The Definitive Guide To The Monk Strap Shoe & Double Monk Shoes

Monk Strap Shoe & Double Monk Shoes

There has been a lot written about Monk Shoes over the years and most of the so called facts are sketchy at best. As the style is once again so popular, we thought we give you a definitive guide. Well as definitive as we can make it!

Medieval Monk Shoes

It is certainly true that the origin of the Monk Shoe dates back over 1000 years. This is way before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. Alpine monks used to wear sandals with buckles on the side. People think that monks spend their whole days praying but that is very far from the truth. In fact they run like any other small village or town with the monks taking on all kinds of duties, from making wine to gardening.

You can imagine the kind of hard labour which really didn’t lend itself to puny open sandals. However that was pretty much what they were wearing up to this point. Often made from sheep or goatskin they were very soft and supple.

Monk Sandal

Medieval Monk Sandal Image from Eden Saga

These are much like traditional Roman sandals in their design and you can see where the buckle and strap go over the toe. Obviously there is another one connecting the top straps to the sandal as well. Each one could be adjusted so that the sandal can be fastened tightly.

It was only when one bright spark came up with the idea of covering the top of the foot as well that the original Monk Shoes were born. The image below shows what an early version would have looked like with the leather covering the whole of the foot. Of course this gave a distinct advantage over the open arrangement of the image above. The foot is now protected from the elements and of course objects that may come in to contact with it! garden implements, animals and scalding water to name just a few.

1300c Monk Shoes With Foot Covering

1300c Monk Shoes With Foot Covering

American Monk Shoe Design of George Washington

The shoe was worn for centuries with this design until some canny Englishman spotted the utility shoes and decided to bring the design back to the UK. We don’t have the name of the person which is why I said that the details available were a little sketchy but we do know that the design was popular in the UK around 250 years ago. Of course buckle shoes have been around since the 16th and 17th  century. You can see many depictions of them in old pirate paintings and later on George Washington in the mid 1700s. The shoe below is a replica of one of his shoes which he actually imported from England. Given that Northampton is and always has been the centre of the British footwear industry you’d think that they would also have been made there but were actually made by John Didsbury in London[2]  It’s interesting to note that at this stage shoe makers were were known as Cordwainers[3]  referring to an old French word for the leather used. Washington’s wife Martha’s shoes were made in London by James Davis Shoes[1] 

Replica of George Washington's Buckle Shoes - Via http://www.silkdamask.org/

Replica of George Washington’s Buckle Shoes – Via silkdamask.org

This is proof that the single Monk Shoes was being worn in London in the late 18th Century at least and were being made in London.

Like any form of footwear the buckle shoe came and went over the years and also changed in form. It’s a bit like the Dr Marten boot it comes and goes in waves depending on the fashions of the day. With Docs it’s very much music related but with the monk shoe it’s all about style. They tend to look good with narrow pants or in the case of George Washington, stockings! This partly explains the current vogue. There is little point wearing shoes with flash buckles on the side if you can’t see them under a pair of wide trousers, or flares is there? so it makes perfect sense that they roll with the fashion of the day and if that fashion is for skinny pants then there is a good likelihood that the fashion for buckle shoes will resurface.

The Modern Monk Strap Shoe and Derivatives

According to the Gentleman’s Gazette, the design of the first modern Monk was registered in 1901 but once again the details are rather sketchy. We have provided references for any facts that can be corroborated. Certainly London Shoemaker John Lobb – London can be credited with one of the first versions but all of the Northampton Men’s footwear manufacturers have featured a monk of some description in their catalogue over the years, This one is in tan leather with a distinctive die cut on the toe, showing how great the shoe can look with jeans.

Single Strap Monk Shoes

Single Strap Monk Shoes Via ModernmanCollection

How Is The Monk Strap Shoe Defined?

The simple description is that it is a modern Derby shoe which replaces the laces for either a single buckle or twin buckle arrangement, To give you a better understanding of the various types of shoe take a look at the chart below. You can see that the Derby has an open facing – i.e. the two flaps that join together with eyelets poking through them. On an Oxford shoe the facings are closed at the bottom.

Types Of Men’s Shoes

If you look at this list – all become clear – you can see that the Derby has open facings and the Oxford has closed facings. So the Monk Shoe is a Derby with buckles! Note also that the Derby is called a Blucher in America just in case you find youself stumbling over a style blog from over there.

Types of Men's Shoes - Derby, Oxford, Monk, Shoes

Types of Men’s Shoes, showing Derby, Oxford and Monk Shoes

The Modern Double Buckle Strap Monk

This brings us neatly on to the modern double monk shoe which has been around since the 1930’s. The idea of course being a slight twist on the traditional single buckle version. What you get is a much wider fold over panel which forks in to two so that it can accommodate the twin buckles. You will see varieties around with a toe cap, plain like in the photo and brogued. Personally I prefer the smooth vamp. I find that shoes with toecaps dig in to my instep (the top of my toes), when I walk. It’s to do with the flexing of the shoe and for some reason the edge of the cap which of course has to be stitched on top of the vamp, digs in making them uncomfortable to wear.

Modern Double Monk Strap Shoe - Prince From LSQ Shoes

Modern Double Monk Strap Shoe – Prince From LSQ Shoes with Allsaints chinos

What Do I Wear Monk Shoes With?

I was reading a blog the other day, now OK it was a US based style blog featuring a bloke wearing a dodgy knitted jumper!,  which told me all about whether I should be reading it or not. His advice was that you don’t really wear monk shoes with suits. Well I say bollocks to that. Like most styles these days it is your own personal choice whether you wear these shoes smart or dressed down. What I can tell you is that they will pretty much go with anything.  The photo above is our very own LSQ Prince double monk which looks amazing with these black chinos from Allsaints. They look equally good with a black suit or with black or dark denim. So I am not sure where he got that information from.

It’s over to you really. For me, the modern monk, be it single or double buckle, tells people that you care about the way you look. It shows that you have a progessive taste in footwear which I don’t think is a bad thing. Be stylish, be adventurous and kit yourself out with a pair. Oh and if some know it all American wants to tell you that the shoe is the third or fourth you should be buying after the Oxford and the Derby Shoe, then ask him if his mum knitted his jumper and ignore him!

Nigel Carr© 2016

References:

  1. ^founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-08-02-0267
  2. ^Clothing and Fashion, American Fashion Head To Toe
  3. ^Wikipedia – Cordwainer

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