I remember very distinctly what my first pair of spectator shoes looked like: they were Derbies with light brown and off-white uppers. The brown part was brogued, and I wore them rather frequently with navy pants, but they always looked best with brown slacks. Today, I still wear spectators occasionally, and I receive many compliments on them. However, I also know that many men believe they can’t pull off wearing this bold shoe. In short, you absolutely can! Today, I’d like the share our guide about two-tone spectator shoes that will help you set aside any anxiety and enjoy the shoes for what they are – beautiful pieces of footwear that are particularly suited to wear in summer.
What is A Spectator Shoe?
Purists would like to limit the contrasting colors to black/white or brown/white and insist upon all leather materials. However, you can find all kinds of other variations, for example in navy/gray velour leather, black/beige leather and fabric or light brown/dark brown leather. Basically, the options are endless, and that gives you the benefit of choosing a color combination that suits you.
Despite that, the majority of spectators are wingtip oxfords in either white/black or white/brown. The use of white makes them more summery.
Sometimes, you will find shoes that are even more narrowly defined, such as the saddle shoe with its contrasting middle part – the saddle. Although it is technically a spectator, it is always referred to as saddle shoe because it describes the style more narrowly.
The history of the spectator is a bit muddled. Most sources give the honor to John Lobb, the famous English bootmaker, who, in fact, claims to have made the first spectator as a cricket shoe in 1868. At the time, cricket shoes used to be all white but during the game they would soil very quickly. John Lobb added black leather to the areas that usually get dirty immediately, and the spectator was born. In England, it is also known as the co-respondent shoe. Some claim the shoe got its name from the people who wore them because back then a co-respondent was a silver-tongued individual with a questionable past, who charmed his way into the bed of an innocent young women. Others associate the name with the corresponding colors of the shoes.
Some also claim that Spats were the predecessor to spectators, but that theory doesn’t quite fit. Spats only covered the top of a boot or shoe, which doesn’t match up with the color placement on the spectator.
In any case, the origins seem questionable; vintage fashion illustrations show two-tone shoes predating 1868.
Colonial Style Shoes
Interestingly, the Colonial British set favored a two-tone shoe with brown leather and contrasting beige canvas in tropical locations, and you can still find this combination of materials around today. So, don’t shy away from canvas/leather shoes as they have a long-standing history with British gentlemen.
Since spectators used to be a summer favorite, vintage versions often came with perforated leather uppers for increased breathability. Perforation is not to be confused with brogueing, which is merely decorative. Today, you will only find these shoes when ordering a bespoke pair or a higher end Made-To-Order shoe. If you can get your hands on a pair of those, consider yourself lucky because not only will they be unique and stylish, they will also be functional. An alternative to perforated leather is woven leather, which is something you will see on occasion.
Evolution of The Spectator
In England, the spectator was considered a bit too flamboyant for gentleman up until the 1930s. At the same time, it was a popular choice among a certain set of men who were called lounge lizards and cads, neither of which are flattering labels. However, in the Golden Thirties, the Duke of Windsor wore a lot of spectator loafers, and his endorsement pushed more and more English men would follow suit, and the co-respondent became an acceptable dress shoe.
In the US, they were favored by musicians and gangsters in the 1920s and 30s, and soon became synonymous with the jazz scene and the Roaring Twenties. According to some, the blend of black and white also had an ideological background. Once Jazz musicians had popularized this shoe style, many actors would follow. Some of the most memorable wearers of spectator include Louis Armstrong, Al Capone, Fred Astaire, President Truman and the Duke of Windsor.
WWII put and end to the popularity of the spectator, and it would never gain the same popularity again. During the 1980s, it saw a revival among the new wave of young musicians with Michael Jackson leading the way, but it didn’t influence the elegant set.
Today, it is popular with swing dancers and men who admire the glorious twenties and thirties.
How To Wear Spectators Today
If you wear spectators today, you certainly exude confidence because it requires a bit of thought when putting together an outfit. Personally, I think spectators look fantastic with white flannel slacks or brown suits. Some also wear them with navy striped suits although that will more likely earn you “gangster look” comments rather than, “Oh, how elegant” compliments.
The spectator is a somewhat casual style and hence it is inappropriate for formal occasions. At the same time, it may also be too loud for many office environments, but it is the perfect shoe for weekend outfits, casual Fridays, outdoor weddings or garden parties when paired with a sport coat and solid pants. It will always exude the flair of the Golden Age of men’s style and elevate your outfit. The key is to keep all other pieces subtle, so the shoes can shine without overpowering your outfit.
Because the shoes are more noticeable than most dress shoes, you should keep the rest of your outfit simple. For example, a navy blazer, with off-white slacks, a striped or printed tie, and a light blue shirt are the perfect companion for a pair of spectator shoes.
Spectators have traditionally been favored on golf courses and you can wear them there as well today.
Moreover, if you are a dancer, you should definitely invest in a pair of spectators, especially if you like swing. It just goes well with the music, and you want to look the part on the parquet floor.
What Spectators To Buy
If you want a British version of spectator shoes, look no further than Crockett & Jones. They offer classic, yet elegant lasts as spectators in black/white or brown/white as well as unusual models such as a double monk strap spectator with canvas. With their MTO program, you can even create your very own two-tone look.
For U.S. made spectators, Allen Edmonds is certainly one of the best options for spectator shoes. I have a pair from them made on the Bel Air last and it is gorgeous. I don’t think they offer this model anymore, but they often come out with special editions and they always have spectators in their lineup.
If you are looking for an extensive selection of two-tone shoe styles (currently 19 styles in stock), you have to checkout Shoepassion. Not only are their made in Spain shoes Goodyear welted, but they are also very affordable, and once you get the VAT back, they cost around $200, which is a phenomenal value!
Apart from that, you can find many other brands that offer spectator shoes and bespoke shoes are always an option, if you are so inclined.
This article was wtitten by Sven Raphael Schneider and Vikram Nanjappa