No easy suede
by Charles David
Suede shoes make anything worn with them appear nonchalantly stylish; once shod in these beauties, smitten by the suede’s beautiful buff to a fine nap, aficionados only reluctantly return to the usual hard shine shoe world. The suede shoe in brown shows up well in every season, contrasting warmly against lightly hued spring colors, like crocuses peering over rich brown loam. And soft and comforting, a natural refinement accompanying winter-weight wools, worsted and flannels, for the freezing zones.
The suede shoe quite possibly made its American debut at the 1924 Meadowbrook Country Club in Long Island New York. There was a Polo match, naturally international in scope, hosted there. The invitees, crème de la crème of society’s crop all gathered. The Prince of Wales, the personification of English qualities, and a great source of inspiration, made the scene decked in a pair of brown buckskin suede casual lace-ups, another one of his unique sartorial pivots, under a double-breasted chalk-striped flannel suit with long rolled lapels, no doubt woven in his namesake pattern. The Man Who Would Be King’s avant-garde sense of style caused many waggish comments. On both shores of the Atlantic, there were those aghast and caustic. Some decried his choice as “a mark of great effeminacy”, others went as far as calling the footwear “brothel creepers.” Men of the era rejecting the Reverse Calf as suede was called, in favor of the traditional high polish smooth shoe leather, thinking the effect as breaching good taste, delicate and unmanly!
Haberdashers and other retailers of the time found them an awkward thing to sell. In that the hides usually came in natural shades of brown, clothier salesmen fussed about convincing their clientele on what they should wear with seemingly informal shoes. It seems the dandy won out. The social set, the style savvy, found them a refreshing, comfortable novelty. The next decade saw the novelty wear off and suede shoes found widespread acceptance with the masses, post-depression. Now came a plethora of shoe styles to accommodate the interest; cap-toes on town lasts-a predecessor to the wingtip Oxford preferred by businessmen, captains of industry, etc; rubber-soled Bluchers for motoring to the country and puttering about once there, and the ankle-high desert boot, now called the Chukka, which was originally designed with two eyelet laced and used for spectator sportswear.
Meanwhile the buckskin shoe had become such a favorite within the upper crust English club circles, that one respectable pair was all the well-dressed man needed in his wardrobe to consider his weekend dress complete. Here in America, the club set at Meadowbrook and Piping Rock adopted the informal look of a tweed hacking-jacket with Grey flannel trousers, nudging his argyle-socked feet into a favored pair and head off to motor through the North Fork with his lady-love by his side.