Golden Years: Shoe vs. Weenie

For Yale men, Barrie Ltd. was shoe headquarters since the Isaacs brothers opened their narrow slot of a store attached to J. Press in 1934. Bob and Barry Isaacs always had their shoes made specially for them and sold under their Barrie Ltd. private label, which afforded them very competitive pricing for students and faculty.

Barrie’s, with an assist from Brooks Brothers, were the birthers of White Shoe Chic that ran parallel to the growing influence of the natural shoulder suit sold by its York Street neighbor. I remember when Barrie’s temporarily warehoused all those white bucks next door at J. Press until shelf space opened up to move them into the greedy hands of reunion classes eager to replace their old white bucks from the good old days gone by.

The opposite of a guy who was shoe was a weenie. The conflict between those who were shoe and weenies has been longtime fodder for various New Haven mavens. Calvin Trillin discusses it in a book co-authored with John Gregory Dunne called “Remembering Denny.” Christopher Buckley explores it in “My Harvard, My Yale: Memoirs of College Life by Some Notable Americans,” and even Garry Trudeau has addressed the age-old conflict with a weenie fixation in his “Doonsbury” comic strip.

But young men who were elite may have used the term “shoe,” a distinctly Yale phrase, but never “white shoe.” Buckley was Skull & Bones and Trillin head of Yale Daily News; it’s those outside or at the bottom-feeder clubs at Yale who who would’ve referred to the social leaders as “white shoe.” If you were shoe you wore your white bucks until they were so tattered they bared your toes. They accompanied tweed, flannel, linen, seersucker, khaki, suits and trousers in all seasons. If you were a weenie you buffed them fluffy white or, god forbid, wore them shiny.

Barrie’s is gone, but Ralph Lauren now instructs the nouveau riche how to dress. “White Bucks make the gentleman,” declares Rugby’s spiritual advisor Mr. Wooster.

If only it were so easy. — RICHARD PRESS

Thanks to katon at the Ask Andy Trad Forum for his thorough collection of vintage Barrie advertisements.

12 Comments on "Golden Years: Shoe vs. Weenie"

  1. I so enjoyed reading this as I have such fond memories of Barrie’s and the connecting door to J. Press. My father got most of his shoes there and my husband and his groomsmen all wore white bucks from Barrie’s at our wedding. We still have them.

  2. I’m going to print this out and keep it in my wallet so when somebody gives me grief for wearing white bucks in November I can pull it out and show them the historical precedent.

  3. I remember being in Barrie’s a few years before it closed, buying a pair of Made in England white bucks. The salesman told me the week before the Yale varsity crew had all been in to buy white bucks to go with their J Press (with special white trim) blazers. They were on their way to the Henley Regatta.

  4. I love the old stories. I was born in the wrong era.

  5. Great article, I love the old ads. Would this tradition loosely apply to white saddle shoes also?

  6. I attended a boarding school in CT. I remember wearing white bucks all year long, with every outfit and every occasion…awesome!

  7. Rene Lebenthal | May 10, 2020 at 4:52 am |

    Such a lovely Story, thank you Richard. Always a pleasure to read you.

  8. Andrew Summar | May 10, 2020 at 12:07 pm |

    You lost me on “bottom-feeder clubs” and “nouveau riche.”

  9. Mitchell Springer | May 10, 2020 at 1:25 pm |

    Andrew Summar:

    Both “bottom-feeder” and “nouveau riche” can be found by using

  10. David Leach | May 11, 2020 at 8:20 am |

    I miss Barrie’s. They did have a store in Providence for a couple of years although I had bought from them before that. Private label at a reasonable price.

  11. West Hartford had a Barries for several years but I think I actually bought my paddock boots in New Haven…..
    Still own them and wear thanks to a talented cobbler who had restitched, cleverly replaced bottoms & made them good as “old”! Still have a pair of tassel loafers & ah those memories‼️

  12. Robert Thorn | November 6, 2021 at 5:37 pm |

    Upon retirement, I gave away around 30 pairs of shoes, among them was a pair of white bucks from Cole Hann (early 80s vintage, USA made);regretted ever since. Just ordered another pair from Rancourt which carried my size 8.5B to go with my recently ordered seersucker suit from O’CONNELL.

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