We all know how quickly styles can change. Some of us are slaves to fashion, and are always on top of the newest trends. Others find a personal style and tend to stick with it. Those who have been reading here for awhile have probably figured out which camp your humble author calls home. There is also an under-appreciated benefit to those of us who are far from the leading edge of things – if we sit still or otherwise do our own thing long enough, the styles will come back around to where we have been all along. I had this phenomenon proved to me once again recently. It involved a pair of shoes.
I am currently in the brief downtime between the weddings of two of my children. The first one went well, by the way. As for the second, I was discussing the Dad-Dress-Code with my son. I was all set on the color of suit his bride has chosen, but was told that there would be a requirement for brown shoes. That was when I remembered the pair in the back of my closet.
In the year of my graduation from a large suburban high school, I was voted the most conservative in my class. And it was true. This wasn’t so much about politics (though I had passed out campaign literature for Ronald Reagan when he challenged Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary) it was also about my personal style.
When long hair was in for guys, mine was short. When the leisure suit was a thing, the suit I owned had a vest – I even had a pocket watch on a chain. I never owned painter’s pants or loud bell-bottoms, but stuck to more classic styles, at least so far as was possible in the 1970’s when (what I viewed as ) good taste was in short supply. And then there were the shoes.
In late middle school, my best friend Dan (who was both more conservative and more individualistic than I was) started wearing a pair of old-school black wing-tip shoes. I thought they were cool and worked on my mother to get me a pair too. Yes, these were the height of un-cool in the mid-70’s. I had not seen my father in a pair of those since the mid 60’s, and they tended to be favored by business men of upper middle age. But with Dan leading the way, I got up the courage to join him in this orgy of non-conformity.
To my eventual good fortune, Dan’s shoes, and therefore the ones I wanted, were Florsheim Imperials. My mother almost had a heart attack when she saw the price tag – I had no idea that a pair of shoes could cost $100. But she had to admit that they were top quality shoes, and her resistance dissolved when she got my father to pay for them. I wore them every day, in all kinds of weather, but they took everything I dished out and then some.
It was probably after I graduated high school that I got the brown ones. I worked in a job where I needed to wear a suit, and thought the brown ones might be a good second option. I can’t recall, but with a job and some money saved, I may have swallowed hard and bought these myself. The black ones were worn much more frequently, and by the early ’80s brown shoes had gone out of style so they didn’t get much use.
I wore them occasionally through the decades. That’s the nice thing about buying something without regard to style – when they are never really in style, they are never completely out of style either. But now I have discovered that these shoes have become some kinds of vintage classics. So “hello there, coolness – I have been waiting a long time, and now here you are.”
Florsheim Shoes was started in Chicago by Milton Florsheim in 1892. The family business maintained high quality standards for the shoes it made, and these high standards continued for quite a number of years, even after selling out to a larger company in 1953. Shoes in their Imperial line are evidently sought-after vintage items today, and there are some people doing refurbishments on them and selling them for not-insignificant sums (such as here).
My own pair seem to be the style 90632 Kenmoor. This style, made from 1958 to 1988, seems to be the quintessential Florsheim oxford, a really heavy pair of shoes that have picked up the nickname of”gunboats”. More than one source I have found calls these among the finest quality shoes ever made in the U.S. I will confess that I had not the slightest awareness of this when I picked them out.
It is rare that I end up with something collectible by accident, but here we are. I have to confess that the black pair suffered from heavy use earlier in their lives, and later became my “bad weather dress shoes”. But then these were evidently designed to withstand bad weather in the way they were so dramatically over-built. They will still polish up decently, but a close look reveals that they have not lived the easiest life. The brown ones, however, are in gorgeous condition, having only received one new pair of heels over the years (though not in the original style with the metal cleats all around the edge).
Not many of us can boast of owning a pair of shoes for 45 years, much less having those shoes be something that can be pulled out of the closet and put into service when the occasion calls for it – especially a demanding occasion like a family wedding. But as one who revels in the unusual, I am kind of loving being in this position. So after this little bit of research into current trends, I will be able to walk into my son’s wedding in a really old pair of shoes while holding my head high in the knowledge that for the first time in my life, my brown Florsheim wingtip shoes are actually (at least a little) cool.
COAL Update: About how I came to own and enjoy what some argue is the best car that the Ford Motor Company ever built. This would have been a perfect pairing with last week’s foray into popular jazz music of the 1920’s, but we will just have to make do.