Spectator shoes were the in-your-face black and white brogues Al Capone and the rest of the Chicago mob wore. But this isn’t prohibition, and it shouldn’t be about exhibitionism either – two tone brogues are about style perfectionism.
To help you add a touch of jazz to your autumn / winter wardrobe here’s the lowdown on spectator shoes and how to make them work for you.
Invented by English bootmaker, John Lobb, spectator shoes began life as a white cricket shoe. But given the propensity of the outfield to stain one’s leather, the Northampton cobbler replaced some of the white panels with black.
The shoe caught on with the high-rolling, jazz-loving young things of the roaring twenties, but outside opulent circles, people thought the shoes too flashy for polite society – until the then Prince of Wales took them mainstream.
During and after World War One, dynastic families across Europe crumbled. However the British monarchy flourished, particularly Edward, whose frequent visits to the front and support for the troops made him a ‘man of the people’. A playboy and womaniser he certainly was, but when Edward started wearing spectators, everyone wanted to wear them.
Life of crime
Over the pond, the prohibition era of the 1920s and early ‘30s made alcohol off limits, but all that achieved was to line the pockets of the crooks rather than the Federal Reserve. Gangsters like Al Capone became unimaginably wealthy – he was making over $100 million a year by the mid 20s.
With all that cash came a flamboyant lifestyle, which included big guns, big houses, big cars, and very flashy spectator brogues. As we all know, Al ended his days in jail, and the spectator brogue gradually found the back of the wardrobe. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Back in the limelight
Fast forward the best part of a hundred years and the spectator brogue is back – and in some ways, very little changed. Some chaps probably never stopped wearing spectators, but the sharp contrast of black and white or brown and cream is a little too ostentatious for the needs of the modern gent.
Understand this: spectators are flashy shoes – if you don’t want to be noticed, don’t wear them. For those of us with the cajones, a pair of two tone shoes is a very smart choice, but you have to do it right.
New colour combos
Autumn is the perfect time to step into spectators. Think autumnal colour and texture combinations like tan and navy, smooth leather and suede. Or go for rich reds and burgundy suede with matching grain leather. If you can find a pair, take the two tone theme through to the stack heel with alternating pale and dark leather layers.
You want people to pick up on your sense of individuality and flair, not to be bludgeoned by your caddish lack of style sensibility. Think dapper, not daft.
Say it with understatement
Complement your beautiful shoes with an outfit that’s subtle. The secret to your success as a wearer of spectator shoes is to make your feet the loudest part of your outfit. If there’s competition from your trousers, shirt or top coat, you’ll look like a spiv.
With this in mind, we suggest, a clothing palette which complements your shoes. Think plain chinos in stone or tobacco, white or pale-blue cotton shirt, and a navy pullover.
A day at the races is a great opportunity to play the devil-may-care, hot-tipping, high roller. Just the right occasion for your two-tone brogues, bung a tweed coat over the top of your ensemble and prepare to be the envy of your less-well-dressed peers.
Got a hot date? Or taking the lady in your life out for dinner or the theatre? Spectator brogues are perfect when you want to show a little plumage – just remember to keep the note subtle, or you’ll look like a mad parrot.
Wedding, christenings, graduations – all excellent opportunities for you to let your feet sparkle. Spectators are an excellent shoe for celebrating. They show you know how to let your hair down and have a little – well mannered – fun.
Are you an aficionado of the two-tone spectator brogue? We’d love to know how you wear yours. Just drop us a line via our Facebook page.