A short history of brogues

Brogan is thought to be an old Scot’s word for shoe. It is unclear whether this was a simple bag of leather or a clog but today brogues are Oxford type shoes (lacing) which because of their sturdiness are associated with outward-bound activities such as hunting, shooting and fishing (Pattison & Cawthorn, 1997). The shoes are connected to the aristocracy but evolved from one of the simplest yet most practical peasant styles. 

The Cuaran was a crude shoe originally made from rawhide fresh off the beast and worn by labourers in Ireland & the Highlands of Scotland (Wright, 1922).The skins of deer, cow, horse, and occasionally seal skins were used, often with the animal's hair still on. By the end of the 17th century half tanned leather was used. The people of Aran called them, Pampooties and Lowlanders called them Revilins. Originally these were heelless and kept in place by laced thongs tied behind and before. Sometimes for added comfort hay or straw insoles were fitted into the shoe to prevent chafing (Ledger). The holes in the uppers were functional and allowed water to drain through as the walker forded streams and hiked across bogs. Pampooties were more a bag worn around the foot with no stitching and bound together with leather thong. By the 1700s Most working class Celts wore rough brogues. 

The Ghillie was more or less a simple bag of leather for the foot with leather loops sewn to the quarters and did not lace through eyelets like the brogue. The special lacing system gave the shoe improved waterproofing. Much later the term Ghillie was used to describe a land manager in Scotland but few would ever wear Ghillie shoes. 

Modern ghillies are worn in Scottish Country dancing 

In the 17th century the Squirarchy had heels added and merged the styles of the Cuaran and Ghillie. These hardier shoes were ideal for deer stalking, hunting and fishing. Circa 1640 a shawl tongue was added with a fringe to lend a touch of elegance. It was thought Irish landowners started to decorate their shoes with patterned sequence of holes. In the original shoes the holes served a pragmatic purpose i.e. to allow water to flow through. For good luck the designs incorporated coded symbols. As soon as the style became associated with the gentry the holes became more decorative features (Vass & Molnar, 1999). Later when the holes only served for decorative purposes leather uppers were rubbed with melted candle wax (or tallow) to improve waterproofing. The brogue became refined without losing its sturdiness as the style crossed over into main fashion. 


Lachet shoes are constructed using a last and can be made with or without heels. Sometimes the latchet shoes had large openings between the quarters and the vamp. This was used by the well off to show off their expensive silk hose. Shoes worn by poor people were "closed". In the 17th century, the promise of hobnailed latchet shoes was a major reason many men joined the army and Scottish infantry captains wore latchet shoes in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the British Civil War (1638-1651). These however, were designed for riding and not walking. 

Brogues started as latchet shoes made as turnshoes, with a stiff sole stitched on after turning, sometimes there was a low heel added. These were favoured by the Scottish and Irish mercenaries who fought for numerous armies throughout Europe in the 17th century. Turnshoes are stitched inside out then turned right side out with the sole and heel added later. This method of construction protects the stitching from wear. Brogues increased their popularity in the eighteenth century when the machine was invented in the US to stitch uppers. Outside brogues were traditionally brown with black brogues kept strictly for formal dress occasions only. In Scotland and Ireland, the women of the upper class kept a pair of brogues for dress up wear. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Scottish lairds wore their brogues with a fringed tongue. The laces that fastened the shoes ran through slots formed by turning the top edges of the leather under, in a refined form of gillie. This made them more waterproof. 

The English Style adopted the brogue and the fashion crossed the Atlantic, early 1900. In the 1920's the style grew increasingly elegant and was soon worn by women on outward-bound pursuits as the shoe became associated with sport. Its apotheosis was reached in the 1930's when the world's arbiter of fashion the Prince of Wales wore it as a golfing shoe and in a lighter form in suede with a grey lounge suit. The shoe became known as the spectator (or co-respondent in the UK) when made in two coloured leathers. 

Two-tone leather brogue style was favoured by the fashion conscious during the jazz era. Later screen greats such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly wore the highbred brogues in many of their famous dance routines. 

Another variation on the theme was the saddle shoe. Originally created for adults and children in 1910 the modified brogue was made from white buckskin with a black or brown leather instep (hence the saddle). By the 50's this style of shoe had been adopted by the young and was worn by both girls and boys. The former with bobby socks. 

The style became official when a young Elvis Presley appeared in the film 'Jailhouse Rock" wearing white buckskin saddle shoes. Famous manufacturers like Florsheim have continued to make brogues in various guises. In 1996 this company developed a shoe, which had been chemically treated and did not require to be polished. Their promotional people reckoned ivy leaguers spent ten minutes per day shining shoes. The shoes were promoted with this in my mind and the potential buyer was enlightened as to what they could do with the 400 hours saved over their working career. In proper circles the brogue or semi brogue should not be worn after six o’clock in the evening. 

Today there are two styles, the single brogue which consists of, an upper and a sole and the double brogue which has an added strip of leather (or welt) between the upper and the sole. Styles differed between full brogue and half brogue (or semi brogue). The significant difference between the two is the toecap; the former is winged and straight on the latter. 

Barthelemy A 2001 Brogans In Benstock S & Ferriss S (eds) Footnotes: On shoes New Brunswick Rutgers University Press 179-196.
Ledger FE Put your foot down Melsham : Colin Venton 
Mc Dowell C 1994 Shoes : Fashion and fantasy London: Thames & Hudson 
Pattison A & Cawthorn N 1997 A century of shoes : Icons of style in the 20th century 1997 NSW: Universal International 84-93.
Pratt L & Wooley L 1999 Shoes London: Victoria and Albert Museum 
Rossi WA (ed) 2000 The complete footwear dictionary Malabar: Kreiger Publishing
Vass L & Molnar M 1999 Handmade shoes for men Cologne: Konemann.
Wilson E 1969 A history of shoe fashions London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons
Wright T 1922 The romance of the shoe London: CJ Farncomb & Son 

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