be wrong about that. Saddle shoes were considered to be a rather sporty shoe and were worn like loafers in the years before sneakers were fasionable. They were not worn on dressy occasions by boys, but might be worn for informal occasiions by older boys with sport jackets. Saddle shoes were interesting in that they were worn by boys of all ages. Often older boys do not want to wear styles worn by younger boys, but saddle shoes appears to have been acceptable to all age groups.

Color

Wards and Sears catalogs from the early 1930s and 40s and into the 50s show children's saddle shoes in brown and white and black and white (figure 1). The Sears ad here shows both the brown and black saddles, in this case with white soles. Another example is the Sears 1950 catalog which shows brown and white saddles. I'm not sure how the colors have varied over time. When I wore saddle shoes in the 1950s and 60s it seems to be that they were mostly black and white, although I do remeber seeing brown and white ones. A HBC reader reports wearing blue ones in the 1950s. He remembers the blue and black ones, but not the brown ones. As a boy in the 1940s-50s, I don't remember seeing the blue ones. A reader recalls green and red, although they were not very common, "In New Jersey where I group up about the same time [1950s], the kids only wore brown and white. I only saw black and white later. I did, however, see a 6 year old girl wearing green and white blucher saddle shoes to school, which I thought at the time to be very interesting. I never saw either gender wearing red and white ones, except older cheerleaders, and these were the bal type saddles. I would say that there might have been regional differences involved. It would be interesting to study this (I'm a historical geographer by training). However, this would be difficult because the color ads I see are national in scope, whereas most of the photographs are still black and white, and we can't study regional color differences very easily."

Toes

The classic Spalding saddle shoe of the 1940s and 50s had a somewhat pointed toe. By the time one reader discovered them in the 1970s, the Spalding saddle had evolved into a rounder toe.

Soles

Some of the soles in the 1950s were made from a rubberized material. One manufacturer used Goodyear soles. There were both white and black soles. One HBC contributor reports that the girls wore white soles, but that the boys preferred the black soles. Other HBC readers have confirmed these conventions. There were also saddles with redish brown or pinkish soles. One reader describes this as coral tones.

Manufactuerers

HBC does not yet have extensive information on saddle shoe manufacturers. One manufacturer was Willites shoes. Another popular brand was Kerrybrookes. Thom McCan shoes were very popular too. Girls in the 1950s tended to wear Spalding , Willites or Tom McCanns to school. Other brands worn by boys included Pedwing or Dexter saddles or Thom McCanns.


Figure 2.--

Gender

Early saddle shoes appear to have been primarily a boys style. we see them advertized in the 1910s as a kind of sports shoe, especially for tennis and golf. This meant that they would at first have mostly been woen by sporty young men. They came to be worn by both for boys and girls. Girls also began wearing saddle shoes, but I am not sure just when this began, but they were commonly worn by girls by the 1940s. They were a style that both boys and girls could wear. Again when fashions cross over from boys to girls wear, often boys will stop wearing the style. This did not happen at first with saddle shoes as they were commonly worn by boys in the 1950s and 1960s. They were featured by Wards and Sears as children's shoes until the late 1950s when the shoes were identified only as girls, except for toddler boys.

Age

Today the saddle shoe is seen primarily as a girls' shoe or worn for small boys. This was not always the case. The saddle shoe was initially a sports shoe. I believe thay it was initially worn more by boys than girls, but it was worn by teenagers anf young adults. I do not recall the saddle shoe being worn in primary school, but rather more in highschools. Of course individual observatuins are limited. HBC has notedmailoorder catalohs made saddle shoes in younger sizes. Also we do note portraits of younger boys wearing saddle shoes. A HBC reader reports that there were agecand gender conventions associated with saddle shoes in the 1940s and 50s. This seems to have been the case through the early 1960s. The age and gender conventions seems to have begun to change by the 1970s when the current conventions appear to have developed. The age conventions, however, are complicated. While by the 1970s we see saddle shoes being worn as a kind of dressup shoe by younger boys, we do note the saddle shoe being worn by youths. This was mostly a kind of golf shoe, but we also notice regular shoes, often done in brown shades, but not the classic black and white style.


Figure 3.--Sanddle shoes in recent years have become acceptable dressy shoes for little boys. In an earlier generation this boy might have worn strap shoes. Notice that one of the girls also wears saddle shoes.

Clothes

The clothes worn with saddle shoes tended to vary over time and the age of the boys wearing them.

Pants

Highschool boys in the 1950s might wear saddleshoes to school with slacks and after school with jeans. Teenage boys would almost always wear saddle shoes with long pants. One contributor to HBC reports, "I don't ever recall guys in the 1950s wearing shorts except during the summer at the lake.. or swim suits."

Socks

Girls always wore sadle shoes either with kneesocks or those short socks called bobby socks. The guys wore crew socks with jeans or slacks. There were also argyle socks worn by a few, but they were not that popular.

Conventions

The conventions for wearing saddle shoes have varied over time. We are not yet sure about the early conventions for wearing saddle shoes. We have the impression that were a kind of sporty shoe for youth. We have also seen, however, boys wearing them in the 1920s. We have not note many images of younger boys wearing them, but the fact that we have noted some means that they were available in sizes for younger children and some boys did wear them. The images we have seen suggest that they were a kind of dressy shoe for informal occassions rather than a play shoe. Teenagers seem to have worn them as a casual shoe, but we have seen some teenagers wearing them withj suits. These conventions changed over time

Where Worn

Where saddle shoes were worn has varied over time and by the age of the children wearing them. They have been worn as both a casual and dress shoe. We have noted then being worn to school and both casual and formal occassions, but not commonly a a play shoe.

School

Teenagers in the 1950s and eraly 1960s, both boys and girls comminly wore saddle shoes to school. I believe it was less commion for younger children to wear them--especially boys. It was mpre common for girls to wear them, but they were also popular with the boys. A typical school scene can be seen at the Westview Elementary School in 1949.

Dance/parties

Again teenagers in the 1950s and eraly 1960s might wear saddles shoes to a dance or party.

Formal wear

Saddle shoes were at first a casual, sporty shoe for teenagers and youths. Eventually they began to be worn by little boys as a dress shoe for church or even more formal events like weddings. We are not sure just when this began. We note a Canadian boy wearing saddle shoes for his first Communion in 1954. We believe this formal convention was well established by the 1970s.

Countries

HBC believes that saddle shoes were almost exclusively an American shoe style. American boys for much of the 20th century wore saddle shoes, although conventions and age appropriatness varied over time. I have not noted boys in other countries wearing them. I am not even sure that they were extensivedly worn in Canada. We do note one Canadian boy wearing saddle shoes with a white First Communion suit in 1954.

Personal Experiences

We do not have many actual accounts of individuals wearing saddle shoes. Several HBC readers, however, recall wering saddle shoes a boys. Here are some memories submitted by various Americans who wore saddle shoes as boys.

Various

Here are a member of brief menories from various individuals. They are not detailed enough for an entire page, but provide some interesting information.

Reminsences--1950s

From my earliest memory and extending through the first 2 years of high school, I wore saddle oxford shoes. My first collection was at an extended family reunion in 1949, the summer I turned 5 years old. In preparation my mother took me to a department store and bought me the first pair of shoes that I remember a pair of black and white shoes with leather soles. I was so proud of them that I took them home and placed them beside my bed for at least two weeks. At the reunion I wore them for all the events that required us to be dressed up. I had a blue seersucker collarless coat with matching shorts, short white anklets and my saddle shoes.

Highschool--1950s

The saddle shoe walk was when my buddy's and I would watch the girls walk down the street in there new saddle shoes. The shoes, especially when new, were very hard and stiff to walk in and they would walk with short strides.

Highschool--1970s

The Spalding saddles were generally recognized as the best. They were better made and held up longer than most of the other brands. If you read the material that came with the shoes, Spalding claims to have made the first saddle shoes in 1906. By the time I discovered them, the Spalding saddle had evolved into a rounder toe than the classic pointed toe Spalding of the 40's and 50's.






HBc






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Created: July 5, 1998
Last updated: 5:08 AM 5/6/2013