There used to be a time when salesman Mike Nichols could look out the display window of the M. Shwartz & Co. men’s store on North Street and easily separate the tourists from the natives. But not any more, Mike claims.
It seems while Tanglewood was busy making headlines with its record attendances and Julie Harris was engaged in drinking a little in her role as Miss Reardon at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, there was another revolution quietly afoot this summer.
It’s earliest rumblings can probably be traced to a display Nathan Suckman had in the window of his shoe store at the beginning of June. However, it seems to be the wives who are primarily responsible for initiating a trend that has resulted in many solid male citizens of Berkshire County appearing at social functions clad in white shoes.
As Mr. Suckman pointed out, white shoes were once a regular part of the male wardrobe. However, given the informality of dress that has characterized the last decade, the visibility of white shoes has mainly been confined to the tourist circuit — especially in these parts of Western Massachusetts, according to Art Borders, sales manager of the shoe department at Shwartz.
“Most local men who come in here ask for the basic black shoe that ties,” observed Mr. Borders.
However, it seems the native male population is gradually stepping out in a new image. Mr. Suckman, who had 20 styles of white shoes on view in his North Street window, reported sales of white shoes “four times as heavy this year as last season.” Mr. Borders estimates he sold about 40 pairs of white shoes this summer to customers ranging from doctors to plumbers.
Richard Cohen, salesman at Michael’s shoe store in the Berkshire Common, thinks the trend indicates that “men are becoming more style conscious.” The shoes are a good accessory for the knitted slacks that are growing in popularity with men. And the fact that many of the styles come in a patent-leather finish that does not have to be polished, probably adds to their appeal.
Older men are the most frequent buyers of the white shoes. Mike Nichols thinks this is because “they make the older man feel younger, a bit livelier.”
From all indications, the shoes will be even more popular next season with a white boot with high Cuban heel being added to the line. As the men of the Berkshires continue to put their best foot forward, who do they have to thank? Their wives, of course.
Take the case of Arthur Amuso of 36 Roselyn Drive. His wife suggested a pair of white shoes to complement a blue suit he purchased. Now Mr. Amuso finds himself a fashion leader in a circle of friends, most of whom have followed his lead and retired their black ties for white loafers.
Will he buy a pair of white boots next season?
“Definitely, no,” Mr. Amuso says. But then that’s what he said to his wife’s suggestion of white shoes.
This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.