“A well brushed hat, and glossy boots must be always worn in the street.” -1860, The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette
The Victorian era offered men three basic styles of shoes: the ankle boot, the oxford shoe and the tall boot. From the 1850s to the 1900s, Victorian men’s boots have changed little.
Men’s Victorian Lace up Boots
The Victorian lace up boot was the everyday shoe for all classes of men. There were also pull on boots and button up boots by the end of the century.
Lace up boots were the most common Victorian boot. Laces extended from toebox to the top of the boot. Laces were either all eyelets or a mix of eyes and hooks.
A thick, medium or thin sole were made for various uses. Thicker soles for workwear and thin soles for gentlemen’s business, dancing and home wear.
Toe shapes, too, were offered in a few varieties to suit the wearer. Pointy toes, round toes, box toes in smooth or capped designs came in and out of fashion. The media enjoyed naming and commenting on each new toebox shape.
Victorian men’s boot colors were black, sometimes a deep Russet brown but almost always black. This changes a little at the end of the 1890s when smoke grey, chocolate brown and tan became a new option.
The black foot with white shaft was also a new trendy option for young men.
The Stacy Adams Men’s Madison Cap Toe Boot series offers some great choices for basic Victorian style lace-up boots and oxford shoes.
The boots have a toe cap design common during these eras and lace-up fully. The best feature is the smooth leather sole which is ideal for dancing, yet durable enough for day wear.
Men’s Victorian Button Boots
Gaiter boots, invented just after the Civil War, are known as spat boots or button boots today. They feature a fold over lap that buttons from vamp to ankle with 5+ pearl buttons.
The upper “spat” top could be the same material as the foot or entirely different color leather or fabric. Black and white two tone button boots were more common in the 1900s.
Most Victorian era button boots were black on black, with the shaft being slightly lighter than the sole.
These antique button boots below, with the spat style and two-tone option, could have come off a catalog page from 1910. Combining a white top with back bottom was common in the end of the Victorian era to the early 1920s.
You can’t go wrong with these Stacy Adams near replica boots. The buttons are decorative instead of working which is the major difference to Victorian boots. They are the ones I selected for my husband.
Men’s Congress Boots
Although not called Chelsea boots in Victorian time, Congress Boots were pull-on boots with elastic side panel(s) that were quite common during the era. The invention of rubberized textile sin the 1840s made it possible to have a snug fitting ankle boot without laces.
Most pull on boots were plain, but some came in two tone shades or with decorative broguing around the vamp.
Men’s congress boots were easy to slip into quickly, without the time intensive task of lacing or buttoning. When covered with a pair of trousers, you would never see the elastic side panels.
Some designers decided to combine the best of the laceup boot and pull on boot and made the Congress Lace up. They also combined congress with button boots. A bit redundant but popular, none the less. They came in single color and two tone (black and white) options.
The Chelsea boot never left fashion, but experienced a major revival in the 1960s when it received the name Chelsea boot.
Men’s Victorian Shoes
Men’s Victorian lace up oxford shoes, called low shoes, were a casual, sportswear and summer shoe. They were to be worn with “outing clothes” or outfits designer for bicycle riding, playing tennis and cricket, and sailing.
The classic oxford shoes was a low heel flat shoe with 5-6 eyelets and laces. The toe was more commonly smooth and elongated but could feature the cap toe design.
Sportier models in two tone brown and tan became trendy with the young Victorian men. Donegal (goat) leather, patent leather, calfskin leather and Kangaroo leather were used to form the body.
By the end of the century men’s oxford shoes were being worn as dress wear including evening shoes. The flexible sole and soft leather body made them ideal Victorian dancing shoes for the ballroom.
The button shoe was a shorter version of the button boot. It was a viable option around the 1850s to 1880s but disappeared out of fashion for a few decades until the 1910s.
Stacy Adams carries a basic Oxford in the same style and cut as the boots in their Men’s Madison Cap Toe Oxford collection. These come in every color imaginable. They would do well for an Edwardian through 1950s historical event.
Some comments about these and any new shoes is that they need a few days to a few weeks to feel “broken in.” Don’t wait till the last minute to buy shoes you plan to wear for several hours. Your feet will be very upset with you if you do. Instead, buy the shoes now, break them in around the house, and then dance the night away at the next ball in complete comfort.
Sport Shoes – Tennis and Baseball
Victorian men and boys who played sports such as baseball or lawn tennis, required flexible shoes. Duck cloth, a type of canvas, trimmed in leather and placed over a rubber sole became the new sport shoe. A decade later rubber sole sport shoes would be called sneakers.
Both high top and low top versions came in leather or rubber soles. The canvas could be black, white, brown or blue. White sneakers were reserved for tennis, cricket, and sailing when paired with white sport clothes.
Notice how similar these are to Converse and Keds shoes we still wear today?
All leather oxford shoes with a very low heel were also sportswear shoes for bicycle riding, gymnasium (indoor gym/workout shoes), running and boxing.
More Victorian Boots and Shoe Styles
The above four styles of boots and shoes are the easiest to find and most common for a late Victorian era gentlemen. There were, however, additional styles of boots and shoes for workwear, sportswear, house and the western frontier. Some of these are:
Pull on or step in tall men’s boots were popular work boots, riding boots, and western boots. They could be fancy dress boots with a taller heel but mostly for rugged outdoor uses with a low heel.
There were special boots for hunting, hiking, shooting and rugged workwear (lumberjack.) These were often lace up boots but could also have buckle straps.
Victorian House Slippers
Men’s house slippers and house boots called Nullifiers were necessary in cold Victorian homes. They were often made of tapestry fabric or velvet and lined in warm cloth or wool. Leather slippers were better in the summer months.
Nullified boots looked like elastic sided Chelsea boots but with a half size elastic panel over the ankle.
More shoes style? Yes, I am working on finding more Victorian men’s shoes history and images. This page will be updated soon, otherwise feel free to reach out with any questions.
Victorian men’s boots and shoes to buy:
This article was written by Debbie Sessions, May 13, 2016 under the title “Budget Friendly Victorian Men’s Boots and Shoes.”
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.