Saddle Shoes were created in the 1900s by the American firm AG Spalding, although their time of greatest success was the 50s. Originally, they were designed as men's sport shoes, but soon they became essential both for men and women, for young and not so young, athletes or non-athletes: Saddle Shoes became part of fashion history.
Saddle shoes are named after the piece of leather that is superimposed on the instep and that has the shape of a saddle. This piece contrasts in colour with the rest of the shoe, the toe box and the quarters, forming an easily identifiable combination. Saddle shoes are based on classic Oxford shoes, although sometimes they are also presented with a Derby last. Comfortable and colourful, the most successful combinations throughout history have been black and white or brown and white.
Today, they are an icon of vintage style, and one of the favourite shoes of swing dancers around the world, especially Collegiate Shag lovers.
Let us explore how saddle shoes evolved over the years.
Saddles were initially sport shoes designed for men. Golfers in particular liked their two-tone colour scheme and incorporated them into their uniforms beginning of 1910 and well into the 1920s and 1930s. The two-tone combination also began to be used in Oxfords with wingtip and loafers. And the white colour was replaced by an off-white that better disguises dirt.
Women were captivated by the simplicity of the Saddles' design and adopted them even more than men. They liked the contrast of black and white. Pure white soles were also a must, even though they needed frequent cleaning and bleaching.
The heels were kept very low to preserve ease of walking or running. Girls often wore them in gym class. Most clothing catalogues of those years included Saddle shoes for women and girls alike. A more feminine heel, such as the Cuban heel, was added to some women's Oxford shoes, fusing the more common walking shoe and the sporty pattern of the Saddle.
The 1930s were marked by the Great Depression. Materials were cheapened to keep Saddles affordable, using canvas instead of leather. Rough crepe rubber was the most widely used type of sole because it was durable, slip resistant, cushioned the foot well, and was less expensive to manufacture.
In the mid-1930s, the first shoes that did not have the colour combination 'brown and white' or 'black and white' appeared. Blue and white shoes became the new fashion. The lighter shades of brown also made them more feminine and more combinable with summer fabrics. The soles were generally of natural rubber colour, which also looked better with lighter colours. Only high-heeled Oxford shoes had leather soles instead of rubber. Saddles were still primarily summer shoes, especially when they were made with canvas.
At the end of the 1930s, the economic crisis subsided and factories returned to making leather shoes. Moving away from the colour scheme that women used, men's shoes now came in dark tones on dark tones. Tan on dark brown, black on black, blue on black and black on grey were some of the new options.
It was in the 1940s when Saddle shoes really entered popular culture. The men wore two-toned shoes with business attire and the women with formal dresses and tailored suits. They were no longer just a sporty look. However, it was the teenagers who adopted the Saddles as their signature shoes. After having used them as children, the teenagers found in the Saddles a more youthful style than that of most women's shoes of the time, such as wedges or peep toes.
With World War II underway in the early 1940s, the “make do and mend” mentality was fully applied to footwear. And the trend among teens was to make new Saddle shoes look old, purposely staining them until they looked worn.
Teenagers in the 1950s started the fashion of wearing Saddle shoes with socks. These were almost always black and white Saddle shoes with natural or black rubber soles. The ‘dirty shoes’ trend ended, and red rubber soles and spotless Saddle shoes were all the rage. The girls spent an hour every day cleaning and polishing their shoes.
In high school, all the girls, and now the boys, wore Saddle shoes. These teens were called "Bobby-soxers" because they always wore white socks with their saddles. Bobby socks were generally ankle-length, had a lace or a bow on top, and had to be folded correctly, in perfect symmetry with each other.
Housewives also loved Saddle shoes. Comfortable to wear at home, but too casual to be “appropriate,” they traded them for high heels before their husbands got home. It was a secret ritual that women performed on a daily basis, but unknown to their husbands.
As the 1950s progressed, so did the evolution of the Saddles. If in the 20s and 30s the Saddle instep was placed on Oxford-type shoes, in the 50s it was placed on all kinds of footwear: flats, loafers, high heels ... The Saddle instep was everywhere, and in all colours and materials. Saddle shoes became the iconic style of the 50s, everyone wore them!
In the mid-1950s, the Saddle Oxford "Bubble" became popular for a few years. They were a thinner version of the Saddle and often had a buckle at the back of the heel. The soles were thinner and the heels were low. They also received the name of "Ivy League" or "Ivy Style", due to their popularity among university students.
Girls, boys, and teens continued to wear the Saddles as their daily uniform. Many schools made the Saddles part of their dress code well into the 1990s. Black soles were replaced by white soles in the early 1960s, and the 'black on black' combination became the preferred school style.
But the 1960s would be the last decade in which adults were seen wearing Saddle shoes. Why the sudden change? The rebellion against old school values and styles had a lot to do with it. The mod generation embraced the two-colour combination, but not Saddle shoes. By now they were too old, they had too much history and they were too 'childish' for an adult generation.
2020: KID DYNAMITE ARE BORN
Saddle shoes have made a strong comeback fuelled by the growth of Swing and the taste for vintage fashion.
Captivated by their style and comfort, Madame Dynamite has created its own version of the Saddle Shoes, the new Kid Dynamite, combining the brand's most iconic colours: Honey, Ginger, Cherry, Mint, Navy Blue, ... and white.
100% leather shoes with a leather sole, which provide all the comfort of your favourite dance shoes and all the style of a universal footwear classic. Have a look at them!