What Are Spectator Shoes?

A spectator is a two-tone oxford shoe that men wore in the 1920s and 1930s. They come in two basic styles : "Wingtips" or "Cap Toes."

Some spectators have broguing, a decorative perforation or edge cutting along the stitching or on the toe. This decoration is derived from a style of shoe called a brogue, which has its origins in the traditional footwear of Scotland. In fact, the name "brogue" comes from the Gaelic word for shoe — brog.

A black & white wingtip spectator shoe
A black and white wingtip spectator
The piece of leather that forms the toe is almost always dyed black or brown, and either shaped as a capped toe, or a wingtip toe. The shape of the toe defines the style of the spectator : a spectator with a wingtipped toe are called wingtipped spectators, or just "wingtips." The piece of leather that forms the back of the heal is always the same color as the toe. The pieces of leather, that form the shoe between the toe and the heal are often dyed white, but can often be found in many other color variations.

Note that when it comes times to get dressed, a black & white spectator is considered as if it were a solid white shoe. Likewise, a black & red spectator will be considered as if it were a red shoe, etc. Therefore, how you coordinate your clothes, and the rules of dress apply as if it were a shoe of that solid color. Thus, a black & white spectator (considered a white shoe) is strictly a late-Spring and Summer shoe because — according to fashion rules of the early 20th century — white shoes were to be worn only during the warmer and drier weather. The general rule: if it isn't between Memorial Day and Labor Day, then don't wear white shoes, including those black & whites. Additionally, if you were wearing black pants and a khaki shirt, then black & tan spectators will look far better on you than black & whites (which will just look rather tacky).

Origin of Spectators

Before the days of the spectator, it was the style — for many years — for men to wear spats. Spats were worn over the cuff of the shoe to accent the color of the shoe and match the suit, while also protecting the wearer's calves and ankles from dust and dirt kicked up while walking. Because spats were relatively inexpensive compared to shoes, they allowed one pair of shoes to be worn with a wide variety of colors and patterns. When spats went out of style, the spectator came into style, leading some to believe that the spectator's color design was an attempt to duplicate the look of spats worn over a black shoe.

Another theory is that the black toe and heal was intended to hide any grass stains incurred from walking, while maintaining the white Summer dress shoes that was fashionable at the time. Specifically, these grass stains would be expected to be incurred by a spectator (the man, not the shoe) at the races or on the golf course.

Saddle Shoes — Not A Spectator

The saddle shoe is the opposite of a spectator. Where the spectator has a light colored body with a black or brown toe and heal, the saddle shoe has a black body dividing a white toe and a white heal. This style became popular with teens, and college students, very late in the 1940s and during the early rock-and-roll era of the 1950's. Before the mid-1940s, almost nobody wore saddle shoes, and the two-tone shoe that reigned was the spectator shoe.

Who Wore Spectators Then?

Just about everyone, including swing and jazz musicians, gangsters, and Fred Astaire dancing in the movies. Since it was oxfords were a men's shoe, spectators, likewise were worn primarily by men. You'll find, however, that few Lindy Hoppers wore them on the social dance floor. Reasons for this include the fact that many spectators, at that time, were made with hard leather soles, and were too stiff to be comfortable to do the Lindy Hop in.

Who Wears Spectators Today?

Most often — today — when someone is seen wearing spectators, they are often associated with the swing music/dance revival of the 1990's and onward. These days, there are men's spectator shoes, and women's spectator shoes. The women's style are designed much like regular woman's dress healed shoe, but designed to match the color design found on the mens spectator shoes.

They are also now found in many color combinations. Instead of black, some modern spectators will have another color such as red or royal blue. For those spectators that still have the toe and heal area colored black, the body (the vamp) can be any combination of colors, most often reds, and light blues.

Although the spectator was not often worn by the early swing dancers of the 1920's to the 1940's, the neo-swing crowd of the 1990's+ have adopted the style as a signature of their lifestyle. It helps everyone identify each other. Additionally, the flashier shoe draws more attention to the footwork of the dancer, a statement unto itself.