The History of Mens Shoes

The History of Mens Shoes

We often think of men’s shoes as straightforward and simple, but you’d be surprised at how much has changed, even over the past 100 years. We take a look at some of the key men’s footwear trends that have shaped men’s shoes of today, assessing what influenced the main styles and trends of each era.

1940s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1940’s

The war, unsurprisingly, had a massive effect on the way shoes were produced thus affecting their styles and the materials they were made from.

Leather was in short supply and on ration, so buying a pair of men’s leather shoes could potentially use a family's ration stamps for a month. Fabric shoes on the other hand were not rationed, and although they didn’t last as long, they were the popular and necessary choice.

Even when the war ended, leather supply was short, so any shoes made from leather had to last a long time and be able to withstand daily wear and tear for years. Oxfords often got re-soled with rubber soles that were cheaper and easier for a cobbler to repair.

When leather started being more and more widely available, Oxfords were the most popular choice for fashion purposes, they often had a chunky heel, wide soles and thick stitching around the upper of the shoe. They usually had a fairly wide toe, which suited the wide legged suits of the period.

The colour palette for men’s shoes in this decade was typically muted and browns and black. As we move into the 50’s men’s shoes start getting more and more extravagant.

1950s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1950’s

Recent years have seen 50’s fashion and style become increasingly mainstream as a resurgence of 1950s replicas and influences are seen on the high street. This is true for homewares, womenswear and menswear.

Fashion became more of something to enjoy now the austerity of the war had ended. There are several styles of note in this decade, many of which you will probably recognise as styles that you enjoy wearing today.


Chelsea boots

They actually hold their roots in Victorian times. In 1851 J.Sparkes-Hall designed a boot with an elastic panel. There are a few disputes over who invented ‘elastic’, yet in Sparkes-Hall’s patent he claimed that ‘Queen Victoria walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attached to the invention”

The boots were the first of their kind that utilized the invention of vulcanised rubber – or elastic. They were revolutionary as they allowed the wearer to slip boots on and off easily.

During the 1950’s, a bohemian set of young artists, musicians and socialites began frequenting Kings Road. This youth culture held a lot of media interest because of their trendsetting ways and the boots soon became known as men's Chelsea Boots.

The Beatles frequently wore them, and with the global influence soon turned the boots into a trend and fashion staple that is still popular today.


Brothel Creepers

There are several theories on why this men’s shoe holds the name it does.

It is said that the thick, crepe soles are inspired by the boots worn by Army soldiers. Their boots had thick soles to accommodate for the desert terrain in Africa, where they were posted during WW2. It is suggested that on their return that they frequented Kings Cross and Soho that were red light districts of London and this is how they got their name.

However, several influential historians have suggested that the named ‘Creepers’ are due to the crepe that the sole is made from. The shoes were brought into the forefront of 50’s fashion by the Teddy Boys who wore them with drainpipe jeans, gravity defying quiffs and flamboyant jackets. The creeper shoes remained popular throughout the 60’s and 70’s, and revived by Malcom McLaren and the emergence of Punk. Winklepickers

In Britain, a popular seaside snack are winkles, which are picked off rocks with a pin. The sharply pointed toe is similar to the tool used to pick the winkles, hence the unusual and slightly bizarre name for these shoes. Usually worn in boot form, the style became synonymous with rock and roll style.


Two Toned Brogues

These shoes became popular with swing dancers, entertainers and jazz/soul musicians. Two tone men's brogues often were in brown and white but as fashion became more and more progressive, a more varied colour palette was used in this style.

1960s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1960’s

The sixties were an exciting time for fashion all round and many influences from the trend set in this era can still be seen in the clothes we wear today.

Conservative men still wore brogues and Oxfords although styles became slightly less formal and a wider array of colours could be bought. The real defining trends of the era were seen, again, in youth and popular culture.

The defining style of the era for men was the introduction of moccasins and more and more men starting to go barefoot. The era was free-spirited and carefree, anything went and trends reflected this; The Beatles were wearing cowboy boots, the hippies were wearing body paint and no shoes, the rockers snakeskin boots. People were experimenting with fashion more and more and younger generations were becoming far more liberated in what they could wear and how they expressed themselves. There were more sub-cultures than ever before and each one had a certain that reflected their lifestyles and attitudes.

1970s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1970’s

The flamboyance and flair of men’s footwear is instantly recognisable of the 70’s. Arguably the most distinctive trends of the 70’s are Disco and Punk. The influence of music, celebrity and youth culture became starting points for fashion trends in a way that the fashion industry hadn’t seen before. Icons such as Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie wore platform boots that we often associate with the 70’s, the shoes featured a thick sole at the front a high heel at the front.

1980s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1980’s

The 80’s set the scene for a lot of trends during the 90’s, and the similarities between the two decades in terms of style are obvious.

Men started favouring casual and comfortable shoes and the popularity of sports shoes skyrocketed.

The heavy metal of the 80’s and the chunky, rocker style of footwear inspired the grunge scene in the 90’, and the hip hop scene carried through into the 90’s.

1990s

Men’s Shoes Of The 1990’s

There are two distinctive trends that defined the 90’s – rave wear and grunge.

Following on from the heavy metal fashions from the late 80s, and the phenomenal influence of style from bands like Nirvana, grunge became, and still is a popular style that had a fairly specific set of footwear trends. Dr Martens and other chunky soled boots, usually accessorised with studs or chains were popular with Grunge youth culture.

Sporty footwear became one of the most recognisable trends of the 90’s, men's trainers weren’t just reserved for the gym, and they became a real fashion staple. The trend came out of the rise of hip-hop music and culture. This led nicely to the skateboarding footwear trend, the two can be seen to draw influence from each other.

Towards the late 90’s, skating and skate shoes had become more mainstream, and footwear tended to be wide trainers accessorised with colourful laces, the trainers were unlike sports shoes of the past and although designed specifically for skateboarding they were worn as casual daywear by teens and men.

Modern Men’s Footwear

They say that every fashion is just a repeat of previous decades and influences from every era can be seen in men’s footwear trends today.

Where social status, materials that were available and class were once defining features of the trends and styles that were worn, the footwear styles that men have available to them now is limitless. Men from whatever walk of life can pick and choose what they want to wear and how they want to wear it. We draw influences from all types of abstract and subjective sources for the inspiration behind our styles, trends and where practicality was once at the forefront of the choices you made on what to wear, this is not such an issue anymore.

The 80’s saw the invention of technology that allowed us to create trainers and sportswear, and with advances in manufacturing and technology, who knows what the future holds for men’s footwear!