The latest cinematic iteration of The Great Gatsby releases today, and I’ll use that as an excuse to talk about a somewhat flamboyant shoe associated with the Gatsby era: the spectator.
Spectators, or co-respondents as they are known across the pond, were, according to accepted lore, originally designed by the venerable John Lobb as cricket shoes. Their association with sport would continue in golf and, as this illustration shows, tennis (picture via The Trad).
Coming from sport, they are certainly casual shoes for relaxed situations. Spectators are not business shoes. We see them on Hollywood dancer Fred Astaire or the Kennedys at Palm Beach and even the Duke of Windsor. They were frivolous shoes, shoes of the rich.
Conversely, spectators also became identified both as gangster shoes and with jazz musicians, particularly African-American musicians, as part of the zoot suit look of the 1940s. Cab Calloway was a popularizer, here pictured at an NAACP function in 1944.
This filtered down to others of a dandified bent.
Spectators were also adopted by Southerners of the sort who wore (or wear) seersucker. They would serve as a more formal alternative to the suede buck. These two Southerners sport seersucker and spectators.
The original spectator–the cricket shoe–looked something like this handsome offering from England’s Crockett & Jones (picture via An Uptown Dandy).
While you will find captoe spectators commonly (like the above, but without the extra strip of leather across the vamp), the typical spectator today is a wingtip, or full brogue. What makes a spectator a spectator are the contrasting leathers, typically in brown or black and white or cream (other colors can be–and are–used, of course). Ideally, the white portion should be suede, not smooth calfskin. This softens the look, and also adds lovely texture. If you’re spending real money on spectators, don’t settle for a pair that doesn’t use suede. (Canvas, usually linen, is also acceptable, but harder to find.)
In conjunction with the new Leonardo DiCaprio version of The Great Gatsby, Brooks Brothers has released an entire line of tie-in clothes, including this spectator from their Peal made in England line (likely made by Crockett & Jones). Alas, they used calf rather than suede, so I recommend taking a pass.
The standard spectator one usually sees is the Broadstreet from Allen Edmonds. They have the fact that they’re made in America going for them. But again, the current offerings use smooth calf rather than suede, which makes them not quite right. Am I being too picky? I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s those little details that really matter.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to run across some Alden spectators at Birmingham’s Plain Clothes, one of my favorite men’s shops. Alden allows its dealers to order special make-ups outside of the standard Alden line. Plain Clothes had a special run of Alden spectators made in a previous season. They were spot-on with brown leather and suede. Generally Aldens can be a bit pricey, but these were on clearance (Aldens are very rarely found marked down at all). I couldn’t resist. They’re possibly my favorite shoes, although I don’t get to wear them very often. Here are some pictures from when they were new.
A classic shoe, spectators are enjoying something of a revival at the moment. They are probably more readily available now than at any time in recent years. You may not be as hard to get along with as I am and be perfectly satisfied with a non-suede pair. If so, your options open up tremendously.
With spring, and Gatsby, in the air, it’s time to lace up your spectators.