The Reptiles (Alligators, Crocodiles & Lizards)

About Vintage Reptile Shoes

Reptile skins are just so beautiful and so very unique!

Reptile skins are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful pieces of leather on the planet. The colors, patterns, textures and sheer diversity of the different species are a true Marvel of the Natural World. While calfskin often relies on "antiquing" and finishing with various polishes and dyes to provide the different colors and textures, reptile skins are a result of evolution combined with Mother Nature's artistry. Today some of the skins we will explore are no longer available or at least extremely rare. A sad result of Man's over hunting of so many species around the world. However, we will be focusing on Vintage Reptile Skin Shoes. During the 1920's thru the 1950's, these animals were still abundant and not yet endangered by man's growing population and advancing technologies. It was a wonderful time to learn to appreciate the beauty that Earth's millions of years of evolution had yielded... and to wear it as well!

Vintage Mens Alligator Skin Shoes

While we will explore Vintage Shoes from around the world on this site, a huge focus will be on American Made ones. From the 1920's thru the 1950's, the U.S. was possibly the world leader in vintage style and creativity. The use of Reptile Skins in shoes was a fabulous example. So many species and so many styles. However, when we talk U.S. Vintage Reptile shoes, we HAVE to start with the Alligator because it was so popular.

Today many American Alligators are farmed and their environment controlled. Depending on whom you ask, this may well have affected the "quality" of their skins. During a long conversation with my cobbler, he theorized that the more "natural and wild" environment in which these animals lived during the Vintage Times allowed them to produce thicker and more robust skins. During visual examination, it is difficult to argue against this. American Alligator skins were often exported to other countries for use by their own shoemakers and fashionistas. Today, the "Reptile of choice" has become the Crocodile. They are much more plentiful and live everywhere from Central and South America to Asia to Africa. It says something about the beauty of the Vintage Alligator's skin that at one time the entire world sought it out so aggressively.

-- Let's start with the Norwegian Style Shoe. The Norwegian is basically the Split-Toe Shoe, where two piece of leather are stitched together and form a straight line at the toe of the shoe (also called the NST: Norwegian Stitched Toe). This style was, by far, the most popular laced alligator shoe made during the American Vintage Shoe era. It seems that just about every top U.S. shoe company had a version.

1940's Florsheim Alligator Norwegians (note the cream colored welt stitch, a wonderful touch):


1950's to 1960's Alligator Norwegians by Stetson (note the broguing/ punch holes in the apron):


-- Although the Norwegian shoe looks fabulous, the Plain Toe Shoe is probably the best use of Alligator Skin in shoes. The skin itself has a wonderful depth of color and texture, so the use of extra stitching or a brogued medallion (a design of punched holes at the toe) is often considered overkill.

Vintage Alligator Plain Toe Derby by Bostonian


Vintage Alligator & Shell Cordovan Saddle Spectators by Cole Haan


Vintage Full Alligator Saddle Shoes by British Walkers
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1940's Foot Joy Alligator & Suede Oxford Captoe Spectators


-- As I wrote above, the addition of a medallion in alligator skin may be a bit "busy" depending on your tastes. However, when the toe cap is cut to form a Wingtip Shoe, an additional element of elegance can be the result.

Vintage Alligator Oxford Wingtips by Bostonian


1950's Vintage Full Alligator Custom Order Oxford Wingtips by Florsheim Royal Imperial
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Vintage Mens Crocodile Skin Shoes

Just about every American-made Vintage Shoe from the eras we are focusing on used "home grown" American Alligator skins rather than Crocodile. In all honesty, the great majority of my personal shoe collection consists of these U.S. made beauties (and thus are Alligator rather than Crocodile). HOWEVER, to expand horizons so to speak, I have been working on compiling a collection of shoes and photos of Vintage Crocodile shoes for the sake of comparison. As soon as the pictures are ready, I will post them right here, so KEEP AN EYE OUT!

Vintage Mens Lizard Skin Shoes

-Teju Lizard Skin

The Teju Lizard is the lizard most commonly found in American made vintage lizard skin shoes. Geography, sheer physical size, and durability of the species are the factors that possibly led to their popularity among shoemakers (as well as the beauty and durability of the skins). They are native to South America and are very numerous in population. They thrive in warm, wet climates. As stated, they are a very large lizard, growing to between 2 and 3 feet long. This means that a single lizard can produce much more usable skin than a smaller species.

Vintage Foot Joy Lizard Saddles


Vintage Johnston Murphy Lizard Tassel Loafers


-Iguana Lizard Skin

If the Teju is considered a big lizard, then the Iguana is HUGE! This lizard, which is common in Central America and Mexico can grow to over 6 feet long. The reason why we see many fewer Vintage Iguana Skin Shoes (than Teju) is likely related to the fact that they are much more difficult to care for than the more hardy Teju. Most Iguanas in captivity die within the first year, so one can see how Iguana Farms are more difficult to maintain.

Vintage ENGLISH Lizard Skin Shoes by (from left) Crockett & Jones, Trickers, Church's & John Lobb London


-Horned Back Lizard Skin

In my opinion, the skin of the Horned Back Lizard is possibly the most beautiful of all the reptile skins used in vintage shoes. The tiles on the skin resemble little Cat's Eyes, and one can almost imagine them looking right at you. The range of colors in a single tile is simply amazing, starting very dark at the center, becoming very light, then ending somewhere in the middle at the edges.

If you really want to see a wide range of examples of Vintage Horned Back Lizard, you will need to turn to the Cowboy Boot makers. Decades ago, Horned Back was very popular in U.S. western footwear. Not nearly as numerous as their Teju and Iguana cousins, the Horned Back Lizard comes from the Brazil. Many top bootmakers of the 1950's, 60's and 70's made Horned Backs their top (and most expensive) models.

Being aware of the controversy surrounding the Rainforest there (being slowly destroyed), it is easy to see how this lizard is now struggling for survival. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is basically an agreement between countries that places restrictions on the sale of certain animals (and their products) and plants. While this lizard is not officially listed on CITES, the Brazilian government has placed restrictions on their export. Sadly, this action can probably be traced back to a single (and the final) huge Horned Back skin sale. In the late 1970's, Tony Lama Boot company purchased several thousand Horned Back skins. They were presented what they thought was proper documentation by the sellers and had actually half assembled a large quantity of boots when they were raided by the FBI. It seems they had, in fact, bought the skins from illegal smugglers in Mexico who had used fraudulent documentation to get them out of their native Brazil.

Today, the remaining pairs are VERY aggressively sought out by collectors, and are most often found on the Best of the Best of Vintage Cowboy Boots.

Vintage Horned Back Lizard Custom Cowboy Boots by T.O. Stanley


Horned Back SHOES are very rare. In the last 3 years, I have come across 4 pairs total. Two fit me and are in my closet right now (and are pictured below), one I passed on to a close friend, and the third was part of a badly cracked Vintage Spectator Shoe (not really wearable because of the damage).

Vintage Custom Horned Back Lizard Plaintoe Derby by Tyrol


Vintage British Walkers Horned Back Lizard Captoe Derby



*For Questions, Comments, or to put me to WORK finding YOU the prefect pair of Vintage Shoes for YOUR feet, CONTACT ME!

*I also am interested in purchasing YOUR Vintage Shoes, so if you have anything wonderful, Please let me know!

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