Summer Style: Spectator Shoes

Spectators in the Redford 'Gatsby'

Spectators in the Redford ‘Gatsby’

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.

Apparel Arts Summer 1934 via The Trad

Apparel Arts Summer 1934 via The Trad

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.

 

Kennedys in Palm Beach, 1934 (Joe, Jr., Joeseph & Jack) via voxsartoria

Kennedys in Palm Beach, 1934 (Joe, Jr., Joeseph & Jack) via voxsartoria

Fred Astaire Chats with Rita Hayworth

Fred Astaire Chats with Rita Hayworth

The Duke of Windsor Kicks a Rugby Ball via Uptown Dandy

The Duke of Windsor Kicks a Rugby Ball via Uptown Dandy

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.

Cab Calloway (far left) and others in spectators.

Cab Calloway (far left) and others in spectators.

This filtered down to others of a dandified bent.

Black Youths - Specs

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.

Seersucker-SpectatorsThe original spectator–the cricket shoe–looked something like this handsome offering from England’s Crockett & Jones (picture via An Uptown Dandy).

Crockett & Jones spectators via Uptown Dandy

Crockett & Jones spectators via Uptown Dandy

Spectators as illustrated in classic Esquire magazine.

Spectators as illustrated in classic Esquire magazine.

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.

Brooks Brothers Peal Gatsby Spectators

Brooks Brothers Peal Gatsby Spectators

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.

Allen Edmonds Broadstreet

Allen Edmonds Broadstreet

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.

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Alden Spectators

Alden Spectators

Great-Gatsby-DiCaprioA 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.

8 thoughts on “Summer Style: Spectator Shoes

  1. I just purchased the Brooks Great Gatsby spectator. I have another pair I bought from them about 2006, which were brown with white suede. The new ones, as you mentioned, have the white calf leather. I didn’t think it mattered as to whether or not the white part was suede or smooth; but you say the suede is better. Is this just a style consideration, or are the smooth leather versions harder to maintain, or what? I paid quite a bit for these, so would like your input. Also, what is the best way to keep the smooth calf white part of the shoe looking good all the time? Use a white cream polish?

    • Suede is a style choice, a more traditional choice, too. One sees calf rather than suede pretty commonly these days, and you’ll likely never run into anyone who would really notice. The BB specs are quite handsome, in my opinion.

      Spectators are harder to care for, obviously. White polish would be a good way to go, but you might want to tape off the non-white portion of the shoe when polishing. They can be tricky. That’s why Wooster needed Jeeves!

      • Thanks for your comments. I also have a pair of Cole Haan saddle oxfords, beige with navy saddle. The shoe is entirely smooth leather; they are 30 yrs. old now. They still look decent, but the beige part at the front of the shoe, where it bends the most, has some hairline cracks. No shoe cream (ecru or neutral) solves the problem entirely. Any suggestions there, or is that just something that happens and you have to live with it? Richard.

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