Connoisseurs Say They’re In Style: The Bass Weejun In The Late ’30s

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Last week we ran a post with material from a 1936 issue of Esquire, when the Bass Weejun was in its first year of existence. Subsequent Esquire articles — which are now available from the new online Esquire archives for just $4.99 per month — touted the shoe as ideal for resorts, beaches, and other outdoor activities besides just strolling across a campus quad.

Which begs the question: just what exactly did Weejun-accessorized outfits look like in the ’30s? Ivy Style’s associate editor Christopher Sharp combed through the Esquire archives from the Weejun’s introduction in the winter of ’35/’36 to the end of 1939, and here’s what he found.

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33 Comments on "Connoisseurs Say They’re In Style: The Bass Weejun In The Late ’30s"

  1. Multiple images show them worn sockless. Where did the legend that it was UNC in the ’50s where they were first worn sockless? That must refer specifically to a campus setting.

  2. The interesting thing of these 30s and 40s Esquire fashions sketchs is that the Ivy style was all there in 30s,and that is massively present.
    None call it “Ivy”; is “collegiate style” or “American natural shoulder”.
    Few dress entirely in this style (also in colleges),but the sacks are mixed with draped lounge suits,and wear one or another depends by occasions (for exemple sack sport coars are appropiate from country wear).
    Is a very interesting era for the “Ivy” style.

  3. William Richardson | October 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm |

    @Christian

    My father claimed that it was he and his friends who left Virginia to attend art school at Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida in 1960 who introduced the sockless loafer look. The Florida locals thought they were wearing bedroom slippers and regarded the practice as unsanitary. From pictures and my father’s reminiscences, his group all wore button down collars and locker loops, madras belts, khakis with cuffs and buckles on the backs and blue blazers (3/2 roll of course). The blue blazer was a sure way to impress the young ladies. Apparently there was an instructor there at the time named Oxley who dressed the part and drove a red Mercedes Benz 300 SLR with a zebra skin interior. He informed my father’s group that they should never expect to own a Stanley Blacker tweed coat. I always thought he sounded like something of a jerk.

    Will

  4. Lots of the illustrations associate the Weejuns with resort settings. Sockless probably started in that context and then became more widespread. But yeah, any stories about people inventing the loafers with no socks thing in the post-war period are clearly falsified by these images.

  5. Norwegians, sure. But those espadrilles (sixth pic from the bottom). I don’t care what anyone else says–espadrilles are for girls!

  6. William Richardson | October 28, 2015 at 3:13 pm |

    @Cameron

    I am certain that my father never assumed that there would be fellows such as we who would be discussing every intricate detail of menswear when he told me of these things. Clearly, sockless loafers wear worn before 1960.

    @Don

    Espadrilles for men are truly gruesome. I must admit that I purchased two pair from a store called Alexander Beegle in Virginia Beach in the early 80’s and proudly wore them in college. I must have looked like a preppy Sonny Crocket (Miami Vice reference). The girls seemed to like them back then though.

  7. Bags' Groove | October 28, 2015 at 4:09 pm |

    The images are all very Wodehousian, and all the better for it. The 30s were such a happening decade, from great clothes to great modern art and architecture. Well in my book, anyway.

  8. @William Richardson – It’s quite probable your father and his friends actually thought they were being innovative, daring trailblazers when they took the bold step of going sockless.

  9. From most of the people I know that were around in the 1930’s, the times were pretty bleak until WW2 brought the US out of the great Depression. I only know of one fellow, now in his 90’s, who would brag about his “roadster”, and his debonair attire during that time period. Probably, all bull.

    A brief story reflecting that time and the cruelty of man. My mother came from a very poor background, her father had lost everything but their modest home during that time. However modest, their home was the newest and most expensive home in the neighborhood. They even had indoor plumbing, where others had none, or bathrooms installed after the fact in the basement.

    Anyhow, the entire family had to contribute to the welfare of the family. My mother, the oldest child, had to hire out for housework in the summer and weekends. On returning to grade school for the new year, my mother was approached by a teacher that knew her, and asked her how the family’s summer vacation was. My mother replied in amazement that they had not taken any vacation. The teacher informs her that the “Society Section” of the newspaper had a lengthy article describing my mother’s family “summering” in Connecticut.

    My Mom would tell that story a multitude of times. It actually would have been funny, had the times not been so bad. My Mom’s family survived, never lost their home, fortunately.

    Cheers!

  10. William Richardson | October 28, 2015 at 5:27 pm |

    @Cameron

    I just asked my dad. They were simply trying to stay cool in Florida. I think they looked cool too.

    Cheers,

    Will

  11. My great-grandparents weathered the 30s fairly well, there’s a fantastic photograph I have of them walking arm in arm along the boardwalk in Atlantic City dated 1932 with Pappy in a tweed double-breasted overcoat and a dapper homburg. Even managed to keep their live-in cook and maid. Still, I’ve been told my great-grandmother taught cotillion on the Main Line to help pad the bank account. Hardship is relative I suppose.

  12. My paternal grandfather immigrated from Norway to San Francisco in 1937. Evidently he thought Depression-era US better than Norway.

  13. Smoking never looked so good!!! Great looks!

  14. @Carmelo

    We all value your opinion here not only for your massive menswear erudition but also for your point of view as a European looking at American style from a more objective point of view.

    That said, do these images really look Ivy to you? Perhaps the first two. But those resort looks appear more generic ’30s Hollywood/jet-set style, not directly connected to WASP style. Of course those resort looks were likely offered in some iteration at Brooks Brothers, but they didn’t survive beyond the era. The war interrupted much of the proliferation of Ivy, something Marc Chevalier (from our FB group) spoke about to me at length back when I was in LA. Still I think that resort look with the espadrilles and French sailor stripes is something different. It’s a great look wonderfully recreated in the movie “Evil Under The Sun” in the ’70s, one of my favorite style movies.

    But Weejuns became part of Ivy as did many other things created before the war, which was much the theme of the MFIT exhibit, that the ingredients were already mostly in place 20 years before the heyday occurred. But I don’t think we associate that resort look with Ivy/preppy style either because it didn’t survive the war, or because it was never part of the genre in the first place.

    Now that the Esquire archives are so accessible to the menswear historian public, I’m sure we’ll get much more insight into the early days of the genre and the various distinctions and social customs around this style of dress.

  15. What a great collection of illustrations! How I wish I could have lived during a time when you left the house looking like a gentlemen instead of a bro’ in cargo shorts, flip flops and a baseball cap turned backwords. Sigh..,

  16. Chestertoniano | October 29, 2015 at 2:40 am |

    I love my Weejuns as much as the next man, but “begs the question” is an informal logical fallacy – circular reasoning, or petitio principii. Language changes, I know, but to say “begs the question,” when one means “raises the question,” is sloppy diction. More importantly, in my view, it robs the language of one of the only everyday ways to name this particular breed of unsatisfactory reasoning. In the parlance of this region of the internet (which I very much enjoy!), it is an example of the casual Fridayization of rigorous thought. Perhaps J. Joseph College missed that day of Intro to Logic while abroad.

  17. Roger C. Russell II | October 29, 2015 at 3:20 am |

    Absolutely some of the best looking products I have seen in a long time. Can you imagine the quality that stuff was?

  18. My paternal grandfather of sainted memory always called his Weejuns “Norwegian slippers”.
    Apparently he wasn’t the only one.

  19. Thanks for the pics. It’s easy to forget the Weejun’s history extends back–beyond the 50s. I wonder how many (%) of American men owned a pair in, say, 1940. And I wonder how much better the leather was than the present incarnation. Almost certainly not “corrected grain,” eh?

    I tend to agree with Christian. I don’t see Heyday Ivy.

    Reflecting on the Weejun as an essential piece of the Heyday campus ensemble, it’s interesting how much of my own appreciation of the look is inspired by nostalgia for an era when a lot–(not everything)–was just plan, well, better. Reminds me of what Peabody said–to paraphrase, since the days of the Marshall Plan there’s been a downward spiral. It’s difficult to articulate.

    A lot of older men I know who have stuck with the look would say simply that every style that’s followed it has looked worse. Perhaps progressively so. So, why change? After all these years, there’s a modest, discreet elegance to slightly round toed, half-strap “loafer.” It fits right in with other aspects of the style, including the soft collar and natural shoulder. Symmetry. Who, after all, can imagine Weejuns being paired with a stiffly constructed, heavily padded jacket?

  20. I lived in Weejuns while in college in the Northeast (1959-1963). I think they were fully leather lined in those days which made going sockless somewhat more comfortable. The leather wrapped around the bottom of the shoe so that when the sole came off you could use them as slippers. Was in Norway in August and looked at some current, local versions; pretty ugly.

  21. I am with @A. Perry, this is a lovely collection of images. My mother, born in 1950, dressed up for school and work, always skirts and mary janes/heels. I remember growing up that her weekend uniform was her Bass Weejuns in burgundy, socks, jeans cuffed up just enough so that they didn’t accidentally get tucked into the loafer (she’s short), and then a turtleneck, sometimes alone, sometimes with a flannel or a sweater over it. Penny loafers were a relaxed style for her, a chance to lose the heels and hose. She actually got rid of her loafers when she moved to Florida to retire, if we were the same size I would have taken them…she has a whole new uniform down there now, she found Lilly Pulitzer…. 🙂

  22. Señor Yuca | October 29, 2015 at 1:50 pm |

    ‘do these images really look Ivy to you? Perhaps the first two.’

    Definitely the 1st 2. Every era of ivy had differences in the cut and certain things came in and out – but the look is there: no break flannels or similar, striped OCBD with a killer roll, foulard tie, 3 button tweed sack, Weejuns, single breasted cream mac – this is the look that conquered the US 20 years later.

    No one is suggesting it is identical to or as ubiquitous as post WW2 ivy, but the style is there.

  23. Señor Yuca | October 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm |

    Wonderful images incidentally – thanks to the finder!

  24. @Chestertoniano: great screen name!

  25. William Richardson | October 29, 2015 at 2:51 pm |

    I just paid my cobbler $40 to re-sole and replace the heels of my favorite pair of oxblood Bass loafers. This will make the fifth such repair in ten years and they are still going strong. Find a good cobbler any you will never regret it.

  26. Being new to menswear history, are these loafers seen in resortwear because before WWII, we didn’t truly see resortwear as we know it now? Are these images just men making do with what they had, taking a loafer that looked the most comfortable for warm weather out of their footwear collection and ditching socks or having pants & shirts made in familiar patterns/cuts but with lighter fabrics and short sleeved because the resortwear market hadn’t really begun yet?
    -Monica, menswear neophyte, but curious

  27. Charlottesville | October 29, 2015 at 3:42 pm |

    Christian and Christopher — Great pictures. I have perhaps 50 or so old Esquires from the 30s to the early 60s, and the illustrations are terrific, particularly those from the 30s by Laurence Fellows and others. Some more pictures are available at the following site: https://archive.org/details/meninstylegolden00hochrich. Googling Laurence Fellows will also turn up some good ones. The images of what the average college man should have in his wardrobe are rather different from what I see on students at UVA, although at least OCBDs, blazers and penny loafers are still fairly common.

  28. @Charlottesville
    Thanks Lawrence Fellows and Leslie Salberg are some off my favorite illustrators.

    @Careofmon
    The people pictured certainly were good at adding casual elements into their wardrobes . From doing an article on Batik I saw advertising in college newspapers from this period that suggest that students that could get away did. These retailers offered clothing in weights, fabrics and patterns suitable for southern climes and resort wear.

  29. @C.Sharp Thank you for your reply! I am really enjoying learning from this blog. I believe any woman interested in good taste and fashion cannot only focus on women’s apparel because so much of the modern prep/trad for women has been influenced by the history of menswear.

  30. Chestertoniano | October 30, 2015 at 2:58 pm |

    @M…. Thank you!

  31. Chestertoniano…Excellent. I have a good friend who’s also a Latin American diplomat, first bonded over a shared enjoyment of both GKC and WS Gilbert.

    …is that you?

  32. William Richardson | October 30, 2015 at 5:39 pm |

    I believe it is safe to say that the fellows pictured next the caption “entente cordiale” are exhibiting looks that would cause a casual observer to assume that they are playing for an altogether different team. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  33. Chestertoniano | October 31, 2015 at 12:11 am |

    DCG – Sorry to disappoint. I am not, alas, a diplomat. Indeed, I’d be surprised if my co-workers were inclined even to call me “diplomatic.” But I’m glad to find some fellow admirers of GKC hereabouts. The name arose from some research I’ve recently been doing on Chesterton’s influence on Jorge Luis Borges, another favorite of mine.

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