It’s no use denying it. Saddle shoes are on a comeback, whether it’s nasty fashion versions or the classic tan/white or tan/buck variants. I’ve always had a soft spot for them and for years I’ve kept a pair that I bought from Crockett & Jones factory made for Ralph Lauren Polo about 15 years ago.
They were only £10, presumably because the number of people prepared to pay more for them in the backstreets of Northampton was extremely limited. They are really nice as you would expect from C&J but they are tan leather and bone colour leather. I’d always preferred the tan and dirty buck version as a more wearable daily shoe.
The great Walk-Over made a beautiful version (please don’t confuse them with the ridiculous clown shoes of the newly resurrected Walk-Over) but they are hard to find in good condition, so I was pretty pleased to find this version by Johnston & Murphy from the 1980s in deadstock condition on US eBay this week.
J&M used to be a a great shoemaker and even as late as the mid-90s were still producing variants of two tone ‘sports’ shoes harking back to the 40s and 50s. These days J&M has become a hideous off shore lifestyle brand specialising in atrocious looking ‘comfort’ shoes and cheaply sourced cashmere and silk blend zip cardigans and the like. But, it has heritage. This pair of shoes are most probably from the 1980s because they still bear the stamp ‘Unmistakeably Johnston & Murphy’ which they had since at least the 1940s and were still using as late as 1984 (see this NYT story).
The unusual thing about these high end saddle oxfords is that they have a separate stacked leather heel with the Vibram sole being goodyear welted and using a red rubber top piece for the heel. Normally, dirty bucks and saddle oxfords have a moulded one piece unit. I also like the tassels on the rope laces, reminding me of one of the nice Grenson models from the 1980s that was a self coloured saddle shoe with a dainite golf sole in tan grain.
The saddle shoe was introduced in 1906 by the great Spalding sports manufacturer and was used for playing tennis, becoming popular as a resort shoe, an early precursor of sneakers and trainers. It has survived in the US (and post war in Japan) almost ever since as a true American classic.
I’ve sometime felt a bit self conscious wearing the tan/white Polo pair in London, but these dirty buck versions are think are much more wearable.
These days even Ralph Lauren versions are more likely to be made in Italy, not goodyear welted and the indisputable kings of the dirty bucks are now Brazil and China.
Bass models have nice uppers designs but the stuck on fake stitched soles have clumsy welts, Florsheim an odd toe shape, modern J&M nasty grey soles, Cole Haan a bit too fussy and cheap linings. Most others get too many details wrong, like the front vamp not being short enough etc. The only saddle oxford that I think looks classic is by David Spencer, which can be found online in the US from a few retailers, but John Rushton is talking to Sanders about making a goodyear welted version for his store in London.