Think Great Gatsby, Al Capone and the Chicago mob – black and white two-tone spectator brogues were the go-to shoe for the partying classes of the Roaring Twenties. But while prohibition is ancient history, two-tone brogues have moved with the times. A jazzy shoe for every well-dressed man’s wardrobe, here’s the lowdown on spectator brogues and how to make them work for you.
What are spectator brogues?
English bootmaker, John Lobb, came up with the spectator shoe, intending it for use as an all-white cricket shoe. But given the tendency of the outfield to stain the pale leather, the British cobbler replaced some of the white panels with black.
The shoe caught on with lounge lizards and jazz-loving young things of the Roaring Twenties. Association with these free and easy social circles, and the subsequent divorce cases, earned the shoe a new nickname – the ‘co-respondent’. In reference to the legal name given to a third party in adultery cases. At the time, people thought the spectator or co-respondent shoe 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. But the British monarchy flourished, particularly Edward, whose frequent visits to the frontline trenches and publicised 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 too.
Here in the USA, the prohibition era of the 1920s and early ‘30s made it illegal for members of the public to consume alcohol, but this presented criminal gangs with an unprecedented opportunity to make money from the supply and sale of bootleg liquor. Gangsters like Al Capone became unimaginably wealthy – by the mid 1920s, he was making over $100 million a year.
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.
Spectators are flashy shoes – if you don’t want to be noticed, don’t wear them. For those of us with the cojones, a pair of two-tone shoes is a very smart choice, but you have to do it right.
New two-tone brogue color combos
Fall is the perfect time to step into spectators. Rather than the ostentatious colors of yesteryear, modern spectator brogues showcase a much more subtle contrast of textures – leather with suede, or matt with shine.
You want people to pick up on your sense of individuality and flair, not to be bludgeoned by your brash style sensibility. 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 pants, shirt or coat, you’ll look flashy.
When to wear spectator brogues
A day at the races is a great opportunity to play the devil-may-care, hot-tipping, high roller – and it’s just the right occasion for your two-tone brogues too. Bung a tweed long coat over the top of your ensemble and prepare to be the envy of your less-well-dressed peers.
Got a hot date? Treating the special person in your life to a night out? Spectator brogues are perfect for those times when you want to show a little plumage – just remember to keep the note subtle, or you’ll look like a mad parrot.
Weddings, 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.