The alternate title for this post is I Have Too Many Things To Write About and No Time To Do It – my hope is that you’d rather have the news as it comes, rather than a comprehensive post about everything, so I’m giving you the tip of the iceberg here and trust that you’ll enjoy all the things at your leisure:
Zoe Vine – glorious dresses (with sleeves!) in lovely colors, based in the UK (because the UK has everything I want right now, right?), machine washable – gimme!
Hepcat Corner – tees, sweatshirts, bags, phone cases, and more, all with the swing dancer in mind. Bonus points for graphic of shag dancing couple (labeled Charleston – could be either!).
August Three – I had hoped to cover this in a Lindy Focus vendor post that may never come to fruition, but I got to see the beauties from this new swing dance shoe company based in Thailand and the quality looks great and I loved the custom color options. Would love to hear from others who have tried them! Jenna Applegarth has endorsed these and she is essentially the international swing dance shoe expert at this point, I’m not sure there’s a swing dance shoe company she hasn’t tried!
Pretty Retro – In December I discovered that my new favorite go-to clothing website, The House of Foxy, has an offshoot brand called Pretty Retro. I’m not sure what the differences are, it all looks like more glorious, quality vintage-inspired reproduction clothing and I am here for it.
Green of Grey – I found another magical trumpet skirt in the wild (which has since sold out, but maybe custom order? That bow, AMIRITE?) and a number of other adorable swing-era-inspired items in this adorable Etsy shop.
Swingbird Fashions – a Denver-based Etsy shop, with trumpet skirts IN STOCK, adorable 30’s style shorts/skort, 30’s blouses, trousers (both wide leg and those pleated/tapered ones that everyone seems to compete in), some gorgeous dresses, really so many quality things!
Groovy Fox – what a fun name for this new swing dance shoe company! Bulgaria jumps in on the dance shoe game and the results are lovely – we so spoiled with all these new shoe companies with lovely colors and styles. Loving the lilac and mint and wanting to build a spring wardrobe around these colors…
If you’re looking for a gift for the special swing dancer in your life (or really any super niche sub-culture), look no further than Etsy – here are some of my favorite swing dancer themed items that you may want to gift or that you may want under the tree for yourself:
I’m excited to see more vintage inspired men’s trousers popping up from reproduction/retro brands on the Internet – as you may or may not know, the most searched for item on Lindy Shopper is men’s high waisted pants. The latest offerings are from Chester Cordite, who I featured on this blog in January of 2017 with suits and spearpoint collar shirts, but they have since added even more clothing options to their stock. However, I’m focusing on this particular pair of 30’s/40’s inspired twill trousers because they will likely be the most versatile for dancers in most seasons, depending on where you live – these are the most basic of basic men’s pants, but with all the little vintage details that make the difference: high waist, light pleat in the front (for mobility/movement, y’all, don’t get scared), braces buttons, machine washable, 2 inches to let out in the rear, and comes in five colors (khaki, cream, light gray, dark gray, and navy). Again, the UK is killing it with the repro trousers – if you’re like me and you simply cannot find pants to fit you in the US, the shipping cost and risk of a return are worth it.
The hits keep coming, folks – and for all the new swing dance shoe companies popping up, there is an equally eager audience of dancers wondering and hoping – “Will this be THE shoe?” Finding your perfect dance shoe is a process and everyone’s feet respond differently to different shoes, are shaped differently, have their own special needs, and there’s just never a one-size-fits-all solution, at least in terms of dance shoes.
I first heard about Swing Beauty swing dance shoes from instructor Jon Tigert, who I have seen at a number of swing dance events this year sporting a pair of green and tan dance shoes that he has been very happy with over the past months, explaining that he acquired them from this China-based company owned by dancer Mina Lin. Jon has wide feet and has been committed to a style of Stacy Adams shoes in a wide width for years prior to acquiring these Swing Beauty shoes – the new shoes look great on him and feel light on his feet, two excellent notes for a dance shoe. Jon posted on Facebook last night that he had acquired a second pair of Swing Beauty shoes in blue during a trip to Guangzhou to replace some shoes that were ready for retirement – I’d say acquisition of a second pair is a great recommendation! Jon was able to pick out his custom colors and, for wide widths, recommends that you reach out to Swing Beauty about customization options/sizing questions beyond the color customization listed on the website (and even the color custom chart, as compared with the photos on Facebook, looks like just the tip of the iceberg – if you can dream it, maybe they can make it?).
For all the women I am hearing who have wide feet or are looking for the perfect pair of oxfords or need flats (or all of the above!), here’s another option for you. There’s also a boot and a low heeled oxford.
The website looks fairly straightforward, with step by step instructions on what to do – your first step is essentially to send them an order inquiry, rather than putting something in a cart, which gives you the opportunity to ask a lot of questions (if needed) and to inquire about what custom options you seek. To get ideas, you can check out the Swing Beauty Facebook page, which I am sure will expand to give you more options as they create more custom pairs for dancers. The prices look great, ranging from about $107 to $140, based on today’s conversion table.
As I wrap up the last of my dance-oriented gigs before the holidays, a common farewell is, “See you at Focus!” As usual, my holiday dress shopping is a double-duty task, as I look to acquire festive attire for both holiday parties/dances and for dancing at Lindy Focus. I’ve been smitten for some time with the House of Foxy’s offerings, but they about knocked me out of my chair when they released four of their Grable dresses in holiday-perfect hues. Festive red, dark green, a berry hue, and classic black – I love solids for the holidays because they are so easy to dress up or down with jewelry, shoes, and other accessories. This dress is also a crepe poly/viscose/spandex blend for a quick and easy wash and wear turnaround. Can you guess what color I ordered? 😉
I don’t know who is designing for Eshakti, an India-based company making customizabe/semi-customizable clothing, but they are up for everything and I am here for their vintage-inspired styles in knits and machine-washable fabrics. I haven’t written about them on the blog, in part because I assumed everyone knew about them and in part because I wasn’t sure if they would keep up with the few vintage-inspired styles they were offering, but it’s been a few years and I get and love what they are throwing down, especially for this coming fall. They’ve graduated from basic shirt dresses and 50’s shapes to much more adventurous vintage silhouettes with delicious details.
Aside from the wash-and-wear fabrics, one of the main reasons I’ve had friends recommend and wear this brand is the wide range of sizes and the ability to customize the garments, not only in body proportions, but also modifying parts of the garment itself – don’t like a scoop neck? Make it a V-neck. Don’t like sleeveless? Add your choice of several different sleeve options. It costs a bit extra to make these modifications, but it’s a modest cost and Eshakti always seems to be running a sale of some sort to basically offset that cost. And every dress comes with pockets – if you don’t want pockets, you can opt out at no cost (but why would you? lol).
What prompted this blog, in addition to recent emails from Eshakti and ensuing purchases/longings, were some prominent Eshakti sightings at the International Lindy Hop Championships this past weekend. Dance instructor Carol Fraser coached and performed with the Jazzabelles, a solo jazz performance team from Long Island, New York, and she and her teammates were all in coordinating shades of green of the same Eshakti dress. This particular dress I have seen on other women I know who are into vintage style it’s one of those universally flattering cuts for many different body types. Combined with the ease of the knit fabric and the relatively reasonable cost, Eshakti becomes a great option when you are looking for performance team outfits.
Highlighting the versatility and customization elements and also the more luxe fabrics, my fellow vocalist this weekend, Taryn Newborne, sported a gorgeous embroidered lace dress from Eshakti, which she customized by adding length to the skirt and modifying the sleeves. The results were superb, she looked and sounded like a queen.
I would say my only complaint about Eshakti is that you can’t always linger when making a decision – some dresses, like the Jazzabelles’ dresses, have been on the website for a few years; others have disappeared within a matter of a couple of months, for reasons unknown or because they run out of that particular fabric (I’m looking at you green cat print skirt, also couldn’t find Taryn’s dress to link).
Now, for what’s been catching my eye for fall – enjoy!
Every once in a while I’ll happen upon Lindy Hop-themed jewelry, so it was no surprise that retro-leaning Australian jewelry company Erstwilder created a brooch of a dancing couple mid-aerial called Jack Rabbit Slims, which looks like it was based on a classic photo of Hal Takier and Betty Takier. While I don’t recall Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega doing this move, I get the sentiment and perhaps another dance contest winner in that fictional universe won the dance contest with this move? It looks like this also came in a pink colorway at some point, maybe some digging on eBay will yield one if the brown colorway isn’t your bag. Cheers!
I attended my 12th All Balboa Weekend this past weekend and, although I didn’t compete, DJ, run a fashion show, or run a band, I still managed to fill my weekend with so many good things and people even though I came there “just to sing.” Of course, no trip to Cleveland would be complete without a bit of vintage shopping, both on-site and in town. You can check out past blog posts for the scoop on Sweet Lorain and Chelsea’s Costumes, the former being my favorite vintage store of all time and the latter being a great place to score some inexpensive and awesome menswear.
At the Holiday Inn, the vendors did not disappoint this year. There are always a few new items of ABW merchandise each year, including baseball tees with the phrase “I’d rather be doing Bal” and a cute silhouette of Bal dancers on a solid tee and a striped tee. If you’ve looked at the ABW baby tees and thought you didn’t have a use for such things, have you considered that your dog may look adorable in just such a tee? A sweet pup named Luna came to hang out at the event (who may be the most calm and tolerant dog I’ve ever seen) and did a little photo shoot for us and everyone’s heart melted just a little bit.
Re-mix Vintage Shoes was out in full force with an array of Bal-friendly footwear in colors to suit just about any outfit. I didn’t see any new models, but that doesn’t particularly matter when you are dealing in the classics and when you want to replace that pair of gold Balboas that you’ve worn out that not even a gold Sharpie can salvage at this point to make them look like you didn’t put them through a meat grinder…it always makes me happy to walk by this table and see people excited about buying a pair of Re-mix shoes.
De Fils en Perles returned with even more gorgeous beadwork and whimsy. Classic Art Deco-inspired cuffs abound, a new series of rings were added, along with a number of butterfly designs (which were super popular and sold out last year), and (for funsies) some 8-bit characters from Super Mario Bros. and some Minions. The detail here is scrumptious, with no two pieces alike.
Dancestore made an appearance, although I should really call it the Laurie Gilkenson (aka Nina’s mom) booth because it’s more than just Dancestore shoes, it’s also a collection of vintage and vintage-inspired items (such as castoffs from Nina’s incredible shoe collection), as well as hand-crafted items made by Laurie, such as knitted caps for newborns.
Victor Celania set up a booth for his successful custom menswear business, Established Sartorial – based in Austin, Texas, victor has clients both within and outside of the swing dance community and decided to try a vendor booth at ABW. Victor is also the bandleader of the Waller Creek Vipers, whose debut album Bespoke Bounce is hot off the presses and you could pick up a copy at his booth while you drool over all the lovely menswear fabrics.
Jamie Sturdevant of ChatterBlossom was busy every time I rolled by her booth and I think people are finally in the same place I have been for a while, bringing Jamie garments and getting her expert opinion on just the right color, texture, and scale to complete your look. I say complete because I never quite feel right with just my plain hair at a dance event anymore, a flower just elevates an already special night of music and dancing. I also spotted a number of men picking up her boutonnieres, which delights me to no end.
Holding it down at the end of the hallway were the ladies of Flower Child, who informed me that this is their favorite event to collect things for throughout the year, and you can tell that they know their audience well. I find myself revisiting this area multiple times throughout the event, to look for myself and to marvel at how well-curated it is, to the point that I picked out a couple of things with specific people in mind and those people ended up buying those garments. They get us. I saw that they had more separates this year for women, gorgeous blouses, and my favorite piece of clothing was a light turquoise gabardine jacket that Victor picked up for himself.
That’s all for now – save your pennies for next year and join us at All Balboa Weekend for excellent dancing, music, and shopping!
5-year-old Lindy Shopper is squeeing right now, because Re-mix Vintage shoes has added a number of purple shoes to its lineup – my favorite color as a child, second favorite to green now. I remember looking for purple shoes to wear with vintage for a long time and I did manage to pick up a couple of pairs, but nothing I could wear dancing, and Re-mix always had a couple of pairs (mostly multi-tone or eggplant), but nothing that really spoke to me until now, particularly seeing them all in a row. Let us take a moment and bask in the purple options in various heel heights and styles…
The Women’s Swing Dance Shoes Hunt Facebook group has been active for a few years now, but I’ve seen an uptick in men looking for shoes as of late. In the case of Nashville, Tennessee dancer Nick D’Amico, he was also looking to sell some of his dance shoes that never quite worked out for him with sizing, so just last week Nick took the plunge and created The Gentleman’s Corner Shoe Exchange: Buy and Sell Shoes for Swing Dancing. Nick also wants to cultivate discussion about shoes and shoe care, so come join and let’s get this group off the ground – you’ve got a place to sell your not-quite-right shoes and you never know when something you need might pop up!
Last year I wrote about the Venice Beach dress, the garment worn by dancer Genevieve Grazis in the famous Venice Beach Balboa clip that dancers around the world have dissected as dance source material. This dress came into the possession of dancer Jennifer Halsne, who has taken her role of custodian of this dress seriously and written a series of blog posts about the dress and has been working with California-based reproduction dress company Loco Lindo to recreate the dress for those of us dancers who would love to have a skirt with such twirling power.
I’ll let Jennifer’s blog post do the talking, but I wanted all of the Lindy Shopper readers to know that a skirt based on the dress is now available for purchase on the Loco Lindo website and that the dress reproduction is coming soon! Head over to Swing Sleuths to read (and see) more! #trumpetskirts4eva
A lot of black Lindy Hoppers are speaking right now and a lot of us are listening, but I know a lot of us also want to take action to help. I have been looking for more ways to be an ally and to use my voice to help make our community more inclusive to black dancers. Lindy Shopper is my most public voice, but this is a fashion blog – I wasn’t sure how I could help writing about clothing and shoes.
Then I saw a Facebook post made by dancer Angel Sheniev Cadenza, which detailed ways in which racial isolation is present in the dance scene, and one of those was was the following: “Racial isolation in the dance scene to me…It is planning to attend a vintage-themed dance event and having almost no black reference points to create your look because all the vintage themed resources are created by and for whites, and black people are almost non-existent in historical media.”
I spend a good amount of time poring over photographs and videos from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s studying the subjects’ clothing and I knew that there were a lot of black reference materials (a good place to start is the Vintage Black Glamour Facebook page, which you should all be following because it’s fabulously curated with lots of historical information), but I can do better and share this information here. I realize newer dancers may not know all the vintage clips of the swing era, so let’s explore that. The focus of this blog is source material, where to purchase clothing and shoes, so I’ll try to tie that in, as well – we should be inspired AND know where to get the look.
Back in 2010, I started a series called “What’s Old is New” and I realized that I never actually made this into a series, so I’m going to pick this up and continue it (after posting it in Angel’s thread as a possibility of how I could contribute to this discussion and received positive feedback)…so here we go. If this is a misstep, then I apologize and I will stop and continue listening.
The first and only post in my What’s Old is New series was about the clothing in the Marx Brothers’ film “A Day at the Races,” which features Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and I found sources for some modern day inspirations/approximations of the garments worn by the women dancers in the film. I still love their outfits, the quintessential mid-calf 1930’s skirts in bias cut plaid are just awesome.
Let’s take a look at another classic clip featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hopper’s, a 1941 soundie called “Hot Chocolate (Cottontail),” featuring Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing Cottontail. The dancers are wearing clothing that is not quite costume, not quite street clothing, somewhere fun and in the middle.
The pinafore/jumpers on the women are just adorable and I am dying over the huge sleeves on their blouses. The men have a bit more variance in their dress, ranging from overalls to jackets with maybe the largest collar I’ve ever seen on a shirt. Finding exact replicas of these garments would be hard, you’d likely have to get a copy made, but we’ll find some pieces that capture some of the fun of these garments.
For the blouses, my first instinct was to go to the House of Foxy website and they deliver – their Elsie blouse has those amazing sleeves (available in mustard, black, and white). They also have a great Peter Pan collar blouse available in ivory, ivory gingham, black gingham, and a black/gray/red floral print – I know I have missed seeing these available outside of thrift/vintage shops and I’m glad House of Foxy is offering some twists on the basic (or not so basic) blouse so we can find some reproductions we may not feel as hesitant to dance in. I own the Peter Pan collar shirt and some other pieces from this company and the quality is stellar, would purchase again.
I didn’t see but one vintage 40’s jumper that caught my eye on Etsy (but it’s awesome – black velvet with pockets on the front!), but they tend to pop up somewhat often, as these jumpers and pinafore dresses were fairly common – the thing you won’t find is the shorter skirt length, but then you can decide what length you want and what look is more your style.
Men, I don’t even know where to begin with that giant collar, it’s amazing and a sight bigger than any 40’s, any 70’s, anything I’ve ever seen. Since a trend in the 70’s was 30’s style and the collars were of superior width and breadth in that decade, I went looking in vintage because I honestly don’t know of any modern retailer carrying an approximation of this. Even Simon James Cathcart’s polos aren’t cut that big, but if you wanted a nod to that big collar, this would be a reasonable place to start. The 40’s shirts were a bust, but there were some promising 70’s options on Etsy – like this Art Deco print or this yellow long sleeved shirt. There were more great printed shirts on Etsy with wide collars so take a gander!
As for the overalls…I’ve got nothing. Sometimes garments are so special that they can’t be found and/or have to be made.
I went looking for the light car coat in the video and the first hits were Burberry and Prada, so I retreated to Etsy and found one from the 60’s that fit the bill. That they were doing aerials in a coat is pretty awesome, but you’ll probably save yours for before and after the dance.
There are other pieces I wish I could find! In particular that two tone paneled skirt, what a great piece to have in your closet.
Feel free to chime in with other pieces you have found that look inspired by this clip in the comments! This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a starting point for ideas and sources.
He may not know it outright, but Simon James Cathcart is here to serve swing dancers – that is, serve up classic, rare, and sought-after reproduction menswear pieces in great fabrics. His latest offerings are all cotton, which means it’s all breathable and washable for us sweaty dancer types.
The workwear cotton stripe is being offered in four pieces, a belt back jacket, a waistcoat, a pair of trousers, and a cap, all inspired by 1920’s workwear. From the website:
“SJC has woven this exclusive cloth, which recreates the striped pattern from a pair of genuine 1920’s work-wear trousers in the company’s collection of vintage clothing. The cloth has been brushed on the inside for warmth…”
The details on these pieces are wonderful, as per usual – notice all the careful seams and generous use of pockets. Of interest to dancers would be the note about ample room in the thigh of the trousers, which translates to more room for your legs to move about unrestricted.
Finally, you just need some basics and SJC is, again, delivering the goods – what’s more basic than a pair of chinos or a pair of jeans? The workhouse chinos come with all the casual air of a weeknight DJ’ed dance, but have all the details you expect from period trousers, such as buttons for braces, a cinched back, and a nice V at the back of the waistband.
Cotton = breathable = sweat and dance to your heart’s content! Keep it comin’, Simon!
I have been counting down the days until February 1 since Royal Vintage Shoes made its announcement that they were taking pre-orders for their spring line on said date and showed previews of some of the most delicious new reproduction 1930’s shoes I have seen in a while – a golf shoe in kelly green and white (BE STILL MY HEART, also in brown) and a two tone 1930’s sandal (in blue/white and red/white). However, neither of these shoes have leather soles, so my intent was to go about my merry way, purchase these as street shoes, and not blog about things I felt it might not be OK to dance in, since our focus is on function AND aesthetics. But you should go look at their entire spring line because it is all beautiful!
Then I went to visit Royal Vintage’s parent company, American Duchess, which produces shoes from time periods prior to the jazz age, because I love historic costumes and I like to see what is out there. To my surprise, as part of their spring line of Victorian shoes, there was a lovely little flat two tone oxford with a leather sole called the Eliza. The uppers are houndstooth wool and leather and come in shades of black and brown. These shoes look so soft and comfortable, which is not something you can always say just by looking at a shoe. So if you’re in the market for flats, you can use these for modern swing dancing or your 1830’s-1860’s ensembles.
Pre-orders last through the end of February with shoes expected in April!
This post was written by Lindy Shopper and Bobby White ofSwungover.
Every few years someone willpost 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 instructor David Rehm enjoys.
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!