I was a child who missed the saddle shoes of the 40s and the 50s by a few years, but my High School friend and neighbour Verna May Wilson Hadlock made up for me. I really don’t wander around beginning conversations about saddle shoes these days, but when the subject comes up I once again express my opinions. It seems the more I age, my bag of opinions overflows solely supported by personal observations of course.
I do remember hearing Verna telling me how her Mother became hysterical at the sight of the new saddle shoes when she returned home after her first day at school. They were scuffed and gave the appearance of having gone through a small war, but that was the “in” way to wear saddle shoes.
Some of you will remember the old days of saddle shoes when you bought them sparkling white and clean, and then you tried your very hardest to get them dirty before the kids at school got the chance to do the job for you. Seems nice white saddle shoes just weren’t the thing in those days, and it was very painful to have your friends trying to take every inch of “bark“ off the uppers of your saddle shoes.
Day after day a bit more wear and tear became noticeable. Just about the time you really got the uppers of your saddle shoes to the point where they were socially acceptable with the “In” crowd the main part of the shoe began to deteriorate– and it was time to get a new pair.
There were all sorts of things Verna Wilson did with saddle shoes. She would change her laces to match an outfit and I swear some neighbours peeked out of their Albert Street Venetian blinds on a daily basis to see what she had done. But, this was a girl that came home at lunchtime to change into another fresh white blouse that she wore with her navy blue school tunic, and she was just so perfect in my eyes.
Verna mentioned there was a professional scuffer at Cowansville High School that would scuff your saddle shoes for a nominal price. I heard that his scuffing business was so popular that you had to wait as long as three or four days to get his attention.
In 1972 the style of saddle shoes came back.There were those of my friends who thought the return of saddle shoes was the best thing since Lucky Charms and Lava Lamps. Then, there were two or three, and myself, who said they didn’t care for the entire situation. As would be expected, there were a few old timers that had to throw in their two cents and tell “us kids” about the “olden days” of shoewear.
My style, once older, never followed Verna, but it did involve my Grandmother’s borrowed pearls, lace up brown orthopaedic shoes with a scent of Evening in Paris. I was also so mesmerised with tap dancing that sometimes I taped nickels on the bottom of my shoes. The coins also came in handy for a call on an emergency payphone. Can you even imagine– a nickel? But, after months of wearing them my father began calling them “clodhoppers”– as that’s what they used to call big shoes that just didn’t fit well anymore.
In Grade 7 I wandered into Hashim’s Clothing store on South Street and fondled the most god awful shoes you can imagine. They were vinyl lime green elf shoes trimmed with fringe. What I saw in those shoes I have no idea, but I had to have them. My father relented and came to Hashims and spoke with the salesclerk about the possibilities of getting deformed toes from being squeezed into those pointy shoes. She assured him of course with the words of a podiatrist that I should be fine. As I glance at my large claw toes today that look like they grew like wayward tree roots I am reminded that yes, those shoes had something to do with my toes after wearing them in the rain sleet and snow.
Shoes have always been part of everyone’s lives and they can either afford you the adoration of your peers, or jeers from the cool kids table in the lunchroom. Should we get back into the Hush Puppies era, or can we just stop now at Saddle Shoes and Loafers? Did you know that the shoes we wore actually changed the shape of our feet over the course of our lives? As Leonardo DaVinci once said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Maybe so, but after a lifetime of fashionable shoes, my feet are no masterpieces– they in fact looked like very scuffed Saddle shoes that no one would want– and that my friends is going easy on them.