Vintage Spade Soled Shoes

What is a Spade Soled Shoe???

Well, there is no dictionary definition for a "Vintage Spade Soled Shoe", but basically it means the sole of the shoe has a triangular shape, like a spade or shovel.

Note the points on both the inside and outside of the sole. This is a true Spade Soled Shoe. Some would argue that just having one point also merits this classification, but I strongly disagree. A true spade has 2 points.

A Little History

For background on the spade, I turned to an expert, Marc Chevalier. For years, he has been a Vintage Menswear fanatic, and may well know more on the subject of 1920's thru 1940's menswear than anyone alive today. "Spade soles first appeared in a big way via pointy-toed ankle boots in the 1880s. From 1905 to the early 'teens, lace-up 'low' oxford shoes were offered with spade soles, and were often worn with 'rah-rah' suits marketed to young men."

"The spade sole went out of fashion from the later 'teens to the early 1930s, when they came back in a big way. Spade soles proved to be extremely popular with Filipino-Americans, African-Americans and Chicanos, and shoe companies catering to those communities continued to manufacture spade sole shoes several decades after the bigger, more "mainstream" shoe companies stopped. (Fun fact: Florsheim called them "custom extension soles".)"

Spades enjoyed a great popularity during this time, and were especially prominent in the Northeastern United States. The nickname "Philly Spades" (after Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was used liberally to describe them (Thanks to Meister for this interesting tidbit).

By the 1950's, the Spade Sole was again gone from mainstream shoe scene. However, Johnston & Murphy Company continued to manufacture a few models thru the early 1980's (the "Handmade" models being sublime... and perhaps the last true U.S. Made $1000 non-exotic skin shoe). Foot Joy (of curent Golf Shoe fame) did the same, crossing over into the golf shoe arena and often offering Spades as both street and golf shoes. The Spade Sole lives on in many modern shoemakers, especially the Italians. Ricardo Bestetti seems to have been highly influenced by this elegant sole shape.

Early Vintage Spades

Here are some really interesting and ultra-cool examples of late 1800's thru 1910's Spades. Sadly, when shoe leather reaches the century mark in age, the leather has often disintegrated, badly cracked, and/or flaked off from dryness (however, if the leather is properly cared for from the beginning, they CAN still be wearable at this point... but this is a discussion for the Shoe Care pages!). Because of this, there are not that many great examples of the very early Vintage Spade Soles that survive today. Luckily, there are a plethora of Vintage Shoe Ads that still capture these beauties and can let us see the fabulous sole shapes of yesterday.

1895 Regal   1904 Regal   1905 Florsheim

1907 Sorosis   1910 Ralston   1911 Am. Gent

Elegant Spades: 20's & 30's

The Spades from this era are marked by their narrow waists and overall elegance in shape. Often long and lean, in my opinion, these are possibly the best styled Mens' Dress Shoes of all time. I was introduced to this era of Spades by my good friend (and contributor to this site), Sr. Meister. He is a long-time veteran of vintage footwear and a Vintage Shoes Addict in his own right. In all honesty, it was Meister that got me Addicted in the first place. To make a long story short, I received an e-mail from him one day that said, "Check the post, I have a gift coming for you, Mate (have you figured out he is an Aussie!?!?)" A few days later, they arrived! They still remain one of my all-time favorite pairs of shoes. 1920's NOS (unworn) Kangaroo Boots by Regal:


Here's another very interesting pair of 1920's Spades. Note the metal eyelets and the fact that there are only 4 of them (interesting because pre-1950's, most shoes had between 5 & 7 eyelets). They seem to be Custom-made, having no size marking of any kind. 1920's Custom by Howard & Leeds:


These are the nicest shoes I have ever handled. I say this having handled over 2000 pairs of Vintage and Modern shoes, including models by John Lobb London, Edward Green, Silvano Lattanzi and many others. The leather is unbelievably soft and supple and has built an amazing patina over nearly 80 years. The details are all there, from curved and beveled waist that is cut right up to the edge of the upper leather. The stitching is extremely small, straight and tight. Simply stated, they are a marvel of 100% Handmade shoe artistry. They are Custom-Made with no marked sizing of any kind, and only the original owner's name + the model number handwritten inside. 1930's Custom by Florsheim:


Late 1940's Spades: A New Toughness

The late 1940's saw a big change in shoe styles. If the 1930's were about elegance and long, narrow waists, then the 1940's were about more voluptuous styles. Think of the 1930's as Marilyn Monroe (36-24-36) and the 1940's as Serena Williams (38-28-44). It may well have been a result of the Allied victory in World War II. Out were the more "dainty" and extremely elegant shoe styles. They were replaced with thicker waists, double (and sometimes triple) soles, and wide welts (*see the Gunboats page for more examples). The results were considered more "masculine" (George Webb, a UK maker, even came out with his "Masculine" shoe line) and definitely filled with testosterone.

Thom McAn (interesting to note that Thom Mcan had once been a higher quality maker. By the 1970's, McAn had a terrible reputation for chaep shoes which it still generally carries today):


Lloyd & Lloyd




To illustrate the differences between the 20's/ 30's and the 40's, let's compare the width of the waists. First is the 1920's Regal, which measures to 2 3/8 inches wide. Next, we have a 1930's Johnston & Murphy, which measures in at 2 1/2 inches wide. Finally, we have the 1940's Lloyd & Lloyd, which measures to nearly 2 3/4 inches (in fact, all 3 of the 1940's pairs measure in at 2 3/4 inches at the waist).


Now, let's compare the forefoot measurements (from left to right). The Regal is a hair over 4 1/4. J&M is 4 3/8. Thom McAn and Lloyd & Lloyd are both 4 1/2, and the massive Stoebener is a whopping 4 15/16. Keep in mind, these shoes are all similar in size, between US 8C and 8 1/2D.


Now, a final comparison between the 1940's Stoebener and the 1920's Regal...

Interestingly enough, the Regals are actually an E (US wide) width, and the Stoebener is a C (US narrow) width. Moreover, the Regals have more room INSIDE and fit my feet, while the Stoebener is slightly too narrow.

The point of this exercise is to show that there are relatively clear stylistic differences between Vintage Shoes of different eras, even when the general style (in this case, Vintage Spade Soled Shoes) is the same. The trick is to pay attention and learn exactly what to look for.


*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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