Tag Archives: California

Loafers – Discussion on Men’s Swing Dance Shoes, Round 2

This post was written by Lindy Shopper and Bobby White of Swungover.

Every few years someone will post looking for men’s dance shoe recommendations, people who are serious about dancing and want to hear from their peers and instructors about what shoes work for them.  While women’s shoes are often specifically designated as dance shoes, as fewer and fewer women’s street shoes have leather soles, men have to navigate between classic men’s dress shoes and designated dance shoes to find their sole mate and this can get a bit tricky.

LOAFERS?!?

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Florsheim Dancer

The request du jour is about finding suitable dance loafers. “But why specifically loafers?” You might be asking. “Why is THAT a Bal thing?” To answer this, we’re going to go back to 1936 when Bass first released their “Weejun” loafer (Based on Norwegian fisherman’s shoes, which were themselves based on Native American moccasins.) They added a strap across the top of the simple slip-on, and it was the first time the loafer as we know it  came into being. They were soon nicknamed “penny loafers” because teenagers realized they could slip pennies in the holes of the loafer strap. Loafers became a huge fashion trend, becoming the casual shoe of many teenagers across America. (There are pictures of entire malt shops full of teenagers, all of them wearing loafers.) 

Many readers probably realize that 1936 coincides with when swing music was beginning to sweep the nation. So, in California, in those years when Balboa and Bal-Swing began being danced by casual teenagers, the loafer was one of their dance shoes. Gene Kelly himself wore loafers and danced in them all the time as part of showing his casual, down-to-earth persona.   

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Hopefully your interactions in loafers will be less awkward than Gene Kelly sitting on your floor in front of your couch while you read…note the women’s styling here with loafers, short socks, and a shirt dress.

Though many of the teenagers probably danced in loafers for practicing, or casually dancing at the beach-side pavilions, you don’t see many in the old films. This was probably for two reasons. Loafers, as a casual slip-on, were too informal for dances where teenagers liked to/were required to dress up (and the dance scenes in the movies tend to take place in those ballrooms). Secondly, they were not the best for when Lindy Hop came to the California scene in the late 30’s, which was more high-powered dancing where the feet needed a lot of support, and shoes needed to stay on in extreme circumstances.

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Kids these days…

However, when the original dancers were dancing at the restaurant and bar Bobby McGee’s in their older years (their twice-a-month get together), loafers were a common shoe on the floor — and we have footage of Maxie Dorf, Willie Desatoff, Hal Takier, and some of the pure bal dancers in them, so it seemed most of them owned a pair. (Imagine the stereotypical old man in loafers — the Bal Old Timers were that generation.) Nick Williams said loafers were also an easy way to get the flexible kind of leather-soled shoes that Old Timers like Willie Desatoff desired in his students— but we’ll have more on that below.

So, loafers weren’t a huge thing, but just enough of a thing. And when the new generation of Bal Dancers in the late ’90s learned from the Old Timers, loafers became a sort of Balboa slang, which grew in the scene and has been passed down ever since.  They’ve come to represent the casualness and smoothness of Balboa, as well as a tip of the hat to the old timers, even if the old timers were just old men who occasionally danced in their comfortable slip-ons. So that’s why loafers have a special place in the heart of the Bal scene. 

As an aside, loafers went on to become the shoe of choice for another coastal group of dancers, Carolina Shag dancers, who also appreciate a casual and smooth shoe.

Now then, back to the present.

After a good bit of discussion ensued on Jeff Liu-Leyco‘s Facebook wall for the request to find a good pair of dancing loafers, Bobby White offered to collaborate with Lindy Shopper on a post – so here, you get the benefit of the discussion and firsthand knowledge from one of swing dancing’s sartorial heroes.

THE THREAD

In the Facebook thread, swing dance instructorMickey Fortanasce recommended this classic pair of loafers, the Florsheim Dancer at $115. Given that Florsheim named these the “Dancer,” I think that bodes well. 

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This pair of Nordstrom loafers on eBay, referenced in Bobby’s post, is long gone

Allen Edmonds is always a name that pops up in these discussions, and their now discontinued (but still available sometimes on eBay)Bergamano loafer came up.  

But the holy grail of the loafers are the Nordstrom black tassel loafers and Bobby dropped the knowledge on everyone with the force of an eternal mic drop:

“Go to Ebay. Search for “Nordstrom Loafers Men Tassel [Black or Brown or Cream or just leave out a color] [your size].” Save this EBay search so that you will get notifications (possibly for the rest of your life — they can be hard to turn off). Eventually you will see loafers like this (below). There are many like them (some with netting/woven leather tops, likeDouglas Mathews rocks), some with pointy toes verses more square toes. Buy them. If you like tassels, keep them. If not, cut them off (like Nick Williams and I do). I present to you, the famous, the infamous, the eternal: the Nordstrom Loafer. The soles are one thin strip of leather, and minimal padding — which is why Willie liked shoes like these. You can really feel the floor in them (and, of course, your knees will too, if you pulse a lot). But that can easily be fixed with insoles, like Nick does (might need a half-size bigger in that case). They are tanks, and last a very long time. They are $200 shoes that will cost you $20-50 on eBay. They are seven-minute brownies in four minutes. Here endeth the lesson.”

THE TRUTH OF THE NORDSTROM LOAFER

In all honesty (Bobby speaking, here), the Nordstrom Loafers are fantastic, but they are not the only shoes out there like them. They just happen to fit the bill for the kind of loafer many of us Bal dancers like: Thin leather sole / classic loafer look / well-made so they will last a long time.

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A pair of Bobby’s well-worn loafers.

The Allen Edmond Bergamano is the same idea as the Nordstrom, and both Santiago and Johnston & Murphy have made leather-soled loafers that fit that bill that you might be able to grab on ebay. (The Johnson & Murphy ones are actually the ones Douglas Mathews rocks). If you get loafers like these and they don’t work well, you can almost always find a Bal dancer they will fit, so it’s not a big risk.

The other important take-away is that, if spending $100 + on a pair of new shoes is outside of your budget, thanks to Ebay, you can get an incredible pair of shoes for $15-$50 with a little bit of patience and an internet connection. 

ONE-PLY VS. TWO-PLY

Also, you don’t HAVE to get thin leather soles. You might have very good reasons for wanting otherwise. In fact, the biggest question every dancer looking for a pair of leather-soled shoes should probably answer for themselves (after fit, and probably alongside aesthestics) is one-ply leather or two-ply?

Here’s what we mean:

Single Ply or One-ply sole means the sole is made of one strip of leather. This is more formally called a “Single leather sole” — “One-ply” is Bobby slang. Technically the thickness of that leather sole van vary slightly, but rarely enough to make a big difference. The common Aris Allen men’s cap toe is an example of a single-ply dance shoe with lots of cushioning.

Two-ply, or formally “double leather sole” or “double sole,” means two pieces of leather stacked on top of each other for the sole. Two-Ply soles were made for walking around outside (like on cobblestones), daily work, and keeping your feet warm from the cold ground. Because of this and their bulkier look, they are considered less-casual, though by modern standards the general public doesn’t care about that anymore and you shouldn’t worry about it too much — it’s more important you have comfortable shoes for your dancing style. The men’s Saint Savoy is an example of a double sole, as well as the Stacy Adams Madison. (There’s even a triple leather sole, but there’s probably very little need for that in dancing.)

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Gene Kelly, casual mid-air.

Shoes like the Nordstorm loafer are one-ply and have minimal padding— you will feel the floor, and all the sensations of shuffling and sliding very clearly. The shoes will give you almost a barefoot sensation, cause the leather will move with the muscles of your feet on the floor.

However, because the swing dances are often athletic in nature, as well as involve some kind of pulsing, many of us choose to wear insoles with single-ply shoes, especially with the ones with minimalistic padding. You don’t have to, though — just know that you will have to dance very gently in them regarding your knees and feet. In single-ply shoes, you will smooth out your dancing (which is what the Old Timers wanted modern Bal dancers to do, anyway).

Shoes like the Florsheim Dancer Mickey prefers, or the now-defunct Bostonian leather-soled classic penny loafer (eBay!) are two-ply. You would choose these if you had a heavier pulse or more athletic dancing style in general (to cushion your knees and other joints), or, if you just liked the feeling of a heavier shoe and the weight it gives to your rhythmic experience, like swing dance instructorDavid Rehmenjoys.

There is no wrong answer, and you can plan your shoes based on the style of dancing you want to accentuate.  If you can’t decide on one ply or two ply, you can try both with a little patience and an eBay account.  You’ll be well on your way to being an old timer in no time and, as Bart Bartolo said, don’t forget to “keep it casual.”
Special thanks to Sylvia Sykes, Nick Williams, and David Rehm for their insight into the modern Bal history of the loafer!
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Wearing History Review: Smooth Sailing Trouser and Norma Jean Blouse

This is what 5:00 a.m. at RDU looks like.

This is what 5:00 a.m. at RDU looks like.

I see that Wearing History will be one of the vendors at Cal Bal (the California Balboa Classic) and thought this would be a good time to review the clothing I received from Wearing History as a result of backing their Kickstarter in August. It’s been fascinating following the manufacturing process after funding, with owner/designer Lauren Maringola giving frequent updates on the status of the fabric, printing, and the manufacturing timeline for each garment, among other details about working hands-on producing her made-in-the-USA line of 40’s-inspired clothing.

I backed Wearing History at the level where I would receive a pair of the Smooth Sailing trousers in denim (yes, I bought pants! Also available in plus sizes.) and the Norma Jean blouse in a must-own-or-perish musical note print. The package arrived in the mail and was waiting for me when I got home from the holidays and Lindy Focus. It was my intent to wear the outfit dancing, but the Lindy Focus plague (née the flu) and my cat getting sick prevented me from attending any local dance nights between then and now – but I wanted to make sure my Cal Bal ladies and all of you could know about this great line of clothing!

So instead of dancing, I decided to put my Wearing History outfit though another intense experience – a whirlwind trip to Hot Rhythm Holiday in Austin, Texas, where my band, the Mint Julep Jazz Band, would fly in, perform, and fly out in a period of 32 hours. 4 airports, 4 flights, shuttles, carrying baggage/equipment, eating my weight in Tex Mex food, and touring a bit of Austin before playing the Fed that night.

A close-up of this adorable print!

A close-up of this adorable print!

Just in case the glockenspiel case and traveling with 6 dudes carrying odd-shaped instrument cases wasn’t enough, the eighth-noted Norma Jean blouse would let everyone know that I was a musician and this was a band flying to a gig (and I was so excited, I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of everyone nearby). The blouse was actually a great travel piece and I imagine, for similar reasons, would be for dancing – it stayed tucked in with the darted waistline and high waisted trouser combo, the arm holes and slight dolman sleeve allowed for a wide range of movement, the tencel fabric was soft and durable, and the blouse could be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.

Trousers and blouse dressed up a bit more

Trousers and blouse dressed up a bit more

The Smooth Sailing trousers got the double travel treatment – I only wore the blouse on the first day, but wore the trousers for both traveling days. The weight of the denim is just perfect – not too thick, not too thin, and soft without losing its denim qualities. The cut is flattering, and I love the way a high waisted trouser makes your bum look. After two days on airplanes and sleeping on planes and in the airport, the trousers managed to retain their shape really well, with no stretch bubbles at the knee, and the only noticeable change was perhaps a little loosening at the waist, which may have been a casualty of my Tex Mex food baby. Two days in these pants and they performed like champs. I even slept in them when I got home – after a 23 hour day and 3 hours of sleep (with intermittent airport/plane sleeping) there was really no need to get into pajamas when the trousers were just as comfortable.

And there you have it – Cal Bal ladies, do go by the Wearing History booth and check out this wonderful new collection of clothing and remember that Wearing History is just getting started! Everyone else, please visit the Wearing History website, where you can order these lovely garments, plus some other adorable garments from Wearing History’s first clothing line. I can’t wait to see what else Wearing History has up its sleeve and would back another Kickstarter in a second. Quality goods with great style!

Flapper Flock on Etsy

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

One of the few Etsy shops I revisit regularly is Flapper Flock, an Etsy store focused solely on 1920’s and 1930’s clothing, accessories, and other odds and ends from the jazz era. Flapper Flock is a division of the seller’s brick-and-mortar store in Redlands, California called Hobo’s Vintage. While her selection is usually small, there are always one or two really choice items to fall in love with.

Couple of distinct things about Flapper Flock 1) all prices include the cost of shipping, so what you see is the total cost you will pay for that item and 2) the seller will sometimes include “throwback” items, like a 1960’s does 1920’s drop waist dress. Other sellers try to do this and fail miserably, but with the items I have seen her post in this fashion it really is hard to tell, at least from the photos. I don’t see any throwback items listed right now.

Right now, Flapper Flock has some most excellent vintage shoes and some other odds and ends:

Navy 1930's dead stock shoes, size 6.5

Glorious pair of 1920's dead stock oxfords, size 6.5

White perforated leather dead stock 1930's oxfords, size 6.5

1920's beaded drawstring purse

1930's black camisole - in my opinion, older slips are almost always more beautiful than the ones you find being made today

My Baby Jo

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

My Baby Jo has a little bit of everything to help you embrace your inner pin-up girl, and some essential menswear clothing and accessories for the swing era gent. My Baby Jo has a retail store in Los Angeles, CA, but thankfully they also offer their excellent 1940’s and 1950’s-inspired clothing, shoes, and accessories online.

The website has a great selection of women’s dresses, swimwear, undergarments, hair flowers, jewelry, shoes, handbags, cosmetics and men’s jackets, shirts, pants, shoes, hats, pomade, ties, and vintage watches. The vintage men’s watches are especially good, with watches from the 1920’s through the 1950’s that look like they are in sturdy, wearable condition. Their swimwear selections feature the best of Esther Williams’ swimwear line. The site also offers some fun pieces that may fill gaps in your wardrobe or Halloween costume (like that Rosie the Riveter jumpsuit – where else do you find that?). They also have an extensive selection of men’s hats and hat-care items, including brushes and felt cleaner.

There’s so much goodness here, I’ll try to narrow down my favorites:

Mrs. Moore Day Dress, comes in 5 colors

V-cut Plaid Jacket - lots more of these on the site in different fabrics

Alika dress, also comes in red and in a pencil skirt style

Motorcycle sweater

Marilyn eyelet tie top, also in blue

Leading man two pocket shirt with topstitching

Riveting jumpsuit, also in blue stripes and black

Melton captoe by Johnston & Murphy

How cute is this sailor outfit?

Tailored double pleated trouser - available in 13 different fabrics

So many hair flowers, but the orchids are my favorite

There are tons of hats in traditional colors, but this green fedora was my favorite

Love the face on this 1937 watch

Second Article for Atomic Ballroom as Guest Blogger

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Lindy Shopper is doing a series of articles for Atomic Ballroom, based out of Irvine, California. Check out the Atomic Ballroom Blog for my second blog entry “Lindy Shopper: Advanced Course in Shoes,” which discusses selecting dance shoes and some of my favorite places to get dance shoes!

Guest blogger for Atomic Ball Room!

Lindy Shopper is doing a series of articles for Atomic Ball Room, based out of Irvine, California. Check out the Atomic Ball Room Blog for my first blog entry “Lindy Shopper 101,” which discusses how to build a good swing dance wardrobe foundation. Excited! I’d like to thank Kyle Smith for inviting me to be a guest blogger. 😀