Golf Shoe Styles and History

It’s the Duke of Windsor* whom we have to thank for popularizing the many and varied styles of today’s golf shoes. 

*English King Edward VIII, 1894-1972, (King from Jan to Dec 11 1936), abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced commoner. He was then given the title of Duke of Windsor.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
The first suede or “reverse calf” (as suede was then called) Oxford was worn stateside by the Duke when he was the Prince of Wales. He is also credited for introducing Ghillies and Kilties to the USA.


Gillie or ghillies are Oxfords without a tongue, laced across the instep often with fringed laces and worn with kilts, or plus fours, and argyle socks for golf.

The word “gille” means “boy” or porter in Scottish Gaelic and came from the Old Irish “gilla” from “gildae”.


Kilties are oxfords with a tongue of fringed leather that is draped over the instep and covers the laces and eyelets.  The style was a popular golf shoe (see Gillie), but has transferred to slip on shoes.

To understand Co-respondent and saddles shoes we have to first know about bucks.


The first bucks appeared around 1870, made from Brazilian or Chinese deer and were worn as tennis shoes.  Buck, originally made of suede buckskin (deer), white buck, made of leather colored white, or dirty buck, a light tan color suede may have red rubber soles.

Irish-American Humphrey O’Sullivan patented the first rubber heel for shoes on January 24, 1899.  The new heel outlasted the leather heel then in use.

In 1957 Pat Boone wore his trademark white bucks to sing “Love Letters in the Sand” and America swooned at his clean-cut good looks.

Saddle Shoe

Saddle or “saddle oxfords” are characterized by a separate “saddle” shaped piece of leather at the instep.  The saddle can be the same color or different.   The shoes were called duotone if the saddle was a different color than the rest of the shoe.

Spalding originally introduced them in the early 1906 as a racquet sport shoe with the saddle serving as extra support.

The ‘saddle’ of the shoe was a reinforced instep that worked as a girdle to hold the foot tight against the shoe during fast sprints of running. It was a classic lace-up Oxford made of white buckskin with a red or black saddle-like strap stitched across the “vamp,” and finished with red rubber soles.

The saddle shoe failed to win over the tennis players or runners, but it did find eventual approval from golfers before it appeared on the feet of adolescents.

Gene Sarazen (born Eugenio Saraceni, 1902 — 1999) was the first golf professional to wear white buck golf shoes trimmed with tan or black leather in the early 1920s.   Gene was born in Harrison, N.Y. and was the first to win each of the four major championships that comprise the Grand Slam of golf.

1938, the jitterbug dance required flat shoes for women.  The saddle shoe became equally popular among co-eds and the first unisex fashion was born.

Sears Catalog 1941


Spectator or Co-respondent shoes are two color shoes, usually white and black or brown.  They can be two colors of leather or leather and canvas.

They are usually considered a non-business shoe and worn only during the summer season.

They originated as sporting and hunting footwear, but by the 1880’s had transcended into fashion.

In 1925 golfer Walter Hagen (1892 –1969) introduced the two-tone black-and-white wing tip to America at the swank Lido Club on New York’s Long Island. The very next year, Bobby Jones championed brown-and-white two-tones, setting the pace for inventive color combinations to come, including tan with brown as well as black with brown.

During this era the duotone became known as the “co-respondent shoe,” so named for its popularity among men who wore them to court for divorce proceedings.  A “Co-respondent” is one who “responds” or a defendant, especially in a divorce or equity case.

The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) helped their popularity when he wore tan and white spectator shoes during a 1925 visit to the U.S., and further popularized them as golf shoes in 1937. Fred Astaire wore them to dance in, and they became the signature shoes of jazz musicians, gangsters and zoot-suiters through the early 1940’s.

How to shine Two-toned Saddle shoes

  • Apply saddle soap with very little water
  • Apply black or brown polish (what ever is appropriate to the non-white part of your shoe) and polish with an old toothbrush (not your wife’s or roommate’s!)
  • You can moisten the polish with a few drops of water or for an authentic 1930’s shine – use gin!
  • Wrap a cloth around your finger and buff the non-white part.
  • Work the polish into the leather, let the polish dry slightly, and then buff with a clean rag.
  • Use white polish, the kind sold for nurse’s shoes, for the white part.
  • Put it on carefully; let it dry and buff off with a clean rag.