The 20th century has been one of the most eventful centuries in the history of mankind. Technological leaps and wonders alike, we put people out of poverty and even put a human on the moon.
As we evolved so did the fashion in the modern world. It has grown, trends have stagnated, decayed and thus adapted and is a contious changing part of our culture. What we wear truly speaks to the character of the era. And one of the trends that have cyled in and out of fashion is the Spade Sole Shoe.
The spade have evolved through the 20th centory and thus have some differant branches, but it does have some main features. Spade refers to the design of the leather sole of a shoe mimicking the blade of a spade/ shovel.
The waist of the sole is thus followed by a excessive wide sole at the forefoot and a U or V shape representing the blade of the shovel. The sole aligned to the balls of the feet where the sole is widest typically have sharp edges as the sole is curved towards the waist. These edges are typically seen on both the medial and the lateral side of the sole.
Sharp lateral edge
Sharp medial Edge
U form fore foot of the sole
We have divided the spade into three different main styles, narrow, wide and rounded. These have historical reference but are still modern adaptation and interpretations. The narrow is a tighter spade showing little increase of width to the welt. It has the typical feature of a spade sole with sharp edges both lateral and medial. In contrary to the narrow, the wider spade has a noticeable increase in width to the welt at the fore foot. This increase does require a double seam for structural integrity, and it also serves as an esthetical feature.
The rounded spade is actually a style of spade sole similar to the wider spade sole, but with the edges featuring rounded edges. This also has a wider welt with double seam, though historically this comes is single and double seam.
This specific fashion was made popular in the end of the 19th century and beginning of 1900 and went out of fashion during the latter part of 1910 decade. The documentation of these spades are scarce, wearable shoes from this time is almost impossible to find due to cracked leather or damaged due to aging. But some do exist and are often used for collectable and display rather than actual use. Fortunately, there is a good documentation of vintage ads that allow us to view the characteristics of this era.
Spade soles were initially found on ankle boots, and it is known to be found from the 1880s, but this seem to be more popular in the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century. Below are some news ads for spade sole shoes, or spade shanks. The balmoral ankle boots were typical for both men and women at the time and spade soles were a unisex feature, even though the spade does inherit a masculine property.
In the news ads above from the beginning of the 20th century we can see the typical balmoral boots and also how they progressed to the ankle lace up derby boot associated with gentleman shoes.
If we analyze regional data of news ads, we see that ads were most common in New York, Kansas and Philadelphia indicating popularity among these states, but not entirely. This might be the origin to the Philly spade, but we don’t know its exact origin and historical reference. If you have more information to the origin of the Philly spade, please contact us.
During the 1910-1920 the modern lace up oxfords became popular and the spade sole became inpopular and went out of fashion.
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During the 1920-1930 the spade sole remained dormant in pop culture and 1929 the Wall Street cash and Great depression drove the economy to a hault, the economic recession.
It is during this time the spade resurface, it might have been the result of a combination of closure alot of shoe manufacturers in USA followed by stimulous of the market that allowed new ideas and makers to enter the market with a new view on design. Since lace up and ankle boots have been replaced with the Oxford and Derby style, the spade now came about on another type of shoe.
The spade was avaiable from cap toes to wingtips, but this decade the spade was used by the common man. It was not associated with the upper class. But rather the working middle class, and in the middle of the 30s the spade did a small comeback indeed.
What can be said to this decade and styling is wider selections of colors and creative styles. While the 1900-1910 were more conservative to its styling, this period was much less so. This is a period of more creativity and slight controversial styling. Hard times usually brings out strong men and thus people had the guts to pull of more controversial styles.
We also noticed bigger perforation and almound toes replacing the square toe shoes, this started the trend of bulbous toes that went on to the 50s. Typical styles were cap toes and wingtips as can be seen in the ads above. This period was also the period of white suede, nubuck or smooth leather shoes. These was combined with light gray or light suits and worn in the summer.
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This decade started with the great second world war, and as this war came to an end the shoe market grew rapidly. And as the war ended popularity of spade soles rekindled. And during this era we see an extravagance in design and competition among the manufacturers to be unique. The spade became sharper and wider as seen from this late 40s styling.
Classical oxfords continued to be the most popular style in this era, and were featured with top stitching, thick thread and contrast upper seams. The soles did become chunky, wider and thicker as the 40s passed.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the spade sole is the fact that it was not related to the upper class. This was especially true during the 30s, as it was common man shoe. However as standard and wealth grew for the population, so did the use of quality shoes. The 40s were struck with large demand for leather due to the war and so supply was harder to come by. This drove the quality requirements of construction since each purchased pair were supposed to last longer, saving up on leather. This meant shoes made in the 40s were made with very pristine quality. They were made to last.
One very interesting fashion trend among the African American community was the Zoot suits. A very unique style of suits with wide and puffy leggings and long jackets. And the fact that spade soles were popular in the African American community could be a factor to the commonality of spades with Zoot suits.
What can be said to the 50s is a decline in intrest in the spade sole. As the spades fashion statement drew to the bitter end the spade became very wide, thick, heavy, and very distinct, and was accompanied with either very wide perforation, bulky seams on the upper and contrast colors. Until it died out in the late 50s. The spade sole continued to be offered only by a handful of manufacturers such as Johnston and Murphy with their very popular 100s that was discontinued in the 90s when the master shoemaker retired for good.
From this point the spade never recovered as a fashionable style, it has influenced styles and makers of bespoke shoemaking and the fashion world, most known of today’s fashion world would be Prada. The passionate spade lover went to the thrift store and second-hand online platform such as eBay. And as the years passed secondhand spade sole shoes was a rarity and nearly impossible or ridiculously expensive to procure.
This is at this point a young shoe passionada stumbles on a pair of spade sole shoes, a pair of 100s from the 60s, and fell in love with the design and history right away. About 10 years passed and continuously looking, searching to get yet another pair was accompanied without progress. And it is when all hope is at the brink of extinction, a flame is lit. He finds a maker, and a skilled manufacturer of hand welted shoes and team up to rebuild the legacy that once walked the streets of the great American nation. But one thing was certain, retaining both the craftmanship and style associated with the past was vital, but all with a modern touch of individuality and freedom to let the user end up with their uniquely individual shoe. A pair of spade sole shoes that define the user, not past. The return of the spade.