Saddle Shoes: Chronology


Figure 1.--This is Josephine and William Clay Ford, the youngest children of Edsel and Elenor Ford. The photograph was taken about 1940. Note that both wear matching, but not identical, saddle shoes with white socks even though it was for a semi-formal family portrait.

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.

The 20th Century

The saddle shoe originated in America. The Spalding Company made the first saddle shoes in 1906 as a kind of athletic shoe before sneakers caught on as a major footwear style. It id difficult to think og a shoe or for that matter, any garment for which the conventions have varied more widely. It was introduced as a an athletic shoe, but within a few years, boys were wearing it as a dress up shoe, even for First Communion, perhaps the most formal dress up occassion for younger boys. As girls soon picked up on saddle shoes. Girls wore them more as an informal shoes when few girls wore sneakers. THey were best known as being worn with bobbysocks and the girls called bobby sockers. Girls also commonly wore saddle socks to school. In contrast to many other shoes/garmentsm boys continued wearing saddle shoes even afrwr they became popular for girls and little boys. Colors also changed. The first sddle shoes were blavk and white and we next see bron and white shoes. A wide range of colors apeared in the 1970s.

The 1900s

The saddle shoe originated in America. The Spalding Company made the first saddle shoes in 1906. 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. The company claimed that the extra material or saddle "worked as a girdle to hold the foot tight against the shoe during sprints and running" for sports in which active footwork were especially important such as tennis and squash. A reader writes, "They were first created by the Spalding Company as a form of men's "athletic" shoes. The dark area over the instep was called a "saddle strap" in that it anchored the foot when doing side to side motions like in tennis or squash." Oxford-type low cut shoes were still less common for boys in the 1900s than high-top boot-like shoes. I also do not know if there were any gender conventions associated with the early saddle shoes, but believe that they were primarily made for young men. We do not note them being worn in the 1900s so they do not appear to have been an immediate success.

The 1910s

HBC at this time has little information on saddle shoes worn in the 1910s. They do not appear very commonly in the photograohic record during the 1910s. We do not yet have many photographs which suggest that they were not yet very common. We do notice them being offered n the 1915 Sears catalog as men's 'tennis shoes'. We also note another catalog offering, Sears in 1915-16. Sears kept referring to them as 'tennis shoes' and I think adult sizes are indicated. Appearing in a mass market catalog like the Sears catalog does suggest that they were beginning to become popular. We note that by mid-decade that some adult golfers had begun to wear them. A HBC reader assessing Newark, New Jersey newspapers reports seeing a photograph of an adult golfer wearing saddle shoes in Newark Evening News (August 1919). I saw a picture of a man wearing them in a Newark, New Jersey newspaper picture playing golf during 1919. We suspect that the saddle shoe was more a sporty shoe for wll to do young men. (Tennis and golf were country club sports.) We do not yet notice boys wearing them. The Coral "tennis flat" sole was developed so as not to mar wooden basketball courts. It was designed for women to replace those ugly white, hightop tennis shoes. [Merle] The first child we notice wearing them is an unidentified girl about 8-9 years old, who interestungly about 1915 wears them a dress shoe.

The 1920s

HBC has first observed children wearing saddle shoes in the 1920s. I have not observed them in the photographic record, which is an indicator of popularity, until the early 1920s, That photograph shows a young boy wearing them, but I believe that older boys--including boys at college also wore then. We also notice a young Missouri girl wearing them as part of her otherwise all white band uniform in 1923. We note a younger American boy wearing saddle shoes with a sailor suit in 1924. We notice that saddle shoes were some times instead of white shoes as they were mostly white. The Missouri girl, however, looks to be wearing tan saddle shoes. A reader writes, "I remember seeing illustrations from the 1923 Sears catalog showing children wearing saddle shoes. This was the earliest I saw them on children (girls)." A reader writes, "The first time I saw women ads was during 1921 in the newspaper, and in 1923 there was a picture of a small girl wearing a pair in a Sears Roebuck catalog ad. They steadily increased in popularity during the 20s.

The 1930s

The saddle shoe was adopted as part of a virtual school uniform stye by girls in the late-1930s as the gitterbug craze hit the country. Girls through the mid-1950s would wear pleated skirts with bobby socks and saddle shoes. Pleated skirts were chosen because they flared out when dancing. Boys also wore saddles, but not nearly as commonly as the girls. A reader writes \that they were very popular for girls in the 1930s." We note younger boys earing with Eton suits, especially during the summrer. And we note some boys wearing them with white First Communion suit. We sspect that thrifty mothers saw them as a substiture for white shoes tht coud be worn for other occassions. We see far fewer boys wearung them to school than girls.

The 1940s

HBC knows that saddle shoes continued to be very popular with teenage girls during the the 1940s, espcially the early-40s before Amnerica entered the War. A reader writes, "I think the blucher type reached its peak with teenagers women in 1941, while children continued to wear them until the present." A good example is two older teens wearing them with shorts about 1940. http://histclo.com/style/foot/shoe/sad/gen/sad-geng.html The teeny-bopper style was to wear saddle shoes with bobby socks. We are less sure about the popularity with boys. We do note two teenagers, brothers and sisters, wearing saddleshoes in a photograph taken about 1940 (figure 1). This suggests that theyv were also being commonly worn by boys. Both wear them with white socks. Interestingly the entire family got dressed up for a family portrait, so at least in some quarters the saddle shoe was not entirekly seen as a sport shoe. The brother and sister look to be wearing identical saddle shoes. They look the same, however, on close examination the girl's shoes have destinctive heels while her brother's shoes have a much flatter heel. We note boys at a Catholic school wearing saddle shoes as part of their First Communion suits in the 1940s. We also note some of the older boys wearing them for graduation. We note the girls at an American elementary school wearing them in 1949. While we note saddle shioes vefore the War, or American involvment in the War (1940-41) and after the War (1946-49). We are not sure about during the WAr (1942945). A reader writes, "I believe there was some regulation that prohibited two tone saddle shoes from being made during Wprld War II because of the war. But after the war they were again very popular reaching a peak in the 1950s."

The 1950s

Teenagers and men wore saddle shoes in the 1950s. A reader writes, "Many young men wore them in the 1950s when I was at college." Saddle shoes were commonly featured in mail order catalogs duting the 1950s. A good example is the Sears 1950 catalog. We have noted a range of accounts from readers coincerning saddle shoies during the 1959s. One HBC reader does not remember boys wearing them in elementary school during the early 1950s, but does remember boys wearing them in high school during the late 1950s. Another reader tells me that he wore them in high school during the 1950s. Another HBC contributor remembers wearing saddles in the 1950s. His were blue and white. too. but They were blue and white with white soles and heels. Another reader recalls the brown and white saddles being mote common than the black and white ones. We note Kindergarten children in 955 wearing saddle shoes in 1955. We note boys at a Catholic school wearing white suits saddle shoes as part of their First Communion suits in the 1950s. We notice a Catholic family in 1958 using saddle shoes as a kind of smart casual dressup foot wear for their boys. A portrait of a boy and a girl, presumably his sister, shows First Ciomminion outfits about 1950. The unidentified boy wearing a short pants suit and saddle shoes. We also note some of the older boys wearing them for graduationWe note a Canadian boy wearing brown and white saddlle shoes with his white First Communion suit in 1954.

The 1960s

They were commonly worn by boys from that time through the 1960s. A reader tells me that he and friends wore black and white saddle shoes in his first year of college during the early 1960s. He rembers the ones worn by boys as being primarily black and white. This appears to be the latest that they were worn by older boys. Again they were casual shoes worn as the current generation wears sneakers. One HBC contributor believes that "... saddle shoes were worn during the early 1960s by both boys and girls until adolescence. But some boys may have worn them longer." HBC does not remember grade school boys wearing saddle shoes, but does remember them being worn in highschool during the 1960s. Interestingly in the 1960s they were acceptable for teenagers up to around 1968 or 1969. Then they seemed to die out completely very suddenly! Since the 1960s the popularity of saddle shoes has come and gone. They have a hard time competing with sneakers with boys. They are most popular with girls, but are also worn by boys. Their continuing popularity may be in part related to their use as a style of golf shoe for both men and women. We note boys at a Catholic school wearing saddle shoes as part of their First Communion suits in the 1960s.

The 1970s

Saddle shoes, at least the traditional black and white ones, by the 1970s they had become a style primarily for little boys when they dressed up. Boys who earlier might have worn strap shoes for formal occasiins, by the 1970s began wearing saddle shoes. They continued to be worn by girls of all ages. One HBC contributor remembers saddle shoes coming in and out and in again! In the early 70s several atheletes were wearing saddle shoes and it sort of became a fad for a couple of years. I suspect it was in reaction to the movie American Graffiti. These saddle shoes worn both by boys and girls had pinkish rubber soles. They were dark blue and white. Saddle shoes for boys began to appear in new color combinations, such as two shades of brown. Saddle shoes became especially popular for teenage cheerleaders, mostly girls, in the 1970s. Many cheerleaders wore the saddle shoes with the red soles. A reader writes, "Again, they were popular for men in the early 1970s being worn to work (at least where I worked in New Jersey)." I think the ones the men wore were the ones with brown saddles on an off white shoe.

The 1980s

Saddle shoes were no longer commonly worn by boys in the 1980s, except for very young boys wearing Eton suits or other dressy outfits. One reader reports never finding any black and white saddles for boys until he entered college during the 1980's. At this time there was a retro-fashion thing going on and saddle shoes came back briefly. Bass shoe produced black and white saddles for men and women, along with a multitude of other color combinations, all with the thicker red crepe sole.

The 1990s

The style appears to have made a minor comeback in the 1990s with some young adults wearing saddle shoes, usually brown and white. It is still unusual to see boys beyond 5 or 6 wearing saddle shoes as they mostly want to wear sneakers, but some older teenagers and young adults wear them. They continue to be popular for cheer leading.

The 21st Cemtury

The saddle shoe as persisted into the 21st cetury, but the popularity is afraction of that during the 1950s. A readerc writes, "The last few years they have appeared on the Internet for both sexes in increasing numbers. They are even selling blucher types for men and women and men's saddle shoes with white soles which was never the case previously. One can see many types of saddle shoes for sale on the Internet at Muffys Enterprises.com for adults, and Stride Rite and other companies still offer them for children. At this writing I did not see any for sale in local stores. Muffy's is maintaining a saddle shoe 'museum' and you could get a lot of information from Muffy and her husband if you contact them. There are regional differences in the United States." We bot some outlandish versions on the Internet such as bright red saddles on dalmation like spotted shoes.

Sources

Merle, J. E-mail message, July 18, 2008.






HBC








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Created: June 29, 2003
Last updated: 2:59 PM 10/24/2016