Vintage Men’s Footwear at Andalusia

At first glance, the history of men’s shoes might not seem interesting. However, as I delved into the world of vintage fashion to research this topic, I discovered just how much one can learn about who a man was from his shoes. The style, material, wear, and even color can point to the job, income bracket, and leisure activities of the man. Before exploring the shoes from Andalusia’s collections, and what we can gather from them, it’s important to understand the context behind them.

After the Second World War, the economy began to boom in America. In addition to furniture, kitchen appliances, technology, and music, the fashion industry exploded. While you’re probably well aware of iconic 50’s women’s fashions (the skirts, swimsuits, and jewelry), you might be less aware of the revolution happening in men’s fashion. Styles once only available to the wealthy elite became commonplace for working-class men, and it is here that our story starts.[1]

In Andalusia’s collections, there are four pairs of shoes. While there is little information on their owners and origins, we can glean much from their appearance.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.885

This pair of sturdy boots look fit for working in, perfect for a dairy farm. They have less wear than other pairs in the collection, indicating either a lack of use, or diligent care. The saddle-style construction is indicative of mid-century fashion, as saddle shoes become iconic and commonplace for men and women in the 1950s.[2] The uniform color eschews the fashionable two-toned style, perhaps indicating that these shoes were chosen for comfort or utility over appearance.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.886

This well-worn pair is a classic example of the fashionable wingtip shoe. Like Flannery and her family, wingtips originated in Ireland as hunting shoes.[3] After migrating to America, wingtips (also sometimes called brogues) were made popular by the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Elvis Presley. This pair displays the characteristic perforations of wingtips, with a mute color palette and clear evidence of wear. These laced shoes were well-loved and taken care of in their day.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.887

Another well-worn and simple pair, these laced shoes don’t quite fit into midcentury style. Judging by their wear and construction, these shoes were likely for convenience over anything else. They still retain a small amount of shine, meaning they were likely cared for in their time.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.888

A classic and still-common men’s shoe, the loafer represents a need for ease and comfort while still maintaining a fashionable appearance. Originally popular in the 1940s, the penny loafer style brought this working man’s shoe into the postwar era.[4] As with the rest of the shoes in the collection, this pair is simply made and well worn.

Flannery herself understood the importance of a good pair of shoes. She remarked, “even a child with normal feet was in love with the world after he had got a new pair of shoes.”[5] Surely she understood the importance of taking care of such essential belongings, demonstrated by the shoe brush and shoe polish also found in Andalusia’s collections.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.860, 2018.1.966, 2018.1.964 (clockwise)

These products were crucial for any man who cared about his footwear, and a veritable culture sprang up around shoe-shining in the 1950s.[6] Boot-blackers and shoe-shiners populated street corners in cities, and men often had at-home kits for maintaining their appearance.

While shoe styles have evolved greatly since the twentieth century, we have much to learn from the well-loved shoes of the 1950s. Classic styles are still popular today, and though fewer men keep a tin of shoe polish in their coat pocket, we can still appreciate the effort and social value of vintage shoes.

[1] Jim, Tim Wahl, Marion Barnhill, Debbie Sessions, Bruce Wagner, VintageDancer, Mary, Debbie, Steven Cook, and William Lanier. “All About Mens 1950s Shoes Styles.” Vintage Dancer. Accessed May 13, 2020.

[2] Cecelia Burke, Bill, Maria Goicoechea, Angie, Catherine B Adams, Chas, Emily, et al. “Saddle Shoes History: 1920s to 1960s.” Vintage Dancer. Accessed May 13, 2020.

[3] Desiree Stimpert. “Shoe Glossary: Wingtip Shoes.” LiveAbout. LiveAbout, July 14, 2017.

[4] Jim, Tim Wahl, Marion Barnhill, Debbie Sessions, Bruce Wagner, VintageDancer, Mary, Debbie, Steven Cook, and William Lanier. “All About Mens 1950s Shoes Styles.” Vintage Dancer. Accessed May 13, 2020.

[5] Flannery OConnor, Everything That Rises Must Converge: With an Introd. by Hermione Lee (London: Faber and Faber, 1980)).

[6] “Shine Your Shoes!” Connecticut Historical Society. Connecticut Historical Society, September 15, 2015.

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