September 2, 2013

The history of white buck shoes


Towards the end of last week we took a gander at classic mid-century schoolgirl inspired ensemble in the latest installment of Vintage Fashionista Friday. Today in the ongoing spirit of the return of classes for many this week, we're going to delve into the history of buck shoes, which were especially popular with students during the 1950s.




Though they were never (in no small part because of how tricky they were to keep pristine looking) quite as widely loved and worn as their similar looking cousins, saddle shoes, bucks were nevertheless one of the most commonly sported styles of shoes amongst the younger crowd during the mid-twentieth century.

Bucks, so named because they were sometimes made of made of buckskin (but more commonly suede), found a large following with male, and to a considerably lesser extent, female wearers, and though they were often seen on those in their high school and college years, they also had a fan base with snappily dressed gentlemen of almost all ages.





Though bucks were most commonly found in white, similar (if not identically styled) suede shoes were also a hit during the rocking days of the 1950s, when none other than Elvis Presley himself made blue suede shoes an immortal classic with his wildly successful 1956 song of the same name (which, interesting, was actually recorded first by Carl Perkins the year before, though it's Elvis' version that most people think of when picturing this toe-tapping tune).

Suede shoes could be found in a range of other colours as well, but ultimately it was white bucks that - despite being a significant challenge to keep clean - proved most popular, no doubt in part because of the fact that they were often sported by another successful singer (and teen heart-throb) of the era, Pat Boone.





So well known was Boone, in fact, for his passion for this particular type of footwear, that he was sometimes called The Kid in the White Bucks, and numerous images abound of him sporting an always immaculate pair of these sturdy white kicks.

Much like Pat Boone himself, white bucks carried with them a natural sort of ingrained air of being clean-cut, presentable and youthful. Looking back on the decade more than half a century later, it's anything but a stretch to say that in a way bucks represented the wholesome image that youth culture - and by extension society itself - was supposed to represent. Good kids who did they civic duties with a smile, went to every pep rally, and were keen on using words like "gosh" and "golly".

Though a certain percentage of the younger generation did indeed fit this mold, it was not representative of the all teenagers, and thus - fittingly, one might say - intentionally keeping your bucks scuffed and dingy during the 1950s was in fact seen a sign of rebellion in some circles.

Most people at least gave keeping their bucks looking ship-shape a fighting change though, often employing a pencil eraser to remove stains, followed by a good rub down with a moist towel, sponge or scrap of soft fabric, with especially persistent stains getting treated to a scrubbing using white vinegar (then, as now you call also buy a product called a Buck Bag, which is designed specifically to help keep your white bucks in tip-toe shape; here's a vintage example of a different brand, which was rather charmingly called a Bunny Bag.).


 photo tumblr_m092w6QBv71rnste0o1_500_zpsa6d0664f.jpg



While bucks are most commonly associated with the 1950s, they sprang onto the scene earlier on in the century (for example, they appear above in this Regal shoe ad from the forties, complete with classic red rubber soles) and quickly grew to be associated with another (at least on the surface) clean-cut segment of the population: preppies (some of whom they remain a hit with to this day) and by extension, well-to-do college students.



{These particular bucks more mushroomy-grey than white, but the text in the ad makes it clear what kind of demographic they're appealing to all the same. Image source.}



Much akin to white attire frequently sported for activities like tennis and polo, the wearing of white bucks not-so-subtly implied that one wasn't about do anything with their day that was likely to soil their sparklingly pristine snow white footwear. They were, in that sense, the ideal casual shoe for the man or woman of leisure and means.



{For the kind of look an Astor would no doubt have approved of back in the day, pair your snazzy white bucks with argyle socks, as suggested in this vintage illustration. Image source.} 


Are bucks still on the market today? You betcha! Brands ranging from J. Crew to Cole Hann, L.L. Bean to Orvis have, and/or still do, produce white bucks, which really do make for a splendid choice of stylish summer footwear.

For those hoping to score the real mid-century deal, vintage pairs can still be found both online (etsy, eBay, etc) and off, though the fact that they were so tricky to keep clean means that you may have a harder time tracking down a pair than you would of saddle shoes from the same era.

As mentioned earlier (and highlighted by the images in this post), bucks were primarily a man's shoe, though one does occasionally see vintage pairs of lady's white bucks and bucks in white, brown and assorted other colours are still produced for women to this day (for example, I have a darling pair of vintage appropriate pale pink suede bucks that I bought in gently used condition on eBay a couple of years ago). By and large though, saddle shoes were much more common amongst teen and college aged gals during the 1930s through to the early 60s, when both styles of began to die down in popularity.

Though bucks may never again surge to the level of popularity they saw during the 1950s, they remain an endearing, classic footwear style of the era and one that works especially well if you're aiming to put together a vintage school fashion inspired ensemble.

Just make sure you pick up an extra pack or two of erasers if you do, so that you can keep your white bucks in as picture perfect condition as Pat Boone did his. :)

45 comments:

  1. The white is used a lot for dancing too as it is quite easy to see one's fabulous footwork!
    -Jamie
    ChatterBlossom

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    1. I'm a southern woman who works in politics and have always wanted white bucks- to go with the job :)
      My father wore them and some of my most treasured memories are of him teaching me to powder his from Allen Edmonds.
      On unabashedlyprep.com, I was introduced to the new trend of "dirty bucks"- which have to be white, but are meant to not be as stuffy as the pristine, perfect white.
      I've never been able to find a new pair for women (and my foot is too small to fit a man's style) until last year when I found a pair of pink suede/ navy bottom ones on zappos.com. It just wasn't the same...
      This year, I bought a pair of Bass (like the pink/blue) that are a white or super light chino color with almost the correct red sole. I got them in the mail and was dissapointed to learn my new white pair was CANVASS! But, after searching for years, I wanted to give them a try before returning. I AM NOW IN LOVE WITH THE SHOES! Canvass makes them cooler and they are just different enough to appear as updated.
      I wear them with loafer socks (which don't show), cuffed jeans and Oxford shirts around the office and when the time comes to dress them up, I wear them with very light or pastel pants, navy linen button fronts and a seersucker blazer. I get tons of compliments on them from both men and women of all ages.

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  2. What an informative post. I knew only bits and pieces of this; you filled out the gaps in my understanding. Thanks!

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  3. nice info, always nice to read
    loving it

    greets James Little aka mr Atomic

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  4. Oh I just love the look of "Buck" shoes......always have. Thanks for a blast from the past visit.

    Hugs,
    Meri

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  5. Mine would have to be spotless! Pale pink ones sound divine.

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  6. I have serious problems when it comes to wearing anything white. I don't know how I manage it but I will always get a spot on it within seconds! I do, however love white buck shoes… I'm just not brave enough to own a pair and risk getting them dirty! ;)

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  7. I love this kind of shoes, but saddle shoes are on my wish list for some time ago. .. I'll get them one day ...

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  8. Really interesting post. I doubt with my messy ways I could mantain spotless shoes though

    Kate-the old fashioned way

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  9. I am amazed at the wealth of information on buck skin shoes that you shared with us! I had no idea there were this many ads available for viewing:) Maybe we might see Tony sporting some:) I had no idea you could clean shoes with erasers?

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    1. Thank you very much, dearest Joanna. Never say never, as the expression goes, but I wouldn't bank on seeing Tony in white bucks. He's much, much more of a brogues kind of chap (no complaints there from me, I love them as well). You can definitely clean shoes with (clean) white erasers - and not just bucks, but most kinds of suede shoes, handbags and garments.

      ♥ Jessica

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  10. What an interesting history. I always just thought the song "Blue Suede Shoes" was a song and had nothing to do with the fashion of the day. I also likes how you drew a comparison between the idealism of society at the time and the representaion of it through pristine white shoes. I shudder to think what some modern day fashions say about our society. Your knowledge about vintage never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for sharing!

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  11. I love white bucks! Great post. :)

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  12. I used to have a pair of white bucks and you are right. They are TOUGH to keep clean. My 19 year old son just bought a pair of white slip-on Vans and he has spent the greater part of the summer walking the dog along the lagoon trail in an attempt to get them as dirty and scuffed up as possible! Hippie chic!
    Love your blog. Just love it!

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  13. Love them!
    http://balearaitzart.blogspot.com.au/

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  14. You are such a fantastic writer!!! I always manage to get anything white dirty as I'm a bit clumsy I'd dare say! :D

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  15. Did they get chunkier as the years progressed? The shoes in the first picture look more light-weight than the shoes in the rest of the pictures? Or maybe it's just how they look to me. I don't think I've ever heard of bucks before, or at least, I was getting them mixed up with saddle shoes perhaps. *befuddled by fashion*

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    1. Very good point, they do appear to have had slightly thicker soles in some of the earlier images. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for even more white buck images now to see if I can draw conclusive confirmation of this or not. Interest piques, search on - I'll be sure to post here if I can determine such was the case one way or the other. Thank you for the great comment!

      ♥ Jessica

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  16. Jessica,
    Your post is very infomative, filled with proper stories of history and lovely images to follow it all.
    As always, you have taught me something new - using the pencil eraser to remove stains from white footwear.
    You have a "thumbs up" from me, dear.

    By the way: how are your Alberta-plans coming up?

    Marija

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  17. Thank you for this interesting and historical post! I've often wondered about classic footwear, in particular the Bucks, and how timeless they are ;) xx

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    1. My absolute pleasure, dear Erin. I loved learning more about them while doing the research for this post. I'll have to sport my pink ones in the coming months, while hearty footwear and socks becomes a must here in Canada more.

      Big hugs & the most joyful of autumn wishes to you!
      ♥ Jessica

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  18. My husband has a modern day version of these shoes but his are a pale beige which is marginally more practical. I actually really like them as they do suggest 'best' going out wear, but sadly he doesn't wear them too often for the very reasons you mention. You have to be going somewhere clean! Aren't men's classes adorable? I love to see a well dressed man!!

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    1. It is a shame they're so tricky to keep in pristine (or nearly so) condition. The ol' eraser trick works quite well for some kinds of scuffs and marks, but overall, bucks are shoes that require one to be very mindful of where they step and what they do while sporting them.

      Definitely! I adore classic menswear and love seeing chaps dressed in vintage and/or timeless styles (vests/waistcoats, long overcoats, suits, and crisp white button front shirts are some of my personal favourites).

      ♥ Jessica

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  19. I can't get enough of oxfords. Two tone, high heeled, boots, love them all!!!

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  20. I can't imagine keeping my shoes so clean! I wear two tone black and white flats all the time, and it drives me crazy just cleaning those! All white?! I'd go crazy! ;)
    ~xoxo, CoriLynn

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  21. I love when you do posts like this, I always end up learning so much from them!

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  22. I am stupified (is that even a word?) by the prizes of shoes and the quality you can see in them.... no wonder i keep admiring vintage, it's just so full of real craftmanship. Makes me wonder when we became all quantity and not quality?

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    1. That's a point I've pondered many a time myself, too, dear Lorena. Certainly quality workmanship still exists in some areas of fashion, but it often costs a premium and can be hard to come by at a local level for many, even if they can afford it. I love the attention to detail, degree of quality, and workmanship that went into so many vintage items - even many mass produced ones - and am especially grateful for it, too, because it means that lots of items from the 30s, 40s and 50s are still around today for me and other who adore vintage fashions to buy and wear.

      ♥ Jessica

      *PS* You bet, honey, stupefied is a real word.

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  23. I wore white bucks in the 50's. They were 'groovy'. And yes it was more Pat Boone that made them famous rather than Elvis. Not only did they sometimes come with an eraser, but kids in the know, would dust them with white flour or talcum (baby) powder to have them pristine white. You got snickered at if your bucks were scuffed. Seriously. Some of us even carried a little package made of waxed paper with baby powder in it in your purse. There were no baggies in those days, Half the time when you took a step the cloud of white which came from your shoes meant you forgot to tap them suffiently to remove the excess powder....also snickerable. Not sure if that is a real word. Gail

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    1. Hi Gail, thank you very much for your terrific comment. I love that you added some additional interesting points to the history of white buck shoes. As beautiful as they were, given their hefty upkeep, I can see why they feel out of widespread use by the mid-60s, as fashion as a whole was becoming more causal.

      I don't think snickerable is a real word, but it definitely should be! :)

      Many thanks again & have a beautiful Sunday,
      ♥ Jessica

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  24. All through the mid-fifties to early sixties, when I was in high school and college, white bucks were very popular, although more so with girls than boys. The style for girls at that time was a saddle oxford (usually Spaldings), and worn with thick, folded ankle socks. I remember them being very snazzy looking and was quite taken with them. Ah, sweet memories!

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    1. Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful memories of growing up wearing these classic shoe styles when they were all the rage with us. I wish saddle oxfords (and bucks) were a fraction as easy to come by these days (especially in person) as they were back then.

      Wishing you a fantastic day,
      ♥ Jessica

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  25. Lloyd from New ZealandSeptember 6, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    Thanks for this informative post. I got here through looking up a Rockabilly-style song title I didn't understand, "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes" by Bobby Pedrick Jr. 1958.

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    1. Hi Lloyd, thank you for letting me know what lead you to discover this post. I hope you enjoyed this history of white bucks - they really are an iconically wonderfully example of mid-century footwear.

      ♥ Jessica

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  26. where can you find tem now for sale?

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    1. Hi there, white bucks are tricky, but not impossible to track down. If you're looking for men's, those are easier to come by. Josa A. Bank (http://www.josbank.com/menswear/shop/Product_11001_10050_101876) is one source that I know of. For both ladies and men's bucks, try eBay and Etsy, where you may be able to vintage and modern (the latter on eBay) pairs. I got my pink suede bucks on eBay a few years ago.

      Good luck with your search!

      ♥ Jessica

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  27. I remember white buck shoes that didn't tie or slip on. They had a tongue like lever, also covered in white buck, that you could pull up to loosen the shoe and it snapped back into place to tighten the shoe. Does anyone have a pic of this style? Thanks.

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    1. Thank you very much for sharing your memory of that unique style of white bucks with us. I don't recall seeing that particular style while doing research for this post or at any other time, but if I come across an image of such, I will be sure to post it here for you right away.

      Have a great weekend,
      ♥ Jessica

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    2. I had such a pair, fall of 1956, my freshman year of high school. I would love to see a picture of the closing mechanism, which we called a "mousetrap".

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    3. Very cool name for it! I don't believe I'd heard that term for it before. Thank you for sharing!

      Happy holiday season wishes,
      ♥ Jessica

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  28. Hi Jessica. You were right about the thick socks girls wore with their bucks. Here in Southern California we wore what I guess would now be called scrunchies over the turned down portion of the sock. Of course the color had to match that of the angora sweater you were wearing. Aah, the good old days.

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    1. That sounds so charming! Thank you very much for adding your personal experiences with white bucks and thick socks to this discussion. As someone who is perpetually passionate about being well colour coordinated, I second your comment about the good old days big time.

      Have a fantastic last weekend of summer,
      ♥ Jessica

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  29. Thanks for the info...I've had a pair of light brown bucks for a year or so and love them. Just picked up a pair of white ones yesterday at the Bass outlet store in Kittery Maine. I'm not "uppercrust by any means. I ride a big Harley, drive a truck and play guitar in a country-rock band, (none of which I'll be doing while wearing these shoes..lol) so by no means preppy either. I just do not like current shoe styles. These however I do like and will wear them every chance I get.

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    1. Hi Bill, thank you for your great comment. I fully understand. There aren't a great deal of modern shoe styles (save for those with classic styling to them) that appeal to me either. It's terrific that you found a pair of white bucks. Thanks for sharing the source, too. Perhaps others in Maine will see this post and be able to follow your lead.

      Wishing you a wonderful start of spring,
      ♥ Jessica

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