** childrens shoes styles

Children's Shoes: Styles

This page will survey several different styles of boys' shoes. We notice quite a varied range of different shoe styles over time. The popularity of many of these has shoes varied by country. Gender and age conventions have also varied. Styles have ranged from the buckle shoes just like the ones worn by their fathers in the 18th century to fancy patent leather strap shoes. We notice a variety of high-top shoes popular in the late-19th and early-20th century. The modern boy, however, prefers comfortable sneakers. The saddle shoe was an adult sport shoe which became popular for children abnd teenagers, both boys and girls. We also notice a range of specialty shoes such as the Sperry Topsiders. Loafers also became popular, but more for teenagers than children. Boys mosrly wore shoes, although there were differences among countries. Many boys in the 1990s have increasingly worn sandals.

Figure 1.--This boy is participating in a formal wedding during the 1950s. He wears a fancy blouse, Scottish kilt, white ankle socks, and buckle shoes.

Buckle Shoes

Men in the 19th century commonly wore buckle shoes. As there were no specialized children shoes, children who wore shoes wore the same styles. Little boys and girls wearing dresses would wear shoes similar to adult women. Once a boy was breeched, he would wear buckle shoes like the ones his father wore. This style continued into the early-19th century. They generally disappeared at about the same time that knee breeches passed from the fashion scene and men began wearing long pants. We continue to see see them as part of formal dress for men. Also by boys. This was especially true in Britain, less so in America. A good example is English boy Edwin Crawshay in 1864. We see buckle shoes being worn with Scottish dress, but wethink that was just a part of formal wear. Buckle shoes are occasionaly worn by modern boys when participating as ring bearers or ushers at formal weddings, more in Bitain than Amrica. Strap shoes or also worn, but many boys object to wearing what they consider to be girls' shoes. The buckle shoe, on the other hand, seems more acceptable. They are mostly worn with fancy outfits such as kilts, short pants, and knickers with white kneesocks.

Button Shoes

Boys in the second half of the 19th century worev high-top shoes. There were both lace-up and button styles. In America button-shoes were nearly universal. The were worn by adults abd children of bithb genders. In Europe we see more of a mix of button and lace-up shoes. We continue to see button shoes after the turn-of-the 20th cntury, but only in the 1900s decade. They looked much like boots, but were worn with a boy's best clothes, including kikts and Fauntleroy suits, at least in America. Earlier in the century a boy in his best 'party' clothes would have worn simple slippers or strap shoes. After the turn-of-the 20th century strap shoes appeared again. But in the late-19th century most boys and girls when they dresed up wore the rather cluncky looking high-top button shoes.

Dancing Pumps

This was a patent leather shoe worn for formal occassions such as a dance. They were also called court shoes. They were not a specifically by'shoe, but also worn my adult men, again for formal occassions. A good example is an American boy, Roy Champman Hodgson, in the 1890s.

High-top Shoes

High-top over the ankle shoes were commonly worn by boys and girls during the late 19th century and early 20th century. We do not yet have a detailed chronology, but we do not notice them in the early 0th century. HBC seems to note this style during the 1870s, but they may have appeared earlier. These shoes looked much like boots. Many of the boys wearing Fauntleroy suits or kiltsuits wore this style of footwear. There were two basic styles of high-top shoes, button and lace shoes. A good example are the shoes worn by Floyd Van Horne about 1915. High-top shoes generally passed out of style in the erly 20th century after World War I. This varied from country to country. We see younger German boys wearing them even after World War II. There were arange of different shoe styles with the high-top shoe.

Figure 2.--Loafers were popular with boys for casual wear in the 1950s-60s before sneakers became the pricipla footwear of the American boy. They could be worn to school, for casual wear, and even for many more formal occasions.


One of the most popular shoe styles for boys and teenagers are loafers before sneakers became dominate were loafers. Although not nearly as commonly worn by cildren, it was once a major shoe style for them. It was particularly popular among boys because of its moscasin-like comfort and the fact that there were no laves or buckles to be bothered with. Loafers are informal leather shoes that are slipped on rather than ties on with laces. They were popular at a time when sneakers were not as widely worn as today. Loafers are worn by both boys and girls. Often boys and girls wer different stles of lioafers, but some styles like penny loafers are worn by both. I'm not sure when loafers first appeared, but I believe about the 1940s. The Bass shoe company is most associated with the loafer and they probably introduced the classic penny loafer--the Bass Wejan. I know they were widely worn in the 1950s. The loafer is most associated with the preppy look of the 1960s. There were various styles for loafers including the barrel and penny style. The barrel style had little rolls or barrels to the side of the small shoe tounge. The penny style had a little slot to hold a coin, but usually a dime instead of a penny. The phones in the 1960s had a standard dime (10 cent) charge, so the coin could always be used to call home.

Mary Janes

This is an American term for strap shoes. Mary Jane was the girl who always tagged along with Buster Brown. HBC has limited information, but the term appears to have been a trade named coined by the Buster Brown Shoe Company.


Moscasins were a footwear style in North America that were developed by native Americans. The moccasin, however, is not just a NOrth American footwear style. It derives from the original shoe adopted in cold climates by races as different as North American Indians, Eskimos, Laplanders and Siberian tribesmen. The distinctive seam on the upper of the modern moccasin is all that remains, however, of the puckering string that was gathered and tied about the ankles to give all over protection to the foot. It is esentially a primitive shoe without a hard sole. Although not widely worn today, the mocasin has influenced modern footwear. Its infkuence can be seen today in loafers and Sperry "Top-siders". Generations of American boys have made their own mocasins in summer camp--adding a little bead work.

Figure 3.--Oxfords evolved from half-boots worn by students in Oxford. By the 1920s it was the principal style worn by boys. This 1949 Seard ad shows the various styles available.


The first low-cut shoe wee see boys wearing other than strap shoes is thr Oxford. The Oxford shoe has become the principal modern boys' shoe style. The style has quite a heritage. It is another of many modern styles originating in England and English schools. It originated, as the name suggests with Oxford University students. It was initially a kind of rugged half boot, suitable for rough student wear. I have seen some 19th century images with boys wearing Oxford-style shoes, but it does not appear to have become a very popular style until well into the 20th Century. We see boys wearng Oxfords in the 1900s. An early example is Ellis Gray Holden in 1908. Boys more commonly, however, wore high-top shoes. The Oxford by the 1920s had become the principal style worn by British and American boys. Here an age factor was involved. Younger boys continued to wear high-top shoes. This was especially common in Germany. We see German teenagers wearing oxfords in the 1930s, but high-top shoes were still common with younger boys. A good example is a German teenager in 1933. Even girls in the 1920s began wearing oxford for school, but not for formal occasions. They were commonly worn by boys with suits and also more casual situations like school and play. American school children from the 1920s to the 1960s primarily went to school in Oxford-type shoes. By the 1970s, however, boys had begun to wear sneakers rather than oxfords for casual wear. When mothers were able to get boys into leather shoes, it is commonly an Oxford-style shoe.


This is the British term for sneakers. Plimsols were commonly used through the 1950s, but is much less used today. They were often black and most commonly worn for gym. British boys did not commonly wear plimsols to school, ratyher for primary age children sandals were more common. Secondary-age children wore leather lace-up shoes.


See "Slippers".


The sandal has historically been, and still is, the most popular form of footwear in warmer climates. The sandal has varied from the primitive form worn thousands of years before Christ, to beautifully finished versions with many straps and intricate decoration. British boys, and to a lesser extent European boys. commonly wore sandals to school and for play. They were commonly called sand shoes. These were the closed toe style of leather shoe with a "T" strap. British and European boys until the 1970s did not commonly wear canvas shoes (sneakers/trainers), like American boys wore. After the 1950s they became increasingly rare on the Continent except for very young boys. British boys continued to wear them, but the boys began to prefer sneakers. In addition new styles appeared. Girls and younger boys continued to wear the style with a narrow strap, sometimes in black or blue. A few boys wore the double strap style. More popular with older boys was a style with a much wider center strap, giving the sandal more of the apearance of a shoe. The sandals for boys were usually brown.

Figure 4.--Warren Harding and his wife are pictured here with "Washington Post" publisher Ned McLean, his wife and son Edward. The photograph was taken about 1920, perhaps before Harding became president. Note Edwards's sailor suit worn with saddle shoes.

Saddle Shoes

Saddle shoes appeared in the early 20th century, but HBC has not noted them being worn until the early 1920s. A saddle shoe is a oxford style shoe with a contrating colored saddle over the middle. Most were white shoes with black saddles. They were not only worn by younger boys, but was a sporty style for highschool and college boys. The colors have varried somewhat over time. I believe this was primarily an American shoe style rarely worn by British and European boys. The popularity of the style declined in the 1930s, but is revived occasionally such as in the 1950s and early 1960s. The traditional black and white saddle is still worn, but now mostly by younger boys or girls. Older boys wear saddles, but with different color combinations such as two shades of brown.

School Sandals

The sandals that British boys began wearing in the 1920s became accepted school wear. Many families could not afford several different pairs of shoes for their children. Sandals were a style that were acceptable school wear and could also be worn casually after school for play. Many schools made them part of the every day uniform, although usually lace up shoes were required for dress up occasions. Sandals became less common for casual wear during the 1960s. Some mothers continued, however, to purcase sandals for school wear. Many private schools required them. Closed toe sandals became so associated with school wear that they are commonly known as school sandals. Styles gradually changed with the center "T" strap becoming larger giving the sandal more of the appearance of a shoe. Many British schoos still do not permit children to wear sneakers and thus school sandals are still worn.


Little boys in the early 19th Century commonly wore black slippers or pumps, with and without straps, with white socks and stockings. This style of shoe became less common after mid-century when boys more commonly wore boot-like shoes. The slipper or pump appeared again at the turn of the century for formal wear. A good example is a French boy, Maurice Terrillon in 1894. It also became an adult style for formal occasons when dancing would occur. These dancing pumps were always black and had a bow at the front of the shoe.


Given the importance of sneakers or tennis shoes (trainers to our British friends), it is hard to imagine how recently they were developed. Sneakers were developed in America and were not widely accepted in Europe until very recently (the 1970s). The first rubber soled shoe with canvas uppers appeared in 1908. They were developed fpr playing tennis, thus the common American name--tennis shoes. At about the same time, Converse introduced its famed high-top basket ball shoes. America children of all social classes by the late 1940s dressed almost alike, in jeans and (usually) white "T"-shirts. There were no "T"-shirts with logos on them that I can recall. One observer reports that when he moved from a working class neighborhood to a lower middle class neighborhood in 1948, he was struck by the one obvious difference: poor boys wore sneakers while lower middle class boys wore shoes. The shoes were impractical but they wore them, even when playing baseball!. At least in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1949, I moved to an upper middle class neighborhood. Dress was similar to the working class and lower middle class neighborhoods except that the boys wore mocasins instead of either sneakers or shoes. I know that the movies show 1949 boys all wearing sneakers, but in my experience that wasn't the case. Another American observer reports that middle class boys in the early 1950s wore leather shoes to school and then changes into canvas shoes (Keds) for play after school. The social difference gradually narrowed and the shoes became increasingly popular. Despite the growing popularity, the sneaker had changed little in 40 years. It was a basic sole of vulcanized rubber and a canvas upper. American sports began to change in the 1960s. Atheletes began commanding enormous salaries. Sports began to be big business. Specialized shoes were developed for many different sports and passtimes. The use of these shoes in sports and endorsements by prominent atheletes resulted in rapidly expanding sales as well as sharply higher prices. Sneakers once inexpensive shoes for working-class boys became the height of fashion. Some prices passed the $100 mark.

Sperry Top-siders

The Sperry Top-sider is mocasin-type shoe developed for wearing on recreational boats. It is related to the mosccosin, but with a rubber sole. It has a flexible sole designed not to harm or mar boat decks.

Figure 5.--Strap shoes were commonly worn in the early 19th Century, often with white socks. Boot-like shoes became more popular in the late-19th Century and boys wore white stockings less commonly. This Maine boy wears strap shoes in a photograph probably taken in the 1870s. Note the high strap. Note the narrow-brimmed sailor hat.

Strap Shoes

Strap shoes appeared in the mid-19th century. They were at first mostly worn by girls and younger boys, although on the continent--especially France, older boys also wore them. They became more common after the turn of the century, but primarily for dress occasions and always black. After World War I different colors appeared which could be worn for more informal occasions and for play. Boys wearing strap shoes in the late 19th century, often wore them with dark stockings. After the turn of the century white stockings and socks became more common.

Suede Shoes

Suede shoes appeared in the 1950s. Elvis made blue suede shoes famous with his song. Boys never wore blue suede ones, but various colors of brown suede shoes were commonly worn by American boys.

T-strap Shoes

The T-strap shoe is basically a type of strap shoe. The only difference is the added center stap that is joined to the cross bar of the standard strap shoe. We first commonly note them in the early-20th century. It is generally a style associated with girls, especially in the United States. There are, however, differences in the conventions associated with the shoe over time and from country to country. They are generally done in black and to a lesser extent white. Other colors exist, but are less common. The more formal types are done in patent leather. There were varisatiins in the shape, widtgh and plscement of the straps, and the extent iof open area. There were other variations such as designs cut in the toe area of the shoe. Discussing this shoe style is complicated because play shoes or sandals are also done in this style. The difference is commonly in ther material used and the sole type. T-strap or school sandals were very commonly worn by boys, especially in Britain, but we see boys wearing them in many other countries, mostly European countries.

White Bucks

Another popular 1950s shoe for boys were white bucks. They did not last long, presumably because keeping white bucks looking smar was a never-ending task.

Wooden Shoes

Wooden shoes are generally assocaiated in the popular mind with the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike. Actually, wooden shoes were widely worn in Europe. They were not popular, of course, because they were so uncomfortable. Often they were the only shoes that poor peoplr could afford. Often working people bought wooden shoes. They would have been better than going barefoot in the winter.

Other Styles

HBC will collect information on other shoe styles here until sufficent information exists to create a separate page.


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Created: 3:57 AM 9/15/2007
Last updated: 4:41 AM 1/29/2015