A kind of dress shoe for men. Usually in black, though maybe in brown, wingtips are characterized by their decoration. Wingtips have somewhat pointed toes and have 6 to 12 eyelets laced by thin round shoe laces. Usually made of shiny leather, although suede examples also exist.

The "wingtip" decoration is found on a extra piece of leather on the toes and at the edges of the individual pieces of leather that make up the shoe. The decoration consists of holes of various sizes that make up a pattern.

A good example is the Florsheim Lexington Wing Tip.

I once read about a man's first day working at IBM in the early 60's. He was fresh out of college. Like everyone else at IBM, he came to work in a suit. His boss looked him over, pointed to his shoes and asked him what the hell those were. He pointed out that they were loafers. His boss told him to go home, and come back the next day wearing wingtips.

In my opinion, wingtips are the dressiest of the male dress shoes.

To trace the history of the wing tipped shoe one must start at its birthplace; the Isle of Skye. Although sources agree that the wing shaped tip originated there, in shoe terminology the word tip describes any shaped piece of material that covers the portion of the shoe distal to the vamp, determining when the design first appeared is a detail that has been lost to the sands of time. A study of politics may not seem related to shoe history and many factors may influence why a particular shoe became popular however wearing of the more relaxed, casual Oxford shoe is generally viewed as a break from the more formal shoes and boots of the previous century and a general easing away from the strait laced rigidity of the Victorian era.

A type of Oxford styled shoe the wing tip spread through the United Kingdom after its inception. Reportedly students attending Oxford University helped reduce boot shaft height during the turn of the 19th century by rebelliously preferring half boots to full length knee high footwear. This resulted in the appearance of the Oxonian boot after which the Oxford shoe was modeled. A similar rejection of the shortened boots in favor of lower cut shoes at the beginning of the 20th century gave the name of the town to the shoes students wore, the name stuck and Oxford as a descriptive shoe term lives on today.

Originally marketed as an athletic leisure shoe for golfers much as the white buck shoe was sold to tennis players of the day wing tipped shoe sales rose during the early 20th century for several reasons: the automobile is gradually replacing travel by horse decreasing the need for boots (most women still wore boots to drive), city life becomes more attractive than rural farm life which further decreases the desire for boots, returning American soldiers prefer the roomy comfort and easy donning of the low cut Oxford style shoes they discovered overseas, and shoes require less material than boots making them cheaper to produce during a war time economy.

During the reign of Edward VII the short tuxedo coat paired with less formal shoes such as the wingtip become an increasingly acceptable mode of daytime dress. By 1910 the longer swallow tail coat and dress pumps are still considered proper evening wear but are gradually losing their stranglehold on nighttime formal dress apparel. As women's shoes are mostly hidden under and beneath skirts not much attention is paid to their footwear although Mary Janes, or bar shoes, are gaining in popularity. Other shoe styles available for women at this time include slippers, clogs, and boots with buttons.

Prosperity reigned during the 1920s however the next decade brought sobering consequences for those who had enjoyed the highlife during the glorious stock market rise. By the time the Great Depression hit the United States of America boots are worn mainly by farmers and certain factory workers although a notable exception is the cowboy boot. While the wing tip shoe is now accepted as a business shoe the color scheme has changed from black to brown. Knickers, which are worn with wingtips, are banned by Oxford University in 1925. Wily students retaliated by favoring baggy trousers that could be worn over the academically unacceptable plus-fours.

Worldwide the 1930s is a decade of political unrest and instability, setting the stage for the conflict known as World War II. Again the war time economy directs goods towards munitions, uniforms, and rations and away from retail and grocery stores. People who have money have few items to purchase. Soldiers enjoy Wrigley's gum and Hershey's chocolate bars along with Lucky Strike cigarettes while civilians have to make due with Sen-Sen and makeup paint for legs as nylon has been diverted towards parachute manufacturing. Cutout, Peep-toe, and slingback shoes for women can be made with less material than shoes with full toe coverings. Leather is in high demand for war time efforts. Fabric shoes become more common. Light, material saving ballerina flats are popular shoes for female students attending school during the 1940s.

Before World War II there were two main classes of citizens in the United States: city dwellers and the rural populace. After the war a new blend known as suburbia emerged. Shoe styles for women exploded as war time restrictions vanished. Heels narrowed, the chunky wedge style of the previous decade gives way to the sleeker, sexier, stiletto. Pumps for women are popular, shoes for women can be found in virtually any color to match any outfit imaginable. Young girls favor saddle shoes and bobby socks however men are left with few choices and a much slimmer color palate. Loafers and wingtips are standard dress fare. Crepe soled brothel creepers made a brief appearance, other casual styles including white buck shoes are worn although another shoe is gaining market share as people with leisure time sport black Chuck Taylors.

Business casual is a relatively recent term, for the majority of the 20th century suits were appropriate business attire. To address the point fhayashi makes IBM expected its employees to wear dark suits, gray was also permitted, knowledge of the dress code was expected and anticipated. Thus far the wingtip has changed little through the decades. That changes when a shoe known as the Longwing emerged during the 1970s. Named for the wing extensions on the shoes which now extend to the rear of the shoe, lasting of the shoe was redone. The result was a trimmer, more modern shoe. Moving on into the 1980s the wingtip is still a shoe for the business world which is considered dressier than loafers of any style.

The 1990s as a decade is one I have personal experience with. After college I was hired by a firm named Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Discover, we were required to state the entire name when we answered the phone since the merger with Morgan Stanley had just gone through. While I remember spending $80 on a pearly silver pair of Etienne Aigner heels that went surprisingly well with most of my suits every man I worked with wore black dress shoes and most of them wore wingtips. My husband was an IT drone for the now defunct Arthur Andersen, he had two pairs of black dress shoes although his wingtips had a monk strap instead of laces.

Wingtips suffered during the first part of the 21st century as more companies adopted business casual dress codes; today wingtips are making a comeback. Those who believe they can not afford to purchase a good pair of shoes or a nice suit are still able to shop for these goods. Inform sales people that you are not able to purchase anything but are interested in determining what cuts will work best for you. Building your wardrobe around good supportive shoes shoes insures that your body will remain in alignment as you go about whatever your day has in store for you. Good shoes are relaxing, stabilizing, confidence builders. Looking your best means knowing that you have done your homework, shop at thrift stores if you must, try on as many different pieces of clothing as you need to but do not settle for anything less than a great fit which will stand you in good stead as fashions come and go.

While a good pair of wing tipped shoes may set the wearer back, properly cared for, these shoes can provide years of comfortable utility. Wingtips are the travelers friend, able to smoothly transition from airport to business meeting to supper date to theater outing. In a pinch they can be worn on the golf course since they were originally designed as a golf shoe. Requiring little in terms of maintenance all shoes should be routinely shined and inspected for excess wear as early repairs may save a shoe from ruin. While wingtips are frequently thought of as a men's shoe, women's styles are also available, offering the same functional advantages to what was formerly known as the fairer sex. A wardrobe building shoe for men and women; consider the wingtip a foundation piece designed to keep their owners in good standing.

Sources:

  1. History of shoes with 20th century decade breakdown.
  2. Information on Oxford.
  3. Forbes article on the best men's shoes; includes a wear to shop guide.
  4. Edwardian era style guide.
  5. Men's footwear types.
  6. Several shoe images. Search for the gentleman wearing a suit with the Balmoral style boots.
  7. The Shoe Snob: Polish your shoes properly.
  8. NY Times article.

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