Brogues: The shoes that keep on giving…
To me the ultimate do-anything shoe has to be the brogue: the shoe which has its roots in the footwear of Irish and Scottish agricultural labour- brogue or brog means shoe in Gaelic. The distinctive styling has both a utilitarian purpose the holes were originally punched through the upper to allow the shoes to dry out when wet or keep cool on a hot day; the decorative ‘gimping’ is a feature born of the flamboyant men’s dress sense of the Elizabethan era, which would explain the shoes ability to be both stylish and practical in equal measure. A shoe which began life on the feet of the farm labourer ended up being the footwear of choice for the Hollywood Jazz era and the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly- a shoe with class; a shoe with style; a shoe to fall in love with.
However, I’ve not always felt this way.
I hated my first pair of brogues. Purchased circa ‘75 from Clarks (a place which filled with me terror due to the Dick Tracey-esque foot measuring machine ‘just pop yer foot in their poppet’- which always seemed as it would crush my feet to pulp between its sliding metal sides). They were funereal black, sensible-heeled and, with a possible nod to a Britain gripped by the oil crisis, scuff proof. Like Tonka Toys for your feet nothing could destroy these pavement pounding pantechnicons. Except of course, a thoroughly pissed off seven-year old. I was determined to grind these chunky clunkers into submission. And so, after three months of constant scraping along the York stone flags on my slow morning walk to Southcoates Lane, infants school, the scuff-proofs proved to be anything but. The brogues were broken and the boy was free.
At least for a while: twenty-three years to be precise.
In the interim from Brogue hate to Brogue love my feet followed the familiar journey of my generation. DunlopGreenflash, Monkey Boot, Doctor Martens, Loafer, Key-hole straps, Addidas Samba; my pedestrian digits constantly seeking out the latest, the trendiest, the now. Though, I will hasten to add, that during my thankfully brief new-age dalliance during the early 90’s I never wore clogs. I think that’s worth repeating I NEVER WORE CLOGS. Good, I’m glad we understand each other. I also thought The Levellers were shit.
Back to the Brogue.
Upsetter by Delicious Junction £96 Albert by Grenson £400
Like all serious romances it came relatively late in life, and it lasted. I remember our first meeting as though it were yesterday. A moment of millennial madness 2001- she wore cherry tan my legs wore dark blue indigo spanking new Levis’ 501. It seemed crazy at first. A Brogue: The old man’s shoe; the footwear of the retired colonel; the scuff proof? What I was thinking when I walked into Dapper Menswear (Saville Street, Hull, since sadly closed) was anyone’s guess. The union of Brogue and jeans was still a relatively new idea but there just something seemed so wrongfully right about the whole thing. A juxtaposition of conformity and rebellion, age and youth, the poacher turned gamekeeper and, like all great couples, odd. Odd but oddly perfect.
For the next ten years my Brogues and I were rarely parted. I wore them with dark jeans, Farah slacks, chinos, classic Levis and, to my shame, with Bermuda shorts. And, I have to admit, when the soles were worn to the thickness of a cigarette paper and the heel broke for the umpteenth time a little part of me died. For a while I tried to fill my emptiness with footwear of yore the tasselled loafer made a return as did a modish Chelsea boot all laudable and fashionable in their own rights but no replacement for the serrated, closed-lacing Oxford. I had no choice, I had to fill my grief with the image of my loss. Did it work? Totally. I have three pairs and am now a complete Brogue tart. Look:
From left to right….The two tone co-respondent or spectator shoe purchased for ballroom dance classes or when I’m feeling particularly caddish; the classic dark brown Red or Dead and finally the thick-soled suede DM which worked perfectly with my wedding suit.
Shoes for every occasion which have served me well through important moments in my recent history. My family of brogues which will grow and grow- the next addition will be ‘Archie’ by British shoe-make Grenson or something from the Delicious Junction range of affordable all leather brogues.
By Flash Harry
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