Category Archives: Shoes

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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French Beach Shoes, 1930s

Someone who had a great deal of experience with collecting once told me that it was “not just about the frocks.”  That really left an impression on me, and I did come to see what an important statement it was.  You just can’t understand the history of dress without also looking at the accessories.

When it comes to sports attire, it seems to me that clothing is much easier to locate than accessories.  I can think of many reasons why this might be so.  For example, rubber was a common material used in swim accessories, and rubber, if not stored properly, has a nasty tendency to melt and rip.  Also, sport shoes were often made of canvas, which would not have lasted like leather shoes would.

I spotted the beach shoes above in the Instagram feed of @garb_oh_vintage.  Probably the only reason they did not sell immediately was because they are a relatively small size.  That was good for me.

The seller had bought these in France some years ago.  I was not surprised, as these have a look to them of walks along the Côte d’Azur .  They are actually a play on the traditional espadrille, which originated in Spain, and which were very popular with the artistic set of France in the 1920s and 30s.

I found several very similar pairs in a 1936 advertisement for Lastex swimsuits.  Lastex was “the miracle yarn that makes things fit” and was introduced in 1931, but did not come into common use until later in the decade.

The heels are made from wood, something that is seen quite commonly in this type shoe.

The shoes show signs of light wear, but not enough to rub off the size – a French 37.

The straps fasten with metal buckles, which are lightly rusted.

When I think of all the shortages and scarcities of the World War Two era, I have to wonder how any clothing from before that time survived intact, especially something like shoes.

I tend to collect things that were made for the American market, so it is interesting that these shoes are from France, and the late 1930s Reid’s Holiday Togs playsuit I posted earlier is from Canada.  It’s even nicer that they look so fabulous together.

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Delson Dash Abouts – Late 1940s or Early 1950s

One thing that really makes the clothes and accessories of the years immediately following WWII is color.  During the war the limitations to fashion went way beyond rationing.  Because they were made from chemicals, many dyes were in short supply due to their usefulness in the war effort.

In the US, shoes were pretty much limited to six colors: black, three shades of brown, navy, and white.  Some writers have suggested that part of the limitation of colors might have been an effort to make shoes less desirable, and to make women less likely to want to buy the new shoes.  There may be some truth to that, and I might suggest that the styles were not exactly attractive either. They were sturdy and made to last.  Aesthetics were an afterthought.

But after the war ended, color exploded across fashion.  Some of the very best prints ever conceived were printed on post WWII rayons and silks.  Color didn’t end there, though, and shoes and handbags were also full of fantastic colors.

I found these super wedge shoes last weekend, and immediately fell in love with the color combination of purple, light yellow, and pale sky blue.  Just that little touch of blue turned these shoes into something really special.

The wedge hell was introduced by Ferragamo in 1936, and it remained a practical heel through the war years.  It allowed for easy walking, and the stability make wedges more comfortable than a conventional heel.

After the war ended, the wedge heel remained popular.  For the most part, it was used for more casual shoes or shoes for work.  Sandals often had wedge heels during the postwar period.

I spent an hour or two this afternoon researching when wedges were popular.  What that means is that I lost myself in copy after copy of magazines from the 1940s and early 50s.  Judging by the frequency of wedges featured in ads and editorial content, starting about 1952 the wedge heel started to lose popularity.  A devotee of the wedge could still find them in 1954, but the style was fast waning as the stiletto came on strong.

The brand is Delson Dash Abouts, a label I don’t remember ever seeing.  My search through my magazines did not produce an ad for the company either.  I did find a very few online references, the earliest being a newspaper ad in 1950.  There was also a note in a book on copyright holders that the label belonged to Bird & Son, Inc.  The last mention I’ve found was in a 1960s ad.

The Scottie on the label had absolutely nothing to do with the purchase of these shoes.

As I said, I did not turn up an ad for Delson Dash Abouts, but advertisements for colorful wedge shoes were common from 1946 through about 1952.  An example is this 1951 ad from Buskins.

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Pollock’s Shoes, Asheville, NC

In my ongoing search for all things concerning hiking clothing, I found this ad in a 1926 issue of Everygirl’s, the Campfire Girls magazine.  I can’t resist looking at the lists of stores whenever they are a part of an ad, and I’m always interested to see if there was a store in Western North Carolina that offered the product.

In 1926 Cantilever Shoes could be bought at Pollock’s Shoes in Asheville.  I had read about Pollock’s in the great booklet, The Family Store, which tells about all the Jewish-owned businesses that could be found in Asheville in the twentieth century.  Pollock’s was owned by Lou Pollack, who according to his obituary, started the business in 1910.  In the 1920s the store was located on Patton Avenue, one of the main streets in downtown Asheville.

There have been a lot of changes on Patton Avenue, including the loss of two entire blocks to parking lots, and much of another to a modern bank building.  Almost incredibly the old Pollock’s store has survived at 39 Patton Avenue, with some distinctive brickwork that can be seen in old photos still in place today.

I was a bit surprised when I looked up one day while walking on nearby Haywood Street, to see the Pollock’s name.

By studying old city directories, which can be found online, I found that for a period of time mainly during the 1940s, there was a second Pollock’s store.  Just by looking at the decoration on the exterior of the building, my guess is that it was a posher version of the old family oriented store.

The Haywood Street Pollock’s was sandwiched between the very nice Bon Marche department store, on the left, and Woolworth’s on the right.  The Bon Marche opened in 1937, and Woolworth’s in 1938, and my guess is that the Pollock’s space dates to the same time period.

Lou Pollock was famous for having a yearly Christmas party for children who needed shoes, and he must have given away thousands of pairs over the years.  Pollock retired from his store in 1939, but the Patton Avenue store was open at least until 1956, the last year I found it listed in the city directory.

I love this kind of urban exploration.  There are little bits of the past still to be found in brick and plaster, tile and signage.  It’s all a matter of keeping one’s eyes open.

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Ferragamo, 1938 and 2015

I don’t do a lot of retail shopping, purely because these days I prefer to make my clothes, and because there is so little that I need.  Last weekend I found myself in Atlanta (great niece’s first communion; that was interesting) and staying across the street from a huge shopping mall.  I decided to take my morning walk in the mall and do a bit of window shopping.

I love shop windows, and while the ones in malls are seldom on par with the great ones seen on the street in the major shopping cities, I’m always interested to see what it is that brands think is newsworthy enough to feature in their windows.

The shoes above were in the windows of Ferragamo, Italian maker of shoes that dates back to the 1920s.  In 1928  Salvatore Ferragamo opened his shoe manufacturing business in Florence, Italy, after a time in Hollywood making shoes for the movies.  The business struggled through the depression, but by 1938 was making enough money for Salvatore to relocate the business to a grand palace.

World War II was looming, and Ferragamo was looking to alternative materials from which to fashion his shoes.  One idea was to build the soles and heels from cork.  From 1938 through the 1940s Ferragamo made fanciful wedge heels and platforms with the lightweight cork as a base.

The above shoe is quite well-known.  This particular example is in the Ferragamo Museum, which is still housed in the palace Salvatore bought in 1938.  You can see why I was attracted to the new platforms in the window.  It is a superb example of a company reaching back into their archives to bring out ideas and update them for modern taste.

On the Ferragamo website I found that there are several different styles in this line based on the 1938 cork sole and heel.  I also spotted some sandals and espadrilles  based on the famous Ferragamo Vara (the pump with the bow) which was first made in the 1970s and became the shoe of working women in the 1980s.  And they still make the Audrey, a flat ballet type shoe that was designed for Audrey Hepburn in 1954.

Ferragamo is proof that companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel every four months.  All they have to do is build on the greatness they have already created.

The book that contains the picture of the 1938 platforms is Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More, by Linda O’Keefe.  I bought it while on a school field trip with my fifth graders  to the Mint Museum in Charlotte in 1996, and I and the lucky little girls sitting near me on the bus ride home whiled away the trip with this great little book.  It’s still a favorite, partly because it reminds me so much of the fun we had analyzing the designs and picking out our favorites.

 

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1962 Fun-Shus Sneakers from the International Shoe Company

In 1962 the International Shoe Company was big business.  They owned quite a few well-known shoe brands including Florsheim, Shelby, Red Goose, Queen Quality, and Poll-Parrot.  In an effort to cash in on the sneaker market, they started a new brand, Fun-Shus.

A casual dressing America has created a 130 million pair demand for sneakers and fabric casuals, and International Shoe Company, in anything but a casual manner, is out to get its share of this growing market.

To a company like International Shoe that manufactured mainly dress shoes for all ages, the trend toward casual dressing must have been a bit alarming.  Out to get their share of the 130 million pair market, it could not have been easy going with established competition like Keds, P.F. Flyers, Sears, and J.C. Penney.  Until I found this company bulletin, I’d never heard of Fun-Shus, so I’m guess they didn’t do a lot of damage to Keds’ market share.

The booklet is interesting because it explains the process of making sneakers.

The fabric upper was fitted to the sole by the use of a nylon drawstring.  The upper was constructed and the drawstring sewn around the bottom of it.

Here is the room where the uppers were constructed.

In a unique manufacturing process, the uppers, which may be canvas, flannels, combination or drill cloth – or most any “casual” material for that matter, are constructed pretty much as usual.  Then, in the final operation in the plant’s modern conveyorized fitting room, a nylon cord is stitched around the bottom of the upper with an overthrow stitch.

On the right is an upper with the string drawn.

The upper is placed on a metal fitting form and the string pulled to fit.

Here we see the rubber sole before the upper is placed on it and vulcanized to attach the two parts.

From here, the uppers are sent to the molders – who with 20 machines in operation can vulcanize some 200 pairs an hour… A molding compound in put in the mold, the string lasted upper swung around and inserted in the mold, side walls are closed and in three minutes the shoe has a long-wearing, light and comfortable sole.

The completed shoe is pulled from the rubber mold.

There were several models of the Fun-Shu shown, including the square toed shoe seen above.  I’ve seen ads for square toe Keds from the early 1960s.

I think I need those gingham saddle oxfords.

Italicized text quoted from “Both Feet in the Fun-Shus Sneaker Market,” International Shoe Company News Bulletin, March-April, 1962

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Ad Campaign – I. Miller Shoes, 1930s

I. Miller gives you summer shoes in color taken from the new flower prints.

On to the American Summer scene of glamorous clothes walk  I. Miller shoes in vibrant flower colors.  Nature’s hues selected with the I. Miller genius for color…for costume relationship. 1937

Israel Miller was the son of a Polish (some sources say Prussian) shoemaker who immigrated to the USA in the 1890s.  He obtained work as a cobbler with John Azzimonti,  an Italian immigrant who was making shoes for the theater.  According to an issue of the Boot and Shoe Recorder, actress Sarah Bernhardt once ordered 244 pairs of boots at one time.  When Azzimonti closed the shoe making business in 1909, his customers put in orders for up to thirty pairs.

They need not have worried about obtaining quality shoes, as Azzimonti’s former employee, Israel Miller was already making shoes and would establish I. Miller by 1911.  His operation was moved to a building near the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, which is in the theater district.  He was soon leasing the two brownstone buildings on the corner, and business was so good that in 1926 he bought both buildings and began renovations that would unify them into a single unit.

The resulting building is seen above,  but in 1926 the statues in the niches were not yet in place.  The next year it was announced that statues of four show women would be chosen to represent the arts of drama, comedy, opera, and movies.  The public was even invited to vote for their favorites, the winners being Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Rosa Ponselle, and Mary Pickford.  The statues were made by A. Stirling Calder, the father of Alexander Calder of mobile fame.

Unfortunately Israel Miller did not live to see the unveiling of the completed building.  He died in Paris of a heart attack several months before the October, 1929 unveiling.

 

The Broadway side of the building was quite different from the elegant 46th Street facade.  There were pre-existing billboard leases on that side, and so even in the early days of the store, much of the Broadway facade was given over to advertising.  Today, the main entrance is on Broadway, as that is where most of the traffic is, but when this was a store store to the stars, they entered through 46th Street.

I. Miller shoes closed sometime in the 1970s and the building was bought in 1978 by Riese Restaurants, who ran a TGIFriday restaurant there for several decades.  By the late 1990s Riese was saying the store front would be restored, and though they applied for and were granted landmark status, nothing ever came of it.  Eventually the TGIFriday restaurant was closed, and the building taken over by the Express clothing company.

When I visited New York City in August, 2013, I went by to see the building and was dismayed to see it scaffolded over. In New York that could mean anything from restoration to a complete redoing of the building.  To their great credit, as Express readied the interior of the building  for retail, the exterior was renovated to its former glory.

The four statues had to be removed and restored as they were in terrible condition.  Chunks of marble on the building had to be repaired, the bronze was polished, and the entire facade was given a good cleaning.  Today it is one of the best reminders of what shopping in New York City was like in the early and mid 20th century.

When I first read of the shoe store several years ago it struck me as odd that there would be such an elegant store in a part of the city that was not (at that time, anyway) a shopping district.  A little reading about the subject informed me that this was only one of I. Miller’s stores.  The main store was located on Fifth Avenue, and there were two other New York City branches.  Nationwide there were 228 branch stores and several factories.

The mode for black is charmingly met in.. Monograin silk by I. Miller

As all femininity fares forth in Black, Monograin becomes the overwhelming fashion favorite for wear with the new autumn hats, gloves and handbags of this subtly-woven silk.  1930

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