Monday, 22 June 2015

The Kilties Golf Shoes

Like all things golf, it originated in Scotland and probably derived its diminutive name from the kilt. It’s a mini kilt of sorts – for your shoe. It probably had the job of keeping rain and mud from the golfer’s foot, since things can get messy in a hurry in the highlands.

Lore has it that the Duke of Windsor (of Wallis Simpson fame), popularized many of the styles of golf shoes worn today when he sported them stateside, handsomely festooned with the hitherto unknown kiltie. In the Duke’s time, kilties were known as oxfords – as in the whole shoe – with a ‘skirt’ of fringed leather draped over the instep covering the laces and eyelets. Today, the term refers simply to the fringed accessory that we all know and love.

So, about our kilties. You may have noticed that they’re pretty generous in width and length. That’s because like a good set of bangs, they make the haircut. There’s nothing worse, in my view, than a skimpy kiltie that’s too short or narrow for the shoe. It’s got a job to do and ought to have the heft to do it.

The unique feature of our kiltie is that it has two hidden metal strips inside that allow you to mold it to the shape of your foot. That keeps it looking neat and sweet, fitting for a round of golf with his highness. So wear it or not, as you choose – but remember that it’s history is a noble, if murky one, and the look, utterly, exquisitely royal.

From Fairway to Runway

IN some fashion quarters, enthusiasm for old-school heritage style is fading like embers. But elsewhere, it is raging out of control, with evermore vivid hues and ornate detail. One need only glance down, at the recent spate of colorized bucks and saddle shoes. Or take a gander at the even more surprising reappearance of an over-the-vamp, over-the-top shoe detail one might have thought was gone forever: the kiltie.

Like some soap-opera character declared dead in a South American plane crash, only to be found alive years later (and looking suspiciously like a completely different actor), the charmingly oddball golf-shoe detail that is the kiltie is back, in a totally different incarnation. Once an inescapable facet of 1950s country clubs, a kiltie is a long fringed tongue of leather that attaches to a golf shoe’s inside tongue and folds over the laces.

But just as those golf shoes, with their treacherous metal spikes, were verboten inside the clubhouse, the kiltie itself almost never appeared other than on golf shoes. The style, which was first spotted on George V in 1905, was widely adopted in the ’20s, then faded out in the ’70s. Today a kiltie is as likely to be found on a golf shoe as those old metal spikes are.

So the comeback was not on the links but the runways. Kilties have been spotted here and there for a couple of seasons, a favorite (in a black-and-white spectator style) of Thom Browne, but this spring several labels have come out with them. There is quite a range, too, from subtle styles in black and brown from Ralph Lauren, Mark McNairy, Billy Reid and Church’s English Shoes to far more conspicuous color combinations. Prada made a handful with eye-popping accents.

“I am wearing a pair even as we speak,” said Billy Reid, on the phone at home in Florence, Ala. “I love how it reminds me of a country club, and highballs and whiskey sours. When I was young, my summer job was bartender and lifeguard at a country club, so I saw a lot of these.”

Mr. Reid said he was surprised at how well they had sold.

“There’s a lot of novelty happening in shoes,” he said. “Whether it’s colored leather, fabric, hardware or soles, that is what guys seem to be interested in. What I like about the kiltie — at least the way I did it, in this beat-up horsehide — is that it’s good for the guy who might want to buy a colorful shoe but doesn’t want to go that far.”

He pointed out that they go well with a seersucker suit and also look great with jeans or khakis, adding a dandified note to lazy summer dressing. As preposterous as it may sound, the old-fashioned propriety and slightly silly elegance of the kiltie sends a message: that a man should both take, and not take, style too seriously.

Far better to let your shoes explain that than you.

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