Ivy League footwear styling

The Redwood Blog
Published:  24 November, 2015
Mike Redwood

Leather consumption in footwear is under pressure right now. It might be called “de-skilling” as shoe factories and brands decide it is easier to mechanise the process of footwear manufacture using textiles and plastics which can be cut in multiple layers than to spend time training staff to search for and work round defects in a hide or skin.

This does not mean that leather footwear is finished just that the role of leather is getting more precisely defined into the spots where its value is most apparent; and of course it remains the task of the tanner to research where that value arises and how to enhance it if further loss of market share in the footwear sector is not to be seen.

So it was an unexpected surprise to find an exhibition at the University of Northampton in the UK that is all about U.S. Ivy League footwear of the 1950s and the 1960s. It is a show where you will see original U.S. made Bass Weejuns along with Florsheim loafers and Bostonian brogues. In an interview in Jocks and Nerds, which in part inspired the idea of the exhibition, the curators, Tim Walker and Tom Shaw, noted that the “1950s and 1960s America projected a more open society to Britain, which appealed to an expectant post-war generation and the pre-mod modernists embraced this. We, similarly, have gone through a period where the demographics of affluence in the UK have broadened enormously. There is a parallel: people for whom high-grade welted footwear was not necessarily commonplace in their upbringing are (today) seeking authenticity and provenance in the things they buy.”

The concept behind the exhibition is to show how the U.S. made shoes of the period crossed the Atlantic and were copied in Northampton with examples of both being shown. Often the designs came not from the Ivy League Universities themselves but via movies and popular culture of the time. Steve McQueen wearing the Chukka Suede boot in Bullit; or Paul Newman and Anthony Perkins also putting the style of the time into prominence via Hollywood. The style fitted all ages and also has a timeless quality even today, not least that for many dressing down for work involves jeans paired with smart footwear. The penny loafer is still very much alive. Of course the major U.S. tanneries that made the leather and mainland show factories that produced the shoes no longer exist, at least inside the USA, but the Northampton shoe factories are still with us, dynamic and growing.

Those who visited tanneries in the U.S. in the 1970s will remember the senior management dress code always involved a heavily soled pair of full-welted Florsheim shoes and perhaps we need tanners to think again about the footwear they wear at work. One good aspect about leather fitting in with footwear where it is seen as offering good “value” is that mostly that means a shoe that can be repaired, and quite often one with a leather sole. That is the future the leather footwear industry wants.

 Listen to the podcast here: Ivy League footwear styling

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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