Playing around with white bucks

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During sunny weather in the past few weeks, I've been playing around with these old shoes from Lodger, the shoe shop that used to be on Clifford Street in London, and where I first started writing about menswear

The shoes were a recreation of a 1920 tennis shoe, made in white nubuck with this extra band behind the toe cap. 

They are not white bucks - the shoe identified with upper-class society in the US (hence the 'white shoe' law firms I used to write about in my previous career), and part of Ivy traditions of menswear. 

But they're close enough to allow me to play around with wearing the style of shoe, and seeing what I like it with. 

Now in theory, white bucks go with anything. 

They're historically a smart shoe, worn with Summer suits and other warm-weather tailoring. Although they have a derby construction and usually a pretty round last, their stark white colour makes them quite smart.

Formal pale shoes are not that unusual historically, but these became the best known thanks to Ivy students that went on to wear them in their establishment careers - and popular figures such as singer Pat Boone in the 1950s. 

You see echoes of that today in fashion brands more than lawyers. Thom Browne is a good example, though Fred Castleberry is a better one. Fred styles white bucks with tailoring very effectively, and even though his style is usually too fashion/showy/plain unusual for me, he’s always worth checking for inspiration. 

Below: three eras of white dress shoes.

On the more casual side, you see white bucks commonly worn with jeans and chinos, and they can look great. 

The whiteness suits casual trousers in the same way as a white sneaker, and here the round-toed shape is an advantage. The traditional red sole helps as well. 

I think the look tends to be best with an open-necked shirt and some fairly simple or formal colours elsewhere, such as white, navy and grey (examples below). Wearing a necktie or bowtie pushes it over the edge.

It can also be easier to wear them casually when the bucks are  more worn in - scuffed and even plain dirty. 

This too is an Ivy tradition, though its roots might have partly been in just how hard it is to keep white shoes clean, rather than an aesthetic choice. 

The results of my personal playing around were that I did like the tennis shoes in both smart and casual outfits, but not too smart or too casual. 

So while they did work with this pale-grey suit, it required the shirt to be open-necked and even then the shoes stood out a lot. Not what I was after. 

And with jeans they were usually too smart - even a simple dark, straight-leg jean like these from Blackhorse Lane

The latter might have been because the shoes were too white still, having recently been cleaned, and they might work better when scuffed up. But I'm not going to go around rubbing them on walls just to find out. That will have to come with time. 

So, slightly smart and slightly casual. 

The outfit above is the casual option. The chinos aren’t quite as rough as jeans would be, and the the shirt elevates it significantly. A white collared shirt under a grey crewneck is clean and neat. 

I probably also feel more comfortable in this combination because it has Ivy elements in common with the white bucks, namely the chinos and the shetland sweater. 

This is largely meaningless in terms of cultural associations, given this is the UK not the US. To anyone walking by these are just white shoes, not white bucks. 

But these traditional combinations are often a rich seam for mining ideas. There will usually be reasons they worked historically, which might well pertain today.

The smarter equivalent is a menswear uniform of navy top and grey bottom, but while the trousers are tailored, the top is not. It’s a cotton sweater rather than a blazer. 

More subtly, the white shirt reflects the shoes, and the trousers are light grey rather than mid- or dark. Both help the shoes to stand out less, and the whole seem more harmonious. 

You’re still wearing white dress shoes in a city where there’s a chance not one other person is. But they would stand out even more with navy or charcoal trousers. 

Both outfits would be nice without the knitwear, by the way, and in warm weather they wouldn’t be required. But as explained here, I think sun is more important than temperature or season when it comes to wearing white. 

I’ve also played around with a navy overshirt, rather than the cotton knit, which is more practical if you’re out and about. 

And I like a vintage military-green piece as equivalent outerwear with the casual outfit. Either jungle jacket or M-65, depending on the weight required. 

Playing around, by the way, usually means trying out outfits on my bed or valet, and then wearing potentials for a day or two, with rather too many glances in shop fronts or cars windows. 

It’s fine, I tell myself, it’s my job. 

The shoes were cleaned by Tom, aka The Jaunty Flaneur, last Summer. 

The traditional method is to apply white powder to the surface, but this is basically just covering up the dirt. Better is to try and remove them, initially with a Gommadin block (Saphir's answer to a pencil eraser) which lifts some stains away with friction. A steam and brush can help too. 

With white you usually want to avoid wet treatments, as it can create new water marks; but here Tom did use Saphir Omni-Nettoyant suede shampoo as well, and that worked OK.

In terms of where to buy white bucks, I haven’t shopped for them myself so can’t provide any direct recommendations, but Alden is the standard. I’m sure readers will be able to fill in other options. 

This post also reminds me, now I think about it, how interesting Lodger was. Nate and the team turned out a new shoe design every month - initially two a month - of which this tennis shoe was one of the first. Such investment in design. 

They also sold them for a while using a ‘reverse auction’ model, where the price dropped steadily until someone bought them. That was quite unreliable, but still innovative compared to shoe companies today. 

The clothes shown are:

Casual:

  • White button-down shirt, bespoke from Luca Avitabile
  • Grey shetland sweater, Berwick shetland from Trunk Clothiers, size Medium
  • Old ‘Army’ chinos from The Armoury, no longer sold
  • Woven leather belt, E Tautz
  • Large Working Tote bag from Frank Clegg

Formal(er):

  • White linen shirt, bespoke from Luca Avitabile
  • Dark navy cotton sweater, Anderson & Sheppard, size Small
  • Bespoke trousers from Solito in ‘Crispaire’ high-twist wool from Holland & Sherry
  • Jaeger Le-Coultre Reverso watch in yellow gold

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

 

 

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Kev F

My initial reaction was “Ooh, no” but on considered reflection they look good with the paler grey trousers; the reduced contrast takes the brightness down and as you say, looks more harmonious.
As an aside you really should reconsider the JLC Reverso; such an elegant watch.)

Kev F

Interesting the contrast between these shoes and almost every other; we’re actually saying having them look scruffy would be an improvement. Can’t say that would be a maxim for all the others on here, including white trainers.

Robert M

Interesting. I think the shoes work with the more formal outfit, but not really with the casual one. The traditional bucks in the ads and photos are way chunkier, and yours seem to too dressy, the sole too thin, to work in such setting. Always a good idea to play around, though!

AK

Agreed Robert, the cap toe and the silhouette give them a much dressier vibe compared to the red-soled derby of Ivy tendency.

Oggi

I think the outfit with the light grey trousers and cotton top is worth considering because some men might shy away from the combo because it’s so mundane but paired with the white shoes or a similar rare or elegant shoe like a suede penny loafer or Sagan the combination is elevated from the everyday to the classic.

Peter Hall

Oh no,I thought when my PS email arrived.
But, they look great. Really like the dark top and grey trousers.Excellent examples. They really fit well into smart casual.It is such a common look in the NL-usually with white trainers.
Brooks Brothers sell bucks(but have a red sole).

Kev F

Those Brooks Bro ones look a very pale beige tone on their site – to me they look more appealing than the white.

H

I’m not sure if I’d wear them in White, but for me the Tricker’s “Robert” model is the best in class shape wise. I have a pair in “Coffee castorino” which are very comfortable and go with everything a suede loafer would – but somehow always appear more modern (despite being less so).
I wear dressed up with sport coats and tailored trousers, casually with jeans and any colour of sweater, or even sockless with cream linen trousers and a t-shirt.Thom Sweeney had a similar shoe from C&J for SS20 and the number of different lookbook outfits where it featured show quite how versatile it is!
https://thomsweeney.com/pages/lookbook-download

H

Yes – I’m happy to be corrected but my understanding is that a lot of traditional American firms would refer to that sort of suede plain toe derby as a Blucher or “buck”, regardless of colour?
Ben Silver, have a Crockett-made “buck” in navy, white and tan, and O’Connells have something similar in white and tan but not made to the same quality level. John Simons have theirs by Astorflex and Alden also sells “bucks” – in tan as well as white. Tricker’s – being English – doesn’t call them bucks, but its the same style.
I personally wouldn’t wear the style in white, but in snuff or dark brown I think its incredibly useful and heavily underrated – slightly smarter than a chukka but without the connotations of a loafer.

Tony Hodges

Did you try the shoes with lighter washed jeans? I think there’s something about white shoes that works better when the contrast with the colour of your trousers is low.

I’m also interested in which belt you landed on, and why. I’ve always found that the hardest part, because the old ‘match your leathers’ rule doesn’t hold.

These days I’ve got a belt which is off white twill with a narrower navy leather strip over the top which does the trick, but there’s a lot of old mostly white belts in my wardrobe that I thought were going to be the answer but turned out to be too garish.

Teo

Very interesting, Simon!

Not a fan personally of the look, I somehow feel each of your outfits above can be made more harmonious by going for a more traditional option of brown suede/calf, especially in rainy and grey UK weather. It feels as though the white shoes become the central piece of the outfit and every other component needs to be weighed against them to ensure the whole ensemble works. I may be thinking too conservatively and simplistically here, but from my point of view, one of the few instances these would look properly at home is with a light-coloured summer suit.

On a related note, what are your thoughts on spectator shoes? I think the two-tone look may be easier to style in some instances but most of the examples I’ve seen look a bit more formal than the all-white pair featured in the article above.

zo

I’ve got a pair of spectator loafers made by JM Weston for Maison Kitsune a few years ago. Dull navy and Cream colours – so not a very stark contrast. I love wearing them jeans, chinos, sweatshirts, chore jackets etc. They’re not available any more but Aime Leon Dore carry a similar pair. Also Bass Weejun Larson, which are cheaper but better design imo. You can browse through the ALD lookbook and the Mr Porter looks (they style the Weejuns in a lot of their outfits, including with a double breasted ALD+Drake’s suit) and in those outfits the shoes look very current and modern. Obviously it’s a ‘look’ and you’ll get noticed so you need to be comfortable with that.

Robert

Clothing references can stir the emotions. This hits the spot. I attended an all male country day school in the US in the 70’s. Based upon the traditional British boarding school model, our headmaster was straight out of central casting. Gruff and just beyond reach for us spit and polished boys in our J Press blue blazers, button down oxfords and silk regimental ties. And he wore white bucs with red rubber soles. And I mean that is all he wore. Rain, snow or sleet. No galoshes. Everyday. Morning chapel. Invocations. Graduations. Athletic events. A constant in our lives. Today fifty years later at alumni events a handful of the gents will do the same and we smile knowingly. Thanks for the memory Simon.

Nicolas Strömbäck

I wore shoes like these 10 years ago while living in New York. I find them to be most versatile and go with basically everything. I especially enjoyed wearing them with a pair of dark purple brushed cotton pants that I had at the time (pre-Stoffa but similar look). I dont have them anymore as the quality was low and they wore out, but maybe its time to invest again. Baudoin and Lange do something along these lines now, have you seen those Simon?

Alfonso

Where to find white bucks nowadays?

Jake

Allen Edmonds did offer their Nomad in white a while back and I bought a pair. Unfortunately, they only offer the Bone colour now.

IMG_2770.jpg
jack

Alfonso: Ben Silver Collection (in Charleston SC) has a good selection of “Bucks, saddle shoes, tan and blue bucks” – although most are Crockett and Jones.

Slippers

These shoes look very similar to the dress shoes of the British navy. I considered buying a pair from a army surplus shop but was unsure of how to style them so opted for a smart pair white trainers instead. I personally think a smart plain white trainer is a great way of changing up different outfits.

Slippers

Thanks, I hadn’t seen that. Just to add, my white trainer purchases are usually mid range price wise as no matter how hard I try (and I have tried lots of methods) They never clean up enough for my liking, so I tend to wear them for a season and then relegate them to garden shoes!

Néstor

I always liked the look with light blue denim and tan chinos. Worn with a polo and sport shirt it looks very good to my eyes. And they are more comfortable than sneakers. Sanders sells a more affordable version than the Alden.

Josh

This is really rather outlandish compared to your style set point, Simon, and it’s satisfying to see the experimentation, even though I‘m not sure I‘ll be trying this myself any time soon. It‘s always useful to see style boundaries being tested in the controlled environment of a leading menswear blog

Victor

Where to find….? Not easy in Europe.
https://shop.manfield.fr/NEW-BUCK-VELOURS-BLANC-SEMELLE-CRANTEE-MICRO-ROUGE/110534246.html
Made in Spain .
Good / Quality I bought a month ago. Greetings

Peter O

Those are no doubt authentic white bucks, but I would prefer a streamlined more beautiful style.

Peter Orosz

These shoes might work well with the #50 outfit in Nishiguchi’s Closet, where he wears white leather shoes (Crown Northampton’s Regent model if I’m not mistaken) with grey trousers and a long-sleeved striped shirt over a white dress shirt.
I don’t recall ever seeing you wearing stripes but if you replace the striped shirt with a navy sweater you end up with the formal(er) outfit shown in this post.
(In the book the #50 outfit looks very dramatic but when I realized I could replicate it with similar clothes I own I wore it a couple of times, just to see what it’s like in person, and it’s rather more subtle than I imagined.)

69EC009E-B118-4BE6-A578-A8B422E3B7D4.jpeg
Peter Orosz

I have three of Orcival’s ⅞-sleeve cotton tops and wear them on their own a lot but it took Nishiguchi’s book for me to consider that they might work over a shirt, too. Try it with a white Friday Polo! — that’s what I did, because I don’t have a white shirt. The textures are very nice together.

Winot

Simon – I have those shoes from Lodger and also the Kudu boots. I rarely wear either (mainly for fit reasons) but your post has prompted me to get out the tennis shoes and I’ll give them another go.
I seem to remember that the company initially marketed itself as having equipment for measuring the shape of one’s feet. Looking back through your posts I can see that there was some confusion about that – and in fact I was never offered the service despite asking. What with that, the monthly offering and the reverse auction they were a bit of a marketing disaster, which is a shame. Running before they could walk, you could say.

Charles

I’m not an Ivy historicist (I state this in case they come after me… ha!) but I do enjoy reading anecdotes about the origins of the style, and from what I understand wearing them dirty was a discreet sign that you were upper class, as the middle-class students were seen to be very concerned with neatness. The importance of little details like this can be observed in the fact that “shoe” was used as a term to describe whether someone had pedigree or not. Someone who wasn’t shoe was “non-U” as you English would say, and would be ignorant of these little secret cues that “elites” like to use to distinguish themselves in more democratized environments.

Anyway, bucks would usually become dirty mainly through grass stains from lounging around campus greens, so no need to rub them against walls Simon, just take them to the park!

Peter O

Dear Simon,

What you call “white bucks” isn’t quite what I understand in the North of USA. Please bear in mind two other fashion regions – Ivy League NE and South (presumably stronghold of white bucks) – must be asked for their white buck traditions.
I believed white bucks which I associate with Pat Boone to have reddish-pink soles and without cap.
White bucks are iconic, and Americans I believe like them clean.

james

Simon, i always find your outfits tasteful and never showy or gimmicky. Quite often they are not things i would wear myself, but i appreciate how you have put things together and the look is generally effortlessly smart.
This is the first time i have to say, these shoes really kill the vibe for me..

Rik

Simon – do you know what happened to Lodger? I remember reading about them in the early days of PS! They had some nice styles if I remember rightly. Think they were made by Alfred Sergeant

Rey

I know it’s not the topic at hand but that reverso is just stunning, the size with the golden ratio, the gold metal, it’s a design masterpiece!

JJ Katz

Great article. We (OK, “I”) often elevate past stylistic choices on a pedestal but one common way of wearing white shoes in the great 1890s-1930s period was with quite dark suits, which I don’t think really works well. Worn with light-coloured trousers, as you show in the article, they are really quite charming.
I seem to recall that back in the days, when men wore these more often, there was a sort of chalk bag which people sued to touch-up / freshen up the shoes when they became scuffed. Students, of course, notoriously wore them very scuffed.

Veit

Hi Simon,
What are those cream socks?

Jack Williams

I wanted to give a perspective on white bucks, from experience; first as attending a New England boarding school in the 50’s and then as a professor at a large university in Alabama in the 90’s. White bucks were part of the “uniform” of prep schools/ivy wear. Always dirty, always with chinos. One would be laughed at if one used the little white powder bag – yes there were such things. Bucks would get dirty through use, and upper classmen had theirs very dirty as a mark of their status. These bucks had the red soles that too got scuffed with use.
In the American South, the archetypal uniform for a southern lawyer (watch out here Simon!) was a seersucker suit, bow tie, blue socks and white bucks. These shoes were never dirty. I was on the jury in a play of “To Kill a Mocking Bird'” staged in the original courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama. I wore a white linen suit with white bucks.(Clean) The lawyer, Atticus, wore a seersucker suit with white bucks. (Clean).
So there are two traditions in America for the wearing of white bucks: both regional in nature: one ironic, one based upon style. Both were based upon class, but totally different.
Good to see you experimenting with these shoe, Simon and a nice article.

Rojo99

Gosh Lodger – a real blast from the past!

Dave

Great article, Simon!
My late Ivy League father (Cornell ’49) wore these in high school and college. He told me they would carry around a little bag of white chalk dust to apply to any small scuffs and blemishes. Apparently, it was quite the style!
I own a pair, and they go well with grey slacks and a navy blazer, though I do like the more casual combinations you’ve shown here as well.

Thanks for the memory!

Eric G.

Thank you for this thoughtful article Simon. I am sure I am an outlier here, but in the summer I like wearing my white bucks (RL, scuffed) sockless with navy laces. It dresses them way down, and they look great with chinos and an ocbd with the sleeves rolled up. But I’m an American.

Peter K

My memory of white “dress” shoes would be the ones my father wore in the 1970’s with a baby blue sport coat and dark and light blue plaid trousers. Together with a white belt and white shoes it was truly hideous. Very much in fashion at the time, but hideous.
Simon, through your articles on how to wear white trainers and playing with these shoes you have ended my instinctive prejudice against white shoes for men.
I doubt I will ever wear white bucks but I do wear white trainers regularly.

Anonymous

I still have a couple Lodger’s ‘Shoes of the month.’ They has some great twists on classic styles and It’s a real shame they’re not trading anymore. Their website is probably where I first came across your writing.

In a similar vein to the bucks, I had some white leather (Probably calf skin) Church’s Graftons purchased heavily reduced in a sale around 12 years ago.

They proved very versatile in summer to make a simple look more interesting. Usually pale trousers, but raw denim sort of worked too.

When I bought them, I thought if I didn’t wear them I could get a patina applied. I would have actually kept them as they were, but my shoe size changed.

Having read your article, I might think about some kind of replacement.

Thomas

Great to hear stories about how folks have worn these shoes in different times and places. This article made me think of Gus Powell, a photographer based out of NYC who has made wearing dirty white bucks a bit of a style signature: https://www.reedyoung.com/gus-powell/

His Instagram handle is, indeed, @dirtywhitebucks

He wears them very casually, with a workwear vibe. I think they elevate what would probably otherwise be pretty basic style. I dig it.

Peter

PSA – Word on the street is that Alden is discontinuing white bucks because they can no longer source the traditional red microcell sole. I was told they might be back in 2023.
Of course, I’m now curious what about red microcell is so contextually important to which bucks…

Patrick Truhn

Simon, the last time I wore white bucks – and I must admit it was probably over thirty years ago – was with a light blue and white seersucker suit. Somehow the pairing made me feel less self-conscious than either the suit or the shoes alone would have. And this was not in, say, Savannah or Charleston, but in Paris, where French stylemakers had apparently decided that white bucks and seersucker (and plaid bow ties) were the very essence of American preppiness. I have to admit I’ve never worn anything more comfortable to the office on a hot summer day.

david croxson

I have fond memories of Lodgers also. read about their new approach in Esquire and visited the shop a few days later. They produced a british and italian design each month, i chose the latter, (their second customer apparently…) an italian whole cut, blue derby.
It was a real pleasure to visit the shop to discuss the innovative marketing process and be shown the next months product ideas with the (then lady) designer.
Unfortunately, my first purchase was supplied with a (very small) fault. They immediately ordered a replacement and handed me the incorrect version. I left a satisfied customer motivated to return again…and again…and again.
Overall a great project, knowledgeable people and always a warm welcome.
“But some fell on stony ground”, what a shame!
David.

Dave

Very good article…..I also noticed your watch…..very nice
What make is it please?

Bri

Best white bucks are deadstock from the following brands:
1) Walk Over
2) Cole Haan
3) Brooks Brothers
4) Dexter
5) Bass
If you’re buying new, then, yes, Alden is your best bet.