The History of Leather Part 10 – Formal Footwear

Posted on 19/07/14

Dressed to kill (1850s-1950s)

We’ve all had cause to be suited and booted, so to speak, at one time or another. Be it weddings, funerals, graduations, job interviews, pimply, awkward proms – maybe even a comically upmarket visit to the local kebab shop – there are a wealth of situations that might require us to don our Sunday best.

Sure, we don’t live in the 1950s any more, so the number of us that wear suits to the office are getting fewer and farther between with every year that goes by, but formal attire is far from over. Every suit has its sidekick though, be it a striking shirt, crisp, minimal pair of dress shoes, or an orange or sky blue top hat and cane combo, the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.

Entire books have been written on the subject of the careful psychology and aesthetic consideration that goes into our formal attire, whether we know it or not. Ever wondered why dress shoes tend to be slim, narrow and minimalistic? To avoid drawing attention away from the suit or dress, and your overall silhouette – something which is all the more crucial in an era of slim and skinny fits, almost to the point of trousers looking like they have been painted on rather than actually worn.

Patent leather was the go-to material for evening footwear from the 1850s, right through to the 1950s. But even the most oblivious of observers would notice that the appearance of typical jacket leather is vastly different to the leather seen on your average dress shoe. Psychology and aesthetics rear their head once again here. The leather in eveningwear is buffed and polished to make it glossy, which in turn is intended to complement the various materials and textures in the rest of your outfit.

As the years have gone by, formal footwear has gotten more elaborate, and diversified into suede and other materials. There’s nothing quite like the original leather Oxford or court shoe. Some establishments, even in the 21st century, will turn you away if you aren’t rocking one of those designs, in fact.

Recent articles