This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
I know, I know, but hear me out. I’m pretty sure my mom put me in saddle shoes at some point during my childhood and I ran around the playground wearing them with a dress in ultimate classic kid style. When presented in high school with very limited options for women’s golf shoes, I was delighted that a saddle shoe was one of my options and made my selection accordingly. Then swing dancing came into my life – when I started in 1998, retro culture was an amalgam of generic vintage pop culture, but as the smoke of the late 1990’s swing revival started to clear, it was became very clear to me that saddle shoes were associated with two things: 1) a caricature of the 1950’s and 2) newbie dancers. As a budding Lindy Hopper, all I wanted was everything 1930’s/early 40’s and NOT to be associated with anything that would brand me as a newbie. I wanted to be taken seriously as a dancer. But deep down I still loved saddle shoes because they are adorable.
Flash forward a decade or so and I thought about saddle shoes again. A green and white pair would be amazing and I found a retailer online that made them. Vintage Dancer wrote this great blog post about the history of the saddle shoe, detailing their popularity between 1910 and 1960, clearly marking this as a period-appropriate choice for my swing-era-not-1950’s-caricature dancing activities. And then I remembered how saddle shoes would be perceived and I abandoned that idea.
I don’t know when Gretchen Midgley and I were first talking about this, but saddle shoes came up in conversation and how I’d wanted a pair, but ALL OF THE ABOVE HESITATIONS. Then I got a PM from Gretchen saying I needed to make this happen because saddle shoes would be a versatile addition to her fall wardrobe and she’s right. Gretchen’s message was the kick in the pants I needed. I AM LINDY SHOPPER AND I SHALL WEAR WHAT I PLEASE.
I ordered the green and white saddle shoes from Muffy’s, made from a last from 1956, which feature leather uppers and a Goodyear welted rubber sole and am so excited to finally have them after so many years of being worried about what other people would think about my dancing. Silly, I know – but being perceived as a good dancer was and is so important to me. I got to wear them last night to our weekly dance and I think they will take a little time to break in, but otherwise I am very happy with this purchase.
Would you like a pair of your own? Vintage Dancer has a set of links to retailers at the bottom of the post and I’m also eyeballing a pair from Julia Bo customized to my specifications – has anyone ordered from this site?
If you’re worried about how to style the saddle shoe, Vintage Everyday has a great collection of photos of women doing everything from riding a motorcycle to sleeping in a barrel wearing saddle shoes, with photographs looking like they date from the early 1930’s through the 1950’s.
All this to say let’s be a little kinder, a little less judgmental about what we see on people’s feet. I remember getting into a discussion on a chat forum in the early 2000’s about Bleyers, as I was still wearing mine for dancing, but someone there had branded them a shoe for newbies. At that point, I didn’t consider myself a newbie, but I was embarrassed and mad because I had stuck up for this dance shoe that was servicing my feet and someone set out to belittle me. I was either in school or working 3 jobs between stints in school at that point and I didn’t have a lot of money for dance shoes – hell, there weren’t even that many options for swing dance shoes at that point. Perhaps this is also a lesson in humanity and humility – there’s a human attached to those shoes who just wants to dance.
One thought on “Reclaiming the Saddle Shoe”
Yassssssssssssss! Late to catching up on all my blog reading, but thank you for doing a post on saddle shoes. I don’t dance as much as I used to, but I LOVE saddle shoes and had always wanted a pair as a child. A few years ago I got my first pair and have since bought a second in a different colour (classic black and white and classic brown and white, respectively) from Royal Vintage Shoes, and I couldn’t be happier. They’re some of the most versatile shoes I own, and I reach for them for work ensembles, casual getups, and when I want to wear a flat with dresses. They always get compliments, and just add that bit of vintage flair that gets noticed, even with a more modern outfit. I honestly can’t recommend them enough, and now I’m *really* coveting a pair of green ones, dangit!