Traditionally, their colors are brown and white, with the darker areas being the toe cap, heel counter, and throat. The darker areas are made of leather, and the white ones were typically made from white suede or nubuck, though nowadays most ready-to-wear makers use a white leather. Instead of white leather, you may also find that canvas is used.
Black with white was a common substitution for a long time, and the shoe is now made in a vast array of color schemes, some of which don’t involve white at all. It’s a traditional summer shoe that has a Jazz Age feel to it, and newer colors have allowed it to branch out into other seasons.
Though it’s a classic design, it’s not a shoe for the sartorially timid.
History Of The Spectator
Though brogues have been around for centuries, the spectator is much younger. The good folks at John Lobb say that their firm created the first pair back in 1868, and though this is difficult to verify, the claim hasn’t really ever been contested.
Their original purpose was that of a sporting shoe; the parts of the shoe that saw the most wear during cricket and golf would conceal wear better as they were darker.
Spectators Or Correspondents: What’s In A Name?
Spectators are also known as “correspondents” or “co-respondents,” with the former term being American and the latter being English. Why?
The term “spectator” comes from the eventually adopted practice of sports spectators wearing the same shoes they saw on their favorite athletes. That’s pretty self-explanatory.
Over time, the spectator became considered too flashy for true gentlemen. They became associated with men of ill repute, specifically adulterers. In English law (at least at that time), a “co-respondent” refers to someone charged with misconduct as it relates to adultery.
To be more concise: two-tone shoes were for overly flashy two-timing cads.
Never fear, though. Nowadays, no one will think you’re cheating on your significant other if you’re spotted in a pair of these.
*Editor’s Note* Whether or not you’re actually cheating on your significant other is outside the scope of this article.
When To Wear Spectator Shoes
Handsome as they are, traditional spectators should only be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day in the United States, as they fall into the “white shoe” category. If you live in a climate that’s warm all the time, this rule doesn’t apply to you.
With that said, some makers in recent years have created the shoe in non-standard color ways that can be worn more than just a few months a year. We’ve seen black with burgundy, various shades of brown and tan, and more.
Spectators are best pairs with odd jackets and trousers or summer suits if made with a traditional white base. If made in black or brown color ways, they can be better paired with denim, or even certain worsted suits. Below, we offer a few suggestions:
- Traditional brown and white: Khaki-colored suits, cotton or linen odd jackets and (tan-ish) trousers
- Shades of brown: Denim, navy blazer & grey trousers, navy or grey suits
- Non-standard colors (too many to list here): Denim, suiting (use your best judgement, and click here for some guidance on pairing two-toned shoes with trousers)
Traditionally these are summer shoes, but darker non-standard color ways now exist that have stretched this shoe’s utility to year-round territory. Here are some suggestions for which types of spectators you can wear broken down by season.
- Spring: Brown with blue, purple, or other nonstandard color
- Summer: Traditional white with black or brown leather
- Autumn: Tan with chocolate
- Winter: Black with tan or burgundy
Who Makes The Best Pair Of Spectators?
Being a bit of a niche shoe, not every shoe maker carries these as they would your basic oxford or blucher. The following firms make versions that we feel are particularly handsome, well-made, and often both.
Should You Own A Spectator?
If you’re just starting to build a wardrobe, spectators don’t need to be on your list of shoes to buy for quite a while. You have plenty of more wearable shoes to acquire before spending good money on a shoe you can, more likely than not, wear for only three months out of the year.
That said, if you’re 10-12 shoes deep into your collection and are in need of a dapper summer shoe and you have a lot of confidence, you’d be well served by owning a spectator.