Saddle shoes are oxfords which have a strip of leather over the throat of the shoe. This strip of leather can either be the same color as the rest of the shoe or differently colored. When more than one color is involved, it’s typically black or brown quarters and heel counter with the rest of the shoe being white, but theoretically any combination is possible.
There is often broguing of some sort in the saddle area, typically perforations. Soles can be leather, brick red EVA rubber (a super lightweight material), or even lug sole in chunkier versions.
Saddle Shoes In American History
There are certain decades in history that are known, amongst other things, for their contributions to the men’s sartorial canon. The interwar years saw the Golden Age of menswear. The sixties gave us mod suits and bell bottoms. The seventies gave us 5-inch wide ties and lapels to match. The eighties gave us power suits, and the nineties gave us business casual and some of the most ill-fitting tailored clothes you’ll ever see.
Seriously, watch any movie from the early-to-mid-nineties wherein men wear suits. It’s atrocious.
Anyway, the fifties were mostly known for sobriety, at least sartorially. Coming off of the bloodiest war in history, American men were keen to enjoy some peace and quiet, and the clothing of the time reflected this. There was even a book and movie entitled The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit.
It doesn’t get much more subdued than that.
The youth, being typical youth, rebelled against this sartorial safety. One way in which they did was adopting two-tone shoes in all manner of color combinations. These shoes were called saddle shoes, and they were worn by the likes of Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock.
Why Do They Call It A “Saddle” Shoe?
Think about how a saddle fits around a horse’s back. Here’s a photo to help visualize it:
Now, imagine that the horse is the shoe, and the saddle is the part of the shoe that sits on the instep.
Voila, we have a saddle shoe.
How To Wear Saddle Oxfords
While not dressy enough to wear with a business suit and certainly inappropriate for evening wear, the saddle shoe is a dandified one and can give the wearer huge style points if he pulls them off. Typically made from leather, saddle shoes are often available in leather-and-suede combinations, or even with nubuck in the fabrication.
They might be a bit tougher to care for, but they’re handsome as all get-out.
Keep your saddle shoes in the casual end of your wardrobe, but know that they will look quite slick when done well. Here are some suggestions:
- Single color (self-colored saddle): Jeans, chinos, or dress slacks
- Black or brown with white: Stone or tan casual trousers, odd jackets and trousers, spring or summer suits in cream, tan, and other light neutrals
- Other color combinations: Neutral trousers and some other article in the ensemble that coordinates with a color of the shoe
Depending on the color, saddle shoes can be worn all year round. Solids can be worn whenever, and version with white should stay in the summer, and other colors should be chosen judiciously.
- Spring: Brown solid, brown on light tan
- Summer: Black and white, brown and white, various non-standard colors
- Autumn: Solid chocolate or burgundy
- Winter: Solid black, black and brown, black and burgundy
Saddle Shoes Today
Nowadays as in the past, saddle shoes are worn by both men and women. They’re not nearly as common as they were with young people as they were sixty-some-odd years ago, but the adults who sport them now tend to fall into these categories:
- Those into rockabilly, psychobilly, gothabilly, and other forms of the genre. This is undoubtedly a result of Elvis’ cultural influence, and
- Dandies (self-proclaimed or otherwise)
- Golfers (it’s common to see saddle shoes with cleats while hitting the links)
Lots of brands make saddle shoes. Here are a few that we feel do a particularly good job:
Do I Need Saddles Oxfords?
Generally speaking, we don’t advise that a man who’s building his shoe wardrobe invest in a pair of saddle shoes. They’re nice, but if you’re just starting out, there are plenty of other styles that you’ll get more wear out of across more occasions than a saddle shoe. As smart as they are, their versatility can be limited.
On the other hand, those who work in casual offices or are self-employed should at least consider a solid black or brown saddle shoe as a go-to option a couple of days a week. It’s inconspicuous enough to work with most casual outfits, but it has a little something extra to show the world that you have an eye for detail.