Grenson and the History of Brogues
What are brogues?
Brogues are any footwear with decorative perforations and serrations, most common to (but not limited to) wingtips.
Modern brogues (derived from the gaelic word bróg meaning “shoe”) trace their history back to a rudimentary shoe worn by ancient celts that was fashioned from untanned hide. The problem posed to the early settlers that lived and worked amongst the wet bogs and misty green marshes was the constant fight against moisture rot. To solve this, a simple innovation was devised.
Punching holes in the leather shoes allowed for water to drain, but more importantly it allowed the leather to fully dry out through the night, keeping rot away and avoiding the need for constant replacement. Similarly to Fair Isle knits, the belief is that, over time, families began adding signature designs to the functional perforations.
Good shoes travel and brogues were picked up throughout the British Isles. From the country, brogues moved to the city, popular with working class people and notably on the feet of foresters and groundskeepers who spread the fashion to the aristocracy through hunting expeditions together. Both corduroy fabric and chino pants went through very similar cultural evolutions.
Once in the city and on the feet of the upper classes, brogues were refined into the “country” shoe that we recognize today - a multi-piece, sturdy leather dress shoe.
Prior to the radical social reforms spurred by counterculture mods and rockers in the 50s - 60s, British fashion was a strongly stratified and rule heavy identifier of social status.
In the early 1900's, Winston Churchill wore brogues to align himself with the working class during his “radical phase” as a social reformer.
Edward the playboy Prince of Wales wore brogues for the same reason to aristocratic balls and royal banquets in the 30s. A WWI veteran, Edward identified with his fellow soldiers. He was a maverick as a royal, even abdicating the throne after less than a year to marry a twice divorced American socialite. And his use of brogues was a snub to the social elitism ruling the day.
David Llloyd George and Sir Winston Churchill wearing frock coats, top hats, and brogues in 1909
Because of their class roots, strict traditionalists warn against wearing brogues after 6pm, but that shouldn’t bother the rest of us.
Brogues are a dress shoe and are often considered to be the “third shoe” in every gentleman’s collection. First is a nice, clean oxford in black - goes with everything and adds to everything with understated confidence. Next is a Derby shoe in brown, adding a little looser style to the business at hand, and third is a brogue - style with character and perfect with blazers and casual suits.
Grenson, one of the oldest shoemakers in England (and one of the first ever registered names in the UK), started in 1866. Company founder William Green connected a team of cottage industry outworkers to build footwear in the working-class neighborhoods of Northhampshire, London.
They’ve been making brogues since almost the very beginning with just a few variations of medallion signatures (the design on the toe).
Using the goodyear welted method of shoe construction (greater strength and easier to resole), a pair of Grenson brogues are a one-time investment piece as a country walking shoe with added flair or a business shoe for all but the most formal affair.