Saturday, January 11, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A Pair of Red Oxford Shoes, 1925

Oxford Shoes
Coxton Shoe Co., Ltd., 1925
Shown at the London International Shoe Fair
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the 1920’s, the footwear fashion for men was to wear “Oxford” lace-up shoes—essentially a “closed tab shoe.” They were so-called because the eyelet tabs (these are the sections of leather with holes for the laces) were stitched under the front section of the shoe (known as the vamp) as opposed to be stitched on top.

Oxfords, typically, were black or brown leather, intended for everyday wear. At the time, especially in Britain, men of taste followed strict rules of “appropriate” dress. Brown shoes worn with a dinner suit were considered inappropriate. And, any display of vivid color footwear was thought to be vulgar.

And, then, there are these shoes of bright red leather adorned with gold swirls. Clearly, these were not made for actual wear. No, these shoes were made to be displayed in order to showcase the maker’s skills. They were displayed at the London International Shoe Fair in 1925. Joining them were a black and gold pair and a thoroughly blinding, marbled blue leather creation.

Made by the Coxton Shoe Co., Ltd. of Rushden (Northamptonshire), England, the shoes were made specifically to catch the eye of American buyers. While a British man would never have dared to wear bright red shoes, American men had more freedom. Though this particular pair would have seemed vulgar, even my American standards, the workmanship demonstrated that the Coxton concern was able to produce more exciting designs than other makers. and may have been aimed at the American market which was open to more exotic designs.

The shoes feature gold leather decoration, a rounded-pointed toe, six eyelets, and gold laces. Red stitching on gold decorative strips gives interest to the backstrap, toe-cap, facing, vamp and quarters. They boast a stacked heel and a brown leather sole with a scrolling pattern along the edges and a green stripe between two red wheeled stripes. 

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