Americana for the Sole
From humble beginnings as a work shoe manufacturer, through becoming the loafer of choice for patrician East Coast America, shoeing Michael Jackson to the street vibe of today, G.H. Bass & Co. are an American classic
Article by Rupert Watkins
Born in 1876, G.H. Bass & Co. is one of the most identifiable and distinctively American of brands. Rather like the Brooks Bros shirt, their Bass Weejun loafer has long been seen as encapsulating that uniquely comfortable and laid back preppy style. When the firm was originally founded though, Bass rapidly established a reputation for work and outdoor boots. In 1918, their Moccasin style 773 became the first official boot for the US Army Air Corps and Charles Lindbergh wore Bass during his famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. In the Second World War, the firm developed specialised cold weather boots for the US Army 10th Mountain Division.
So where does the Bass Weejun fit in? Between the wars, many wealthy American fishermen would head to Norway during the salmon season. Whilst there, they started to wear the comfortable, locally procured stitched moccasin loafer popular with the locals. Taking them back to the States and the fashionable Palm Springs resort, an editor at Esquire magazine spotted this upper class inclination and saw an opening for such a relaxed, comfortable but stylish loafer. The magazine approached Bass and in 1936, the collaboration between Bass and Esquire was launched. The leather moccasin was hand sewn and christened the Weejun in a nod to its Norwegian roots.
After the Second World War, the Bass Weejun exploded in popularity becoming a staple of preppy Ivy League dressing and also being adopted by Hollywood stars raging from Grace Kelly to Steve McQueen as well as the notably stylish President John F Kennedy. The casual chic vibe encapsulated an increasingly distinctive American style of dressing. Being as often described as a penny loafer as a moccasin, Ivy Leaguers would frequently decorate the saddle of the shoe with a penny, though other stories give the more practical reason for this affectation as a means of keeping a penny for the shoe shine boy readily available and perhaps most romantically, for always ensuring you had a penny at the end of the night to phone and ensure your date had a taxi home.
The Bass Weejun remains perennially popular around the world though Bass has hugely expanded its markets. Being worn by Michael Jackson in his Thriller music video in 1984 has kept the brand name at the forefront of pop cultural relevance. Bass is hugely popular in Japan and South Korea and Parisian fashionistas are huge fans of the new fashion oriented styles. Chatting with the team in Bass’s Beak Street shop, the brand is increasingly popular in Eastern Europe. Today the Bass Weejun continues to be hand stitched though production has moved from Maine to El Salvador.
For those seeking a Northampton bench made dress loafer, Bass may not be quite for you. However, given the price point of £140, the team in Beak Street rightly point out that is not their target market. For many of their new customers they explain, it is their first foray out of trainers and into the world of proper leather shoes. Nonetheless, for those wanting excellent value for money, a shoe with a bit of history behind it and some distinctly American panache, G.H. Bass & Co. should be on your radar.
Enquires: G.H. Bass & Co., 35 Beak Street, Soho, London W1F 9DP / 0207 7341655 / www.ghbass-eu.com/