Cheryl Hughes: If The Shoe Fits
Recently, I stopped by Cracker Barrell to have breakfast, and I was seated to the right of a large metal shoe sign. “Star Brand Shoes Are Better,” the large sign announced. The shoes had a large star on the bottom of the heel, along with the initials, R J R & S. The sign piqued my interest, because I had never heard of Star Brand Shoes.
According to buttonmuseum.org, the shoes were made by Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company. Established in 1898, brothers Jack and Oscar Johnson, teamed up with cousin, Frank Rand and money man John Roberts in Saint Louis, Missouri. The shoe, designed by Beverly Hixson of the Hixson Company, was a “six-inch high women’s shoe.” Oscar Johnson was convinced of the shoe’s marketability, so RJR&S provided financial backing, and the Star Shoe Company was incorporated in 1899. The shoes were manufactured in Hannibal Missouri into the twentieth century. The shoe line grew to include the whole family.
When I was in school, shoes were a big deal. You could be dressed like a refugee, but if you wore a pair of Weejuns, you got respect from the cool kids. Our parents bought a pair for my two younger sisters and me. I have no idea how they came up with the money, but I appreciate their sacrifice.
According to GH Bass, manufacturers of Weejuns, the name came from Norwegian fishermen. “Fancy British sportsmen used to go to Norway to fish and noticed these locally crafted slip-ons.” Bass updated the loafer, adding the cutout for the penny, creating the first penny loafer, which has continued to be a style icon. James Dean wore them in the 1950s. They were the go-to shoe of the Ivy League schools in the 1960s. (Even JFK owned a pair.) 1970 found Weejuns on high school kids, especially British youth, sporting sharp suits, thin ties and pork pie hats (round hat, turned-up brim, flat crown—think Buster Keaton). The 1980s saw Weejuns on preppy east coast up-and-comings, and in the ‘90s, they were the chosen foot ware for hip hop artists and punk rockers. Mark McNairy and Tommy Hilfiger added Weejuns to their designer lines in the 2000s, and you can still buy Weejuns today (ghbass.com). Talk about staying power! (I found one pair of Star Brand shoes for sale on the site, classicshoesformen.com. They are an original pair of never-worn shoes for men, size 7-7.5 oxfords. The asking price is 1,240 British pounds. That translates into about 1,500 US dollars. History is expensive.)
When you have kids in the family, it’s all about functionality…usually. When my daughter, Nikki, was a little girl, I would put the new shoes on her feet then let her run up and down the aisles at Shoe Carnival. If they didn’t come off her feet while she was running, we had a winner. With my daughter, Natalie, however, the litmus test was if they clicked when she walked on the linoleum. That was a really big deal to her.
When my girls were in school, the popular shoes were Vans, Doc Martins and Chuck Taylors. Today it’s Hey Dudes, Nike Dunks, and Crocs—worn with socks, of course. Air Jordans have stood the test of time, as well.
It’s funny how you go from wearing practical shoes as a kid to wearing cool—fire, in today’s vernacular—shoes as a teen to stylish shoes as a young adult, and finally to comfortable shoes as an adult. I’m old people, and I want comfortable. Sometimes, I will buy a stylish pair, but they are rarely worn. I’m all about those Sketchers shoes you just walk into for every day, my garden shoes are old clunky Merrells (they’re at least a hundred years old, or look that way, anyway), and if I’m going somewhere that I can just drive-through, I’m in flip flops. I tell myself I need to pay better attention to the way I dress, but I usually don’t listen to myself.
Remember Imelda Marcos and her 3,000 pairs of shoes? They were discovered when the Marcos family was ousted from power in the Philippines. Ferdinand and Imelda had to flee the country when the people staged a revolution and stormed the palace. I wonder what pair she was wearing when she climbed out the window and over the balcony. My money’s on flip flops.