These amazing shoes actually don’t fit me so in the interests of freeing up wardrobe space these Deadstock 1960s Bass Weejuns are for sale. Email your bids here: Worldwide shipping at cost plus insurance...
Hot on the heels (so to speak) of my last lucky deadstock find, the Ivy League donegal tweed suit I posted the other day (and currently on eBay) is this extraordinary pair of 1960s Bass Weejuns N734 Oxblood.
They are in their original box which helps to date them, but also they have completely leather heels, predating the slippery plastic plug of the 70s and early 80s models.
Also this model, the classic N734 originally had the double leather sole – slightly heavier than later models. This can be seen in the 1958 catalogue (and the logo of The Weejun is that same catalogue illustration). (thanks to Trolperft for the scan)
The shoes are a 10C. The length is fine on me, but they are very narrow, the vamp being visibly much narrower than my early 80s deadstock D fitting and E fitting Weejuns. It’s surprising in fact how much one fitting width can differ. It they’d been a B fitting or narrower I wouldn’t have bought them but I thought they were worth a punt just because I’ve never seen a pair as old me in the flesh let alone a 100% unmarked new pair.
I’m not sure whether I’ll attempt to break them in as being moccasins they will stretch a lot if needed or maintain them as they are like a museum piece or perhaps even sell them on. They should be in a Japanese collectors store or at the HQ of GH Bass.
One thing is for sure, those detractors of the quality of Bass Weejuns may well be basing their judgements on the current crop of offshore rubbish. Fair enough. Like many a once great American traditional clothing company the moves made in the 80s and 90s towards downmarket exploitation of brands in outlets and ‘factory stores’ are very hard , if not impossible, to recover from.
The difference in quality here is major. These original shoes are ‘waisted’, as in the sole of each foot swings gracefully and is cut away before the heel. Current versions are almost identical straight left/right blanks by comparison. The leather (which was always a corrected hide grain) is much thicker and better quality out of the box. No plastic hi-shine finish here. It’s like one pair was made by craftsmen and the other was made by computer trying to copy a 2D image. Don’t get me wrong, unlike many an ‘offshore basher’ I believe firmly that it’s not the fault of foreign workers but of Anglo/European owners and brand managers.
The workers themselves in many countries still posses the skills that ‘old world’ craftsmen have long since lost, but they can only work with the materials, models, lasts, and more importantly, price points that their overlords impose.
The cost of Made in USA Weejuns recently appearing on the market at around $250-300 is entirely inline with the inflationary cost of these shoes from 30 years ago. In the UK a standard 3 bed house costs £200,000 in 2011 compared to around £60,000 in the mid 80s. However, consumers are still expecting to pay £85 for a pair of Bass Weejuns that cost £85 more than 20 years ago. It’s certainly a vicious circle.
That aside there is no real reason why if the extremely high cost of manual labour is taken overseas that the quality of the goods cannot be maintained. John Simons recently bemoaned the fact that current Weejuns will be trashed after 6 months of wear (if they’re your main shoes) compared to the two or three years of hardwearing life they used to show.
Anyway, back to the pair in question. The box itself is also a work of art. In fact it was this box in the photo that gave them away as being very old indeed (and attracted the eye of at least one Japanese bidder who was asking questions of the seller). The box is stamped Arlen Box Company Kennebunk Maine. A quick search of Google shows the company may still exist and also brings up a criminal trial in the late 60s for book-making somehow involving a Mr Goldman at the company. Interesting what you can find these days.
It also made be go back and search out a fantastic newspaper I found online from 1951 where some 20 odd pages are devoted to the GH Bass 75th anniversary.
Here there are a multitude of the company’s suppliers, from sole and heel components to tanneries like Red Wing and local stores, with testiomonial ads. The pages are also stuffed full of information on the company, it’s history and workers.
What’s very interesting to note is that the ‘real’ history of the Bass Weejun differs somewhat from the current official PVH version. A kind of airbrush seems to have been applied to the real story which involved Esquire magazine picking up the original weejun loafer as a trend and asking GH Bass to make them for the magazine! There’s no reason to doubt this is the truth as it forms part of this official 75th anniversary tribute edition of the Lewiston Daily Sun.
It also confirms that along with the button down collar, the desert boot, the playboy, khakis and many other items, the penny loafer as we know it today was to be found in London before the USA! Take That, Ivy!
Here’s a complete transcript of the article:
Story Began 15 Years Ago
“Always style conscious and ready to bring before its thousands of readers the latest in masculine fashions, Esquire reported in one of its issues a bit over 15 years ago that a new type of footgear had been seen at European watering spots. It followed this up with a full page in colors of two men wearing what should be worn on important occasions at Winter resorts. One had on the now familiar loafer which Esquire called Weejuns. The magazine was said to have coined the name from a combination of Norwegian and Indian. Esquire made other references to Weejuns in subsequent issues and in this manner created a demand for the footwear. Adaptations were seen at Palm Beach and other swank spots in the South in the 1935/36 season.
Weejuns were originally made and worn by Norwegian peasants. Well-travelled Europeans saw in them a practical and sport looking shoe to be worn on many occasions.
Rogers Peet Company exclusive New York City retailer worked with Esquire in details for production in America.
Wilton Concern Approached
Known widely throughout the 20th Century for its moccasins and other fine boots, Bass officials were approached by representatives of Esquire and Rogers Peet and asked if they could make Weejuns.
“I’ll admit I was skeptical,” John R Bass, treasurer of the Wilton company, says. “I didn’t think this type would go over for it looked like a house slipper to be worn outdoors. But, we agreed to work on it. We met the Esquire people in Portland and discussed the project.
“We were given a figure at which it was thought we should produce these shoes. We could not do it at that price.”
Given Trade Name
” We reported this back to the Esquire people and were told by the president of the publishing concern to go ahead and make them anyway at the best price possible. The Esquire president said the Bass company could have the rights to the trade name, Weejuns. Subsequently, we made sure our rights to this name were protected. Only the Bass company has ever made Weejuns.”
The Bass company experienced some difficulty in obtaining the right types of leather for the sole and uppers. Finally, a supplier was contacted and he assured the Wilton manufacturers he could give them what was needed. As it turned out, this leather supplier did all right for himself for there was a great demand for his product once Weejuns hit the market with a tremendous impact.
On May 27, 1936, Rogers Peet advertised Weejuns. Their advertisement in the NEw York Herald Tribune was as follows:
“First seen at Palm Beach! First at Rogers Peet! First shipment a sell-out!”
Then appeared a picture of the Weejun and three small pictures of men wearing them in Florida during the Winter.
“Weejuns,” the advertisement stated, were ‘made by G.H. Bass makers of ‘Sportocasins.'”
It added: “Originally made and worn by Norwegian peasants-and now worn as sports shoes by some of the best dressed men in America. They’re so casual, smart- and fit so well.
“Rogers Peet has had them copied authentically down to such details as natural colored cowhide, cup-of-leather moccasin construction and unique stitched peasant-shoe vamp. Quality construction. You’ll want them for wear at the club, at the beach, for farm, garden and around the house. $6.50”
But that was in 1936 during the tail end of the depression and money was not plentiful. Six dollars and fifty cents would be considered quite low for such a Bass bargain if Weejuns could be obtained today at that figure. In many places, Weejuns sell in 1951 for about $14.
Naturally, women had to have these comfortable casuals too, after men went for them in droves.
Story in Esquire
Esquire reported the Weejuns story in full. It referred to Weejuns as the novelty shoe of the 1936 season as follows:
“High style usually spotlights one new footwear novelty a season. Last season it was the Mexican huaraches, plaited leather sandals which have since become widely popular. Here is advance notice of a new style – the Norwegian moccasin – which bids fair to follow the same course in as short a time.
“This moccasin was first noted on this side of the water during the Winter resort season at Palm Beach. Its importance was immediately attested by the importance of the feet it covered – those of prominent society people, wealthy men, sportsmen with reputation for good dress.
First seen in London
Investigation proved that all the models seen at Palm Beach came from two shops in London, retailers of the product of Norwegian craftsmen. Immediately, alert American bootmakers set to work to reproduce the model, to the last bit of tooling across the tip, and this season finds these American-made Norwegian-type moccasins available to those who like to keep to the fore of the swiftly moving style parade.
“The authentic moccasin may be seen in the accompanying photograph. The leather is sturdy, yet soft and comfortable. Across the instep a strap is stitched on. There is a fine line of tooling across the toe. There are no thongs as there are in the American Indian moccasin.
“The shoe provides for slipper-like comfort for end-of-the-day wear, yet it may be worn about the house without fear of guests raising their eyebrows for it is not a slipper. It cannot slip off at the heel because of a trick of construction that holds the back of the shoe tightly against the tendon Achilles while you are walking yet permits it to relax while at rest.
“The increasing popularity of the Winter sports is having its effect on styles of other seasons. For instance, among the footwear styles for Fall there are to be found shoes that are adaptations of the lines of the ski boot ith rather square toe and hig walled sides, yet are smart and trim and good-looking for regular town wear. Then there are those that follow the ski boot’s lines more closely and are in good standing as sports shoes.”
Thus ended this particular Esquire article but others followed and did much to increase the popularity of the Weejuns.
As the Weejuns story continued, advertising in connection with this shoe was tied in with that for the famous Bass ski boots. Skiers were advised: “Here’s the evening treat for skiing feet. Weejuns. After your feet have stood for a day outdoors, glide them into the commodious comfort of Weejuns and coast around the lodge in great style. Your local dealer will gladly demonstrate Weejuns’ smart comfort when you buy your Bass ski boots.”
These advertisements were published in leading magazines such as Esquire, Vogue, Town and Country, Ski Bulletin and others.
As time went on, Bass produced Weejuns for women and these also had an instant popularity. There is no indication of a let-up in the style trend towards loafers which began in 1936. Bass today produces 1,200 pairs of footwear a day and nearly 40% is devoted to Weejuns for men and women.
I’d be really pleased to hear from anyone who remembers Weejuns being sold in this box who can help me date more accurately the age of these amazing penny loafers…
Someone on FNB posted the following:
“Here’s a NOS pair of 80s Weejuns on Etsy with what appears to be the same box. So I’m not sure one could use the box design to date them.”
It’s so obviously the same pair of shoes in the same box!
By the late 70s the Bass was tan fake wood print and the heels had plastic plugs in them. There is a price tag on the box in the Etsty listing of $35.95 which is certainly odd but there’s no way the shoes are 80s. Bass as a company was not that backward with its design and logos that it made shoes in boxes like that in the eighties.
Anyway I’m sure someone who actualy knows something will step up…