Back to black shoes

Samuel Windsor black leather men's shoes

A quality pair of black leather men’s shoes will take you anywhere
Image source: Samuel Windsor

As school children we learn that wearing smart black shoes to school is a step in the right direction.

Many of us rebel against this fundamental rule as teenagers, experimenting with all kinds of inappropriate and multicoloured excuses for footwear.

But eventually, we go back to black shoes when we realise why they’re so good:
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Why brogues have holes and other footwear facts

mens leather brogue shoes

Ghillie brogues were given holes for drainage
Source: Serge Cornu

Brogues, cowboy boots and even the humble welly, are often seen in showbiz magazines, wrapping the feet of fashionistas.

But these shoes are born from hardworking, practical and sometimes noble ancestry.

To find out why brogues have holes and other fascinating footwear facts, read on:

Ghillie brogues

A ghillie is a highland gentleman’s right hand man. In a modern context, highland estates employ ghillies to work as guides, for paying guests. They’ll help you to find the fish, or reload your gun while you wait for the next flight of grouse.

A ghillie can also refer to a gamekeeper. In times past, if you were a ‘ghillie-weetfit’, it was your job to carry the master over streams and bogs. Hence the need for footwear with holes through which the water could drain the ghillie – brogue.

Cowboy boots

The slow slouch of a stetson wearing, gun toting cowboy wouldn’t be the same without his boots. But the cowboy boot was designed for practicality – not just looks. A decent pair of boots could save your life.

The pointed toe and smooth sole, made for easy insertion into the stirrups and the high sides could protect your lower legs from those pesky rattlesnakes. But the real lifesaver was the loose fit and that long, cutaway heel.

Even the best cowpokes come a cropper every now and again. That long heel stops your foot getting caught in the stirrup. The fit meant that even if it did – the boot would fall off rather than trap you. Preventing the cowboy’s worst nightmare – being dragged behind a bolting steed.

Wellington boots

Today’s rubber wellies are a far cry from the original Wellington boot. The Duke of Wellington invented two versions of his namesake. The first was a cut down version of the Hessian boot – of German origin and the standard footwear of cavalry officers. For himself he asked his cobbler to make a calf length model – hard wearing for use in the field – comfortable enough to wear in the evening.

For his mounted troops, Wellington’s innovation was of greater consequence. He noticed that many of his cavalrymen were getting shot in the knee. He realised boots cut much higher could act as a guard, protecting the wearer’s vulnerable knees from bullets.

Feet and hands?

Most of us know what size shoe we take – but do you know how it’s calculated? Our feet are measured in hands – and barleycorns – typically archaic British measurements. A child’s size zero equates to one hand – or four inches. Thereafter, each increment is equal to a third of an inch – a measurement known as a ‘barley corn’.

Over the channel – the French revolution led to the decimalisation of everything including, for a time, the number of days in a week. But it didn’t work for feet. A full centimetre increment is too large, a half centimetre too small. The French went for a two thirds of a centimetre gap between shoe sizes – known as a Paris point.

Last but not least

Ever wondered why a shoe maker calls the mould he uses to make shoes a ‘last’? Far from being a load of cobblers, the word is derived from the Old English ‘laeste,’ which means track, footprint or trace.