Monday, October 10, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 3: A Practical Guide

This is part two of a guest post by Buzz Mooney. You can find part one here. Also, visit Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 for part two.

There appear to be two variations on the "sailors' fashion" of shoes: one features one strap hanging loosely over the forward edge of the buckle frame. Illustrations seem to indicate that this was the more common style. The second style has the straps crossed and fed under the forward side of the buckle frame, as seen in  "Watson and the Shark."

Here are some images of one of my own shoes, with the straps buckled and trained in various manners:

The buckle attached to the chape strap in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual manner, but with the straps pulled forward:

The buckles installed on the chape strap in the conjectural “quick-release” fashion:

The tongue strap buckled:

The “quick-release” method, with both straps loose:

A possible arrangement of the straps, from the “quick-release”. (Note: this would no longer be a quick release, but may be a way to secure the shoe better, while maintaining the overall style):

“Quick release” with both straps fed under the frame:

After these experiments, I am inclined to think that my conjectural “Quick-release” method may have been used on shipboard, to allow quick removal of the shoes for running up aloft, but it seems impractical for going ashore, because it allows the buckle to release from the chape strap, too easily, and tucking the straps to make it more secure eliminates the quickness.

In all, this fashion seems to have been common from at least the mid-1760's to 1810 or so, and may continue as long as buckle shoes are common. Does it go much earlier than 1768? Further research may reveal the answer, but for now, I think we can safely say that yes, sailors did commonly wear their shoes with trained straps, for at least 50 years.


  1. Just a humble opinion; I don't think that this has any practical dimension to it, and it's purely a "look" affected by sailors as part of their fashion. For instance, do people not lace their Timberlands just in case they need to kick them off in case of running away in an emergency? Do people wear ball caps backward as a means of shading the backs of their backs from sunburn? No, both are simply social cues and ways of making a fashion statement. What do you think though - this is an awesome posting!

    1. Furthermore, I have never seen convincing evidence of sailors working aloft while barefoot. But perhaps I am too literal-minded, or missing some piece of artwork.

    2. I agree that there is no evidence of sailors going barefoot aboard. There is certainly a very strong likelihood that there is no practical application to the sailors' fashion of shoe straps. This appears to be the case with sailors wearing cocked hats backward.

      Then again, we as yet lack the sources to say definitively one way or the other what the purpose behind these fashions are. I present Mr. Mooney's opinions, but remind our readers that there is more work to be done.

    3. Adam: Thank you for your comment. In the year since I wrote the article, I have found that my belief that sailors went aloft, barefoot, is unsupported. I cannot honestly say where I came by the notion.

  2. It may just be an impractucal fashion, but tge difference I see, between my conjecture and the Timberlands, is that people who wear Timberlands as daily work boots generally wear them, all day, while sailors frequently shed their shoes to go aloft, or simply do without shoes, altogether.