Plenty of iconic pieces of clothing have come out of the 1920s. When it comes to footwear, however, there is perhaps no item that defines the decade better than the two tone shoes. Color blocked styles in bold, contrasting tones adorned the feet of men and women alike during this decade. With a classy and sophisticated sense of style, these shoes are reminiscent of “The Great Gatsby” and other iconic elements of popular culture from the Roaring Twenties. With humble beginnings, the two tone shoes ware a tried-and-true style that remained in vogue during the entirety of the decade.
History of Two Tone Shoes
The very first two tone shoes ware known as the Spectator shoes. Designed for men, these stylish shoes have a surprisingly utilitarian history that dates back to the end of the 19th century. Spectators were originally a piece of sportswear that was created for upper-class athletes in Europe. Cricket players during the late 1800s wore cream-colored leather shoes as part of their uniform. However due to the heavy wear and tear that took place during sporting matches, these shoes quickly lost their signature crisp appearance. Because of cuffs, scratches, and other damage, they frequently needed to be replaced. That was until an English cobbler named John Lobb had a brilliant idea. He created a newly designed sporting shoe that featured patches of dark leather in places where Cricket player’s shoes received the most damage. These were incredibly popular among athletes at the time, as they provided an easy solution to a common problem. The result was the very first shoe that resembled the two-toned styles that we now associate with the 1920s. Eventually, the classy, dapper style of these two-toned Spectators became popular enough for everyday wear. Because of their roots within the sport of Cricket, the most common base color for these Spectator shoes was white or ivory. Typically, the two-toned patches were dark colors like black or brown, which were easy-to-wear neutrals that could be worn with a variety of suiting options. During the Edwardian era, clothing for both men and women became less formal. As men and women alike dressed in more relaxed, casual styles, sporty footwear like the Spectator was adapted and re-designed into a variety of different options for men and women. This trend continued into the 1920s, when women were finally able to wear more comfortable, casual outfits in the public realm. Oxfords, Saddle Shoes, and Lilian Heels rose to popularity during the Twenties and became the shoes that defined the decade.
The Oxford is a classic style that was incredibly popular for both men and women during the 1920s. As the name suggests, this style of shoe first rose to popularity at England’s Oxford University, where students at the turn of the 20th century rebelled against traditional ankle boots that were a staple of the 1800s. These sophisticated styles are characterized by defining features such as closed lacing and eyelets that are located under the vamp of the shoe. Although these shoes began as a plain, single-toned style, more intricate “brogue” designs led to this shoe’s popular two-toned color variation. In the 1920s, both men and women regularly incorporated two-toned Oxfords into their everyday looks. Men’s daywear became more casual, which allowed white and brown Oxfords to become commonplace. Women saw the lace-up Oxford as a house or walking shoe. Progressive fashion trends allowed women to dress in separates and more relaxed silhouettes. Oxfords were a comfortable shoe that paired perfectly with these refreshingly wearable styles that rose in popularity during this progressive decade. During the Roaring Twenties, women’s Oxfords featured slight heels. Later in the decade, a Louis heel was introduced, which was slightly more stacked and slightly more feminine in appearance. Despite having a higher heel, rubber was becoming a more popular and available material for shoe soles, making Oxfords more even more comfortable and wearable for women during this decade. Typically made of a plain, smooth leather, two-toned Oxfords were a classy and sophisticated style that featured signature color blocking. During the start of the 1920s, they nearly all featured a white or tan body and with black, brown, grey accent color. Sporty and stylish, they also featured perforated leather for extra detail and design. As the 1920s progressed, Oxfords got increasingly more ornate. Rather than having simple, straightforward blocks of color, darker trims were added for a more impactful look. Laces also sometimes contrasted with the trim for added effect. When it came to men’s dress shoes, black and white Oxfords proved to be more appropriate for formal events. Black and white Oxfords also became more ornate in design over the years. Often, these high-shine shoes feature intricate designs and patterns, which gave them the fashion-forward style we not associate with the decadence and grandeur of “The Great Gatsby.”
One specific style of Oxford shoes featured sturdy leather bodies, a low heel, a thick sole, and a contrasting “saddle” strap accent. These Saddle Shoes became a unique style in their own right and were an incredibly popular style of women’s footwear in the 1920s. On these shoes, the center panel was typically black, dark brown, or grey, which perfectly contrasted with white or ivory at the toe and heel. Saddle shoes proved to be incredibly popular due as women adapted more active lifestyles. Thanks to advancements in technology and culture, women were a more active part of the public realm and required stylish yet practical shoes that could keep up with their everyday activities. Women also started participating in sports like golf and tennis during this era, and the Saddle Shoe was a perfectly appropriate piece of footwear for these activities. Much like the Oxford shoe, the Saddle Shoe became increasingly more ornate in design as the decade went on. During the earlier part of the decade, dark colors and clean lines were the style. Later in the 1920s, however, pops of color were added for a stylish and sporty contrast. Saddle Shoes that featured plaids, checked patterns, paisley prints, or polka dots eventually became available and allowed women to express their unique point of view like never before.
The Lilian Heel is a more dramatic, stylish, and formal take on the classic two tone shoes. These styles borrow elements from the casual Oxford or Saddle Shoe and re-invent them into a high heeled style. Two-toned styles with a slight, stacked heel were common during this decade, and provided women with a stylish and sophisticated look. Women had been wearing modest heeled boots for decades, often hidden under long skirts and layers of petticoats. Thanks to rising hemlines in the 1920s, however, women were excited to wear intricate shoes that they could finally show off. The rise of The Charleston and other Jazz Age dance crazes, however, demanded that shoes be securely fastened to a woman’s foot. It’s for this reason that most high heeled shoes from this decade featured some sort of strap. The most popular high heeled style during this era was undoubtedly the T-strap shoe. With a single strap up the front that passed through an ankle strap and was secured by delicate buckles or buttons. These shoes were flirty, feminine, and showed off the wearer’s foot while still remaining incredibly secure. Eventually, multi-strapped high heeled sandals with Art Deco designs also rose to popularity during the later parts of the decade. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, manufacturing techniques became more streamlined. For the first time in history, colorful leathers and other vibrantly colored materials were available for use. These advances in technology coincided with the discovery of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in the early 1920’s, which ushered in the bright, stylish Art Deco era. After years of wearing shoes that were strictly white, black, or brown, women wanted to wear intricately designed colorful shoes that were like nothing they had seen before. Two-toned Lilian heels feature bold, contrasting colors. Often, the heel and toe area were adorned with intricate colors, swirls, and other designs. Two-toned heels are a stylish and feminine take on the classic two tone shoes that ware popular during the Roaring Twenties. These heels take these styles up a notch and provide the wearer with a distinctly polished appearance that is sure to bring the rest of her look to life.
With a rich history, two tone shoes have never really gone out of fashion. Whether you opt for a streamlined, straightforward look or instead choose a delightful style with vibrant colors, the two-toned shoe is an item that remains as eye-catching in the present day as it did during the 1920s. Pairing traditional Saddle Shoes with a casual outfit gives your everyday looks a bit of sophistication and sass. Similarly, wearing a two-toned, T-strap heel with a dress or mid skirt allows you to channel the glamor and elegance of the Jazz Age. For a piece of footwear that will last forever, you can’t go wrong with a two-toned style that borrows it’s style from the iconic 1920s.