The History of Kate Middleton's Go-to Courtside Style, the Spectator Shoe

·3 min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

If you are a fan of royal fashion, you may have noticed that in the last few months, the Duchess of Cambridge has made a turn toward a subtle footwear signature. The shoe style in question: a two tone piece, both flat and stiletto, that goes by the name of the spectator pump. Appropriately, more often than not, Kate Middleton has also worn this style-setting piece while... spectating at sporting events, such a polo in July and at multiple Wimbledon events this year.

The stylish shoe, which is bubbling as a trend, also has ties to her late mother-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, who also used to wear the staple in the '80s. But the spectator pump has a stylish history behind it—and one that is very much rooted in British fashion history. Here, we delve into the background of the footwear style, how we arrived at the current trends, and of course, how to wear them.

Why are they called spectator pumps?

The spectator shoe is a dress shoe that is distinguished by a two-tone color palette, most notably black and white, tan and white, or black and tan. While the original men's version of the shoe dates back to the mid 19th century, the style became popularized by the Duke of Windsor, who would famously wear the men's version to sporting events in the 1930s. Hence the name, spectator shoes.

When were spectator shoes invented?

The men's version of the spectator shoe is first known to be worn in the 1850s.

As time went by, the spectator shoe evolved to have a more feminine iteration, from a flat design, to low, chunky heels, and towering stilettos. The distinguishing feature is, of course, the contrasting tones of the toe and heel, lending to an elevated and crisp appearance.

Photo credit: Keystone-France - Getty Images
Photo credit: Keystone-France - Getty Images

While the shoe was popular through the '50s, the style made a massive resurgence in the 1980s, when it was the shoe to wear with the glamorous dresses that defined the era.

How do you wear spectator shoes?

There are a number of ways to wear the spectator pump in this day and age. You could, of course, take a tip from Kate Middleton and pair the contrasting shoe with fun revitalizations of '80s polka dot frocks—or crisp day dresses—as she has done on numerous occasions.

Photo credit: CHRIS JACKSON - Getty Images
Photo credit: CHRIS JACKSON - Getty Images

Or, according to style expert and influencer Carla Rockmore, you could also take a page out of another royal's book: the Duke of Windsor. "The specator pump is a classic nod to English heritage and tradition and it feels fitting that the royals adopt the style with ease. My favorite aesthetic is to pair the shoe as the Duke of Windsor would have. Go the menswear route with a wide legged cuffed pant and a tailored shirt with pinstripes."

Another tip from the pro: because the shoe has ties to both men's and women's fashion, it's a great opportunity to lean towards androgynous styling.

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