Al Capone, Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp and Jessica Chastain all have one thing common, and it has to do with their shoes! What is this commonality? Spats!
Merriam-Webster defines a spat as “a cloth or leather gaiter covering the instep and ankle.” Spat is short for a spatterdash legging and was first used around 1802. A spatterdash as defined by Merriam-Webster is a “knee-high legging worn as a protection from water and mud.” Originally used to cover the militia’s boots to protect them from the mud, the usefulness of these items and the style quickly made its way into the general public. Shortened to spats, they become extremely popular in the 1920’s in places like New York, London and Paris.
Spats were worn by both men and women. Men would wear spats to keep their boots clean and as a status symbol. Men who wore spats were often considered well off and sometimes known as dandies. Spats also became famous because of who wore them; real life gangsters and movie stars portraying gangsters were seen wearing spats. Women would also wear spats; to keep their feet warm and dry, and their boots clean.
Original materials of spats were leather or cloth but during the early 1900’s spats started to be made of heavy canvas
in the winter and linen in the summer. The goal was to keep the feet dry and warm which accounted for the different materials used at certain times of the year. To wear spats, they must cover the instep and ankle without causing wrinkles, with the bottom hem being horizontal.
Spats did not come in a wide variety of colors; instead the colors were mainly gray, beige, brown or white. White spats were mainly used for weddings and special occasions while the other colors were worn for day to day use. The High Plains Museum has three pairs of spats; two in brown and one in beige. The first pair seen at the top of the page are 5 ½ by 12 inches long, and the second pair seen on the right are beige; both are men’s spats. The third pair seen on the lower left is a women’s pair of brown, size 8 spats.
The 1940’s saw spats start to wane in use. Rubber boots became available and they did a much better job of keeping the feet dry and warm. While not used by many today, there are still places where one can buy spats or shoes that have been inspired by spats. Whether worn by a dandy or used for practical purposes, spats will always have a place in the history of shoes, fashion and the movies. Do you own spats? Please leave your comments in the section below.