Category Archives: Shoes

1940s Vitality Open Road Shoes

I recently found this pair of wedge heeled shoes on eBay, and was really delighted when they arrived in my mailbox. I don’t buy a lot of shoes for my collection for various reasons, and I’m quite cautious when I find a pair I might want to add to my collection. These more than met my strict criteria.

Condition is a big problem with vintage sporty shoes. It’s fairly easy to find superb examples of evening shoes that date back to the early days of the twentieth century, but comfortable day shoes were often worn until they were done for.  This pair looks like they just came out of the shoe box, circa 1947.

How did I arrive at that date? First, I could be off a year or so in either direction. I have spent considerable time engaged in research involving 1940s and early 1950s fashion magazines. To me it’s really interesting to follow a trend from its first appearances in advertisements, to the days, often years later, when the trend becomes a has-been.

Wedge heels first appeared in 1936 in Italy with designer Salvatore Ferragamo, though they didn’t really catch on until WWII made practical heels more necessary. They continued after the war ended, into the early 1950s.

In trying to date my shoes I looked for two things: ads from the Vitality Shoe Company, and wedges that have a curved, rather than a flat sole. From 1945 through 1954, I found only one ad from Vitality.

This ad is from 1949 and it features three styles of wedge heels. Note that the pair on the bottom left has a slimmer and higher wedge. I noticed this happening around 1947, and by 1954 the old thick clunky-look wedge was gone.  Note also that Vitality calls these walking shoes the Wanderlust line. My thinking is that this line replaced the Open Road line. The last ad I found on-line for Open Road was 1946.

Vitality was part of the International Shoe Company of Saint Louis. At one time it was recognized to be the largest maker of shoes in the world. They made average price range shoes, so it is interesting to see how very well-made my shoes are.

I love the way there is a woven label inserted under the insole. That feature pretty much ended with the 1940s.

During WWII, shoe colors were strictly limited because the dyes used for leather contained ingredients needed for the war effort. I have read there were six colors allowed, but a Smithsonian article says there were only four: black, white, brown, and russet.

At any rate, these shoes could not have been made during the war years with the beautiful red and blue, and the trim of even more colors.  In my research, I noted that by the beginning of 1946, American consumers were once again able to buy colorful shoes.

After the war ended there was an increasing interest in style from the American West. Many service men and women and defense workers had enjoyed the “California lifestyle” during the war, and the Westernwear of Hollywood actors must have also played a part.

I can’t help but think that in today’s world, a cry of “cultural appropriation” might be raised against my moccasin/wedgie hybrids.  With their colorful but vaguely Native or Southwestern vibe, I can see how they could have been just the shoes for women who were ready to wear color again.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, World War II

Compared: 1920s and 1970s Boots

One thing I probably don’t write enough about here is how fashion is constantly borrowing from its past. Someone once said to me that fashion ran out of ideas about 1967. I’m not sure that is true, but one does not have to look far to see borrowed ideas.

Above is a pair of hiking boots from Abercrombie & Fitch, from the late 1920s or early 30s. I don’t think that at the time these boots would have been considered to be “fashion” as they were a functional item worn for a specific purpose, and definitely not meant to be on the city streets. They were a style borrowed from the boys, so to speak, as men had been wearing this type boot in the woods for some time.

Today the lines between fashion and function is very blurred, with people wearing their workout clothing on the street and their jammies on airplanes, but in the 1920s, the rules were more rigid. It was a very big deal when in 1924 a brave woman in Italy first wore her pajamas on the Lido.

These boots are from the 1970s, and I’m sure that the similarity to the 20s ones is obvious. You see the same lacing with eyelet over the foot, and hooks up the leg. The below the knee length is the same. Both are made of leather.

But also striking are the differences. The 1920s boot has a low stacked leather heel. The 70s boot has a fashionable heel, covered with the same leather as the rest of the boot. The 20s boot has a ridge around the top of the foot to assist with the shaping of the leather, while the foot of the 70s boot is made from two pieces of leather. The toe shape is different.

What I find interesting is that the 1920s boot is obviously built for function and the 70s boots is obviously built for fashion. But at the same time there is no mistaking the fact that the 70s boot was inspired by the 20s one.

Even when mixed up, it’s easy to distinguish one boot from the other. It’s just one most thing to look for when trying to evaluate a piece of older clothing. Always look for the influences.

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At Hood Rubber Company, Circa 1905

click to enlarge

Back in the winter I wrote about Hood Rubber. The company made all sorts of products that incorporated rubber, but the most interesting to me were the canvas and rubber leisure shoes.  After making the post, my friend Lynn of AmericanAgeFashion wrote to remind me that she had also written about the company because she had a wonderful old photo that showed some workers in one of the Hood factories. When I met Lynn in Charlotte a few weeks ago, she gave the photo to me to add to my archive.

The only person identified in the photo is the older woman who is standing between two men. She was identified as Grandmother King. In another pen was added “Hood Rubber Watertown”, and in pencil someone wrote “c 1910”. These identifications were added much later, as the pens used were ballpoints, which did not come into common use until the 1940s. My point is that the circa 1910 seems to be a bit off, as I’d put this at least five years earlier.

My guess is this is a cutting room. At the time, athletic shoes were either black or white, and that’s what we can see in the bolts stacked behind the workers. Even though this area has electric lights, the factory still makes use of the natural light by placing the work tables near the windows. And look carefully at the tables. They appear to be spread with the canvas, and you can see the bolts on the floor on the backs of the tables.

Old industrial photos of this sort provide a lot of information about everything from the types of clothing workers wore to the way factories were set up. They are hard to find, so I’m really happy to have this one and to add it to my records. Thanks Lynn!

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Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Shoes, Vintage Photographs

Hood Leisure Shoes and PF Flyers

One of the sad facts about collecting sportswear is that the clothes and accessories were usually subjected to hard use. For that reason there seems to be at least a dozen pairs of 1920s fancy dress shoes on the market for every pair of canvas sporty ones.  So even though the circa 1918 shoes pictured above are not particularly pretty or stylish, they are in really great shape to be sport shoes that are one hundred years old.

Hood is not a well-known brand name today, but at the time these shoes were made, Hood Rubber Products was a major player in the rubber products industry. The company was located in Watertown, MA, and was founded by Frederic and Arthur Hood in 1896. By 1920 they made a variety of rubber products and had a work force of over 10,000 people. At peak production, Hood turned out close to 90,000 pairs of shoes a day.

Click to see entire ad

This ad from 1918 shows my shoes, the Classic Oxford, though they have the lower heel shown on the Vassar Pump. I’ve seen many photos from the late 1910s and the 1920s showing women in tennis attire wearing this style shoe.

I found an interesting tidbit about how Hood wear-tested their new products. They used the children of employees, giving them shoes to wear for a year. After that time the shoes were turned in to the company where the wear was analyzed. Then new shoes were given out for the next test period.

In 1929, Hood was bought by a competitor, B.F. Goodrich. Shoes under the Hood name continued to be made, along with Goodrich’s own brand. In 1933, Hyman Whitman was granted a patent for an arch supporter, which was obtained by B.F. Goodrich and became the basis of their “Posture Foundation” sole.  This became the famous PF Flyer tennis shoe.

Above is part of a B.F. Goodrich ad from 1947. PF Flyers were initially a shoe for children, but the PF arch supporter was used in adult shoes as well starting in 1937.

What I did not know was that shoes manufactured under the Hood name also used the PF arch supporter. This is the insole of a pair of circa 1948 tennis shoes from the Jane Hefner estate. It has the PF name, along with the patent number of the arch support owned by B.F. Goodrich. I would have thought these were the Goodrich brand if not for the Hood trademark right above the “PF”.

Here are Jane’s tennis shoes. They are in quite a poor state, not because Jane wore them to death, but because of improper storage. The canvas is not worn at all, and the soles show no signs of wear either. I suspect these were bought because of a requirement for gym class. Jane was not an athlete! Her casual shoes were a pair of well-worn saddle oxfords.

In 2001 the PF Flyer name was bought by New Balance, which still makes the shoes. Hood stopped production in 1969, but the brand has been relaunched as a maker of men’s rubber-soled boots.

 

 

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1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Shoes

Cool Notes Sneakers, Circa 1963

I’m really picky when it comes to adding things younger than I am to my collection. There really is a lot of stuff left over from the 1960s and younger, so a collector can afford to wait until  something really special comes along. As a rule of thumb, the younger the object, the better condition I want it to have. A pair of Keds from 1923 can have a bit of wear, but I want  a pair of sneakers from 1963 to be in excellent condition.

I first spotted these on the Instagram feed of @jessamity and I knew I had to have them. I have an early 1960s set of separates from Tabak of California, that came from the estate of the designer, Irene Saltern, that are a gray and white stripe. These shoes could not be more perfect to go with those separates.

I don’t have a firm date on the Tabak pieces, but stylistically, they date to the early 1960s. I can be a bit more certain about the shoes. I’m pretty sure they came from 1962 or 1963.  The story is in the turned-up toe.

This is from a 1963 advertisement for a pair of Daniel Green slippers. I had saved it because I have these slippers in pink. What was it about 1963 that made women want to wear a vaguely Asian-looking toe on their shoes?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but it is useful to get an idea of what else was happening in the world that might have inspired the look. In 1962, Jackie Kennedy went on a tour of India and Pakistan. Also in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia was released. Eastern culture was on people’s minds, and this looks to me as a fuzzy sort of Asian look.

To show just how fuzzy, the Daniel Green slippers were advertised as “Bangkok… Oriental opulence in a brocade slipper…” and the color was described as “Ming” blue.

I have not been able to turn up any information about Cool Notes, but these are a pretty inexpensively-made product. My guess is that they were made for the teen market.

There is one more hint on the box. These were sold at a store called Masso’s. I’ve found a Masso’s that was located in Plainville, Texas. I could not determine if the store is still in operation.

As always, additional information about Cool Notes would be greatly appreciated.

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Late 1930s Bowling Shoes and the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Co.

On a recent trip we were delighted by the hotel’s basement rec room, which included a two lane bowling alley. Growing up in the 1960s it seemed like everybody bowled, at least on a casual basis when there was nothing else to do. The bowling alley in my little town was always busy. But times change, and the alley went under. And even though I collect sportswear, I have few bowling pieces in my collection.

But we had so much fun bowling that I was inspired to go looking for some vintage pieces to fill the bowling void. What I discovered is that great garments are very expensive, but the shoes seem to be a bargain. So unsurprisingly, I now have three new pairs of bowling shoes. The clothing will come, but I’m going to have to spend a bit more time looking.

I’m okay with that. One can – and did – bowl in any comfortable and casual clothing, but bowling shoes are a specialized item that can greatly enhance one’s game. So maybe the shoes are actually more important than the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth two-toned gabardine bowling dresses.

I’ve had to educate myself on the ages of bowling shoes. They are not “fashion” items, but as in most cases of sports attire, you can find fashion influences. In the case of the shoes shown here, I had a bit of help with the dating. The seller got these from the original wearer’s daughter, who is now in her late 70s. The daughter knew these were the bowling shoes her mother had worn as a teen in the late 1930s. That was a great starting place.

I then went looking for photographic evidence on the WWW. I didn’t find what I needed, but in the meantime I ran across a catalog from the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Company in Manchester, Ohio. There’s no date on the catalog, but the illustrations of mainly men playing various sports are typical 1930s. All I could really find was that the company was owned by Mike S. Bruno. All the information I could find locates the company in Cincinnati in the mid 1940s. Mike Bruno was described as “late” in a 1954 marriage announcement of his son, Joseph. That’s it, so I would appreciate any additional facts about Bruno.

I also found a very similar design in a 1935-36 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog.

I would imagine that this basic design remained in place for some years. In both catalogs the shoes were described as made from elk leather.

The soles are suede, or more likely, buckskin. The heels have a rubber finish, for additional control over the slide of the foot.

Bruno was primarily a maker of ice and skate boots, but they also manufactured bowling, baseball, and basketball shoes. They also advertised the “Bruno Magic Toe Stop”, guaranteed to keep the toes of your skates from developing those unsightly toe wrinkles.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, Sportswear