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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Spats - A Return to Civilized Attire
by Paul Kiernan

I have a picture somewhere of my grandfather as a young man, dressed for an evening on the town. He wasn't a member of the upper class, but in this photo, along with a nice waistcoat, his hat at a rakish tilt and a hopeful gleam in his eye, he was sporting spats. Grey with pearl buttons up the side.

When it comes to accentuating an outfit, men have very few options. Too much jewelry is a faux pas, and hair accessories are simply unacceptable. But with the right finishing touches, even an average Joe can look like a million bucks: a silk pocket square; an elegant tie clip; and the coup de grace, a pair of crisp white spats.

In the age of Gatsby, spats were almost always paired with a tailored vest in "boulevard style," says Lyn Tallarida, the designer behind the Spatterdash line of custom spats for the modern man ( Grey, tan or white spats were de rigueur in the 1920s, she explains. But although spats are generally associated with the Prohibition era, they originated some 300 years prior.

The predecessor to spats was cloth shoe covers with a leather sole that were popular in England in the 1600s. The French removed the sole and incorporated the footwear into military attire. The design was actually longer, with the spatterdash (or gaiter, as they were also called) reaching nearly to the knee. The style moved across Europe, and by the 19th century they had been pared down to the shorter ankle length that is familiar today, fastened with a buckle underneath the sole. Near the end of the century, spats were a prized accessory worn by men and women alike. In winter, they would be made out of heavy boxcloth; in summertime, linen was the fabric of choice. As the fashion sense of the day became keener, the louder colors and shocking patterns of spats were simplified. High fashion dictated that the best-dressed person wore spats only in grey, white or tan.

Sadly, spats became the victims of function over form. By the middle of the 20th century, ladies' footwear styles became more delicate. Women's slippers appeared on the scene, as did open-toed shoes. The simple spat wasn't enough to keep the shoe clean and the foot warm. And for both men and women, there was a new shoe cover called the galosh. Thick, warm and water-resistant, galoshes meant the end of an era for smart, savvy spats.

But style is timeless, and a man can still make a bold fashion statement by adding spats to his ensemble. Tallarida hopes Spatterdash will launch a footwear renaissance. "The detail and quality of the construction and design of the clothes back then is unparalleled," she says of Prohibition-era menswear. "I made every attempt to match that detail and quality [with my spats]. This is definitely something that needs to come back." Her line features bold colors, fabrics ranging from waterproof nylon to sumptuous silk, and eye-catching patterns-everything the well-dressed man's heart desires. The spats are held in place by an elastic band that wraps beneath the foot, or a strap and buckle on her Gold Collection designs.

To add the perfect touch to formal, semi-formal or night-on-the-town wear, rediscover the neat, clean, dressed-to-the-nines fashion of spats.

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