Spotlight: The Albert Slipper

Posted on February 21, 2014

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The Albert slipper aka Prince Albert slipper aka house shoe  is a luxe slipper typically defined by velvet uppers that often have an embroidered design on the vamp, quilted linings, and leather soles.  (It is also sometimes called a Churchill slipper but that term is more commonly applied to leather casual slippers.) Variations include an unadorned vamp, leather or unquilted cloth lining, or rubber heel.

History

The slipper’s original purpose was as an indoor replacement for outdoor footwear according to specialty shoe maker BULL+TASSER.  Roads in Victorian England were made of gravel and sand which, if tracked indoors, would mar the expensive rugs, polished tile and hardwood flooring of the gentry’s grand homes.  English gentlemen thus exchanged their shoes and boots at the front door for a leather-soled slip-on that would not only protect the surfaces underfoot  but also provide welcome comfort.  Apparently it was Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert who elevated the footwear’s status with the addition of velvet uppers and quilted linings.   So it is that the regal slipper has been associated with his name since 1840.

1906 Winnipeg, Canada haberdasher ad.

1906 Winnipeg, Canada haberdasher ad.  Albert slippers were historically available in men’s and women’s styles.

Over time, the trend spread beyond the British aristocracy and was embraced by the icons of Hollywood’s golden era of the 1940s and ‘50s.  According to the Chicago Tribune, stars such as Clark Gable would wear them at home with colored socks and a matching shirt.

The Rat Pack’s Peter Lawford in 1957.  (Corbis)

The Rat Pack’s Peter Lawford at home in 1957. (Corbis)

Senator Robert Kennedy at home with his family in 1966. (Life)

Senator Robert Kennedy with his family in 1966. (Life)

The shoes were elegant enough to also be considered acceptable with a tuxedo at home or at one’s club.  This practice dates back to at least the 1930s based on the etiquette and fashion authorities I’ve researched.

From the January 1939 issue of Esquire: “Blue velvet formal house slipper with gold monogram, worn by well-dressed men at house parties in Palm Beach and other Southern resorts.”  Note that the illustration resembles a regular slipper more than a traditional Albert slipper.

For example, the above illustration is from the January 1939 issue of Esquire.  The accompanying text states “Blue velvet formal house slipper with gold monogram, worn by well-dressed men at house parties in Palm Beach and other Southern resorts.” Note that the illustrated slipper resembles a regular one more than a traditional Albert slipper.

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Shown here is Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. escorting the Duchess of Kent from his London home to her car circa 1950, reprinted in Dressing the Man. The context of this photo, along with Fairbanks’ velvet jacket, suggest that he is dressed for the role of host rather than for stepping out on the town.

David Niven as a debonnaire jewel thief in 1963's The Pink Panther. (Mirisch G-E Productions)

David Niven as a debonnaire jewel thief in 1963′s The Pink Panther. (Mirisch G-E Productions)

The Dean Martin Show, 1967.  (Getty)

The Dean Martin Show, 1967. (Getty)

Etiquette manuals began omitting the at-home restriction beginning in the 1980s although the Dean Martin photo above suggests that some men had taken the initiative much sooner.

Contemporary Offerings

 

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Bowhill and Elliott velvet slippers.

There are numerous retailers offering Albert slippers today as a decadent touch for both casual and formal attire.  No doubt their appeal is aided by the fact that they remain primarily English, primarily handmade and, accordingly, primarily expensive.  Be prepared to wait one to two months for your handcrafted order to be completed, especially if requesting custom motifs.

Note: Prices for UK retailers often include VAT (value-added tax) which doesn’t apply to buyers outside of Britain.

Bowhill & Elliott

Traditional lion rampart crest.

A traditional lion rampant crest.

English shoemaker Bowhill and Elliott was founded in 1874 and handmakes slippers for other retailers as well as selling a small selection directly to the public. £180 for unembroidered black or wine slippers or £210 for one of four motifs on black.  All models have leather soles and quilt lining.

Herring Shoes

Herring_black

An English retailer of Bowhill and Elliott slippers sold in unembroidered black, navy or purple for £137.50 or embroidered Herring crest on the same colours or wine for  £154.

Shipton and Heneage

Example of a regimental crest.

Example of a regimental crest.

Pseudo opera pump with suede uppers.

Pump-style slipper with suede upper.

Shipton & Heneage is another English retailer of Bowhill & Elliott shoes but offers more velvet colours (black, navy, wine, green, brown or red), multiple lining colours (black, red, blue or gold)  and a dizzying array of stock emblems and motifs.  Plain slippers are £155, slippers with embroidered stock motifs are £195 and slippers with monograms or custom crests are £395.  They also sell a unique pump-like suede model for £165.

Church’s

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Founded one year prior to Bowhill & Elliott in 1873, Church’s only model currently available is black velvet with leather sole and crown crest.  £162.50 at Herring Shoes.

Crocket & Jones

Prince of Wales emblem.

Prince of Wales crest.

This English shoemaker was established in 1879 and has stores in the UK, US, France and Belgium.  They do not sell online so prices are not available.  Their slippers have quilted linings and leather soles and are available only in black, either plain or with one of two stock motifs.

Tricker’s

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Dating all the way back to 1829, Tricker’s makes their slippers to order so prices are not listed on their site.  They feature a range of solid colours or black with a limited selection of motifs, some with real gold thread.  Leather linings and leather sole.

Broadland Slippers

Broadland_monogram

A relatively new English shoemaker, Broadland Slippers offers black, brown, burgundy, dark green and navy velvet with five choices of quilted lining colour.  Plain versions are £120.  Versions embroidered one of their many stock motifs are £153, monogrammed versions £260 and a custom crested version costs £275.

Stubbs & Wooton

Stubbs-and-Wootton-Insecure-Velvet-Slippers

Moving to the other side of the Atlantic now, Palm Beach-based Stubbs & Wooton was started in 1993 and specializes in slippers and espadrilles.  Their velvet slippers are made in Spain, come in black or blue with a limited selection of motifs and cost $450.  Ordering bespoke versions allows for more colours, more stock motifs, monograms and custom emblems.

Del Toro

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An even newer US retailer is Del Toro which was started in 2006 by two students.  Their slippers are handmade in Italy, feature a leather sole and lining and a wooden heel.  They have a limited selection of solid colours and a few stock motifs.  Prices range from $325 to $360.

Brooks Brothers

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Currently Brooks Brothers is offering plain black, dark green or burgundy velvet slippers or a black version embroidered with either a crown or the company’s initials.  They feature a leather sole and quilted lining and are made in England.  $248.

Ovadia & Sons

Ovadia_monogram

Ovadia & Sons is another US retailer selling velvet slippers handmade in England.  They feature a quilted lining, leather heal insert and are available in black, gray, bordeau, hunter, navy or gold velvet with custom monogramming.  $650.

Other US Retailers

American retailers with more limited selections include Smythe & Digby and Paul Stuart.

Etiquette

Aside from their appropriateness being limited to home hosting, I have not encountered any rules governing the wearing of these slippers with tuxedos.  However, if we examine usage and styling options in the context of the fundamentals of proper formal wear we can easily deduce some sound guidelines.

Firstly, because they are inherently less formal than standard evening shoes, these slippers remain most appropriate for hosting at home.  If they are to be worn to a black-tie function they would be most suitable at less formal engagements such as country club or yacht club soirées.  And it seems only logical that they be limited to warm-weather locales; trudging through the snow in slippers is hardly befitting of a gentleman.

Herring_colors

Second, while the deep, rich colours typically used for velvet slippers meet the requirements for appropriate formal accents, footwear is too prominent and integral to be considered an accent.  Therefore, black and dark blue hues are the safest options as they are the most suggestive of traditional formal shoes while more contrasting colours such as purple or wine will impart a more casual air.  Brighter colours such as red are offered by some retailers and may look very appealing on the shelf but they simply don’t belong in a man’s formal wardrobe.

Third, an undecorated slipper’s simplicity and understatement is, once again, most similar to conventional evening footwear and so is the most suitable to formal occasions.  Slippers embroidered with monograms, crests or elegant motifs are consequently less formal.  Novelty motifs such as Mickey Mouse and marijuana buds (yes, these exist) should be left to slippers worn with casual clothing only.

Finally, Albert slippers were never intended to be worn barefoot; they were simply meant to replace a man’s outdoor shoes while the rest of his outfit remained unchanged.  The penchant for wearing them without socks appears to be an American misconception likely associated with how ordinary slippers are worn with pyjamas.  This practice may be justifiable with casual clothes but exposing one’s skin (other than on the hands and face) is completely at odds with the concept of formal dress, particularly when a man crosses his legs and reveals a glaring expanse of hairy shins.  The following examples of slippers worn with and without socks demonstrate the impact on the overall outfit.

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(Ralph Lauren)

Instead of black socks allowing the leg to continue in an unbroken line into the foot, the exposed skin visually severs the two body parts.

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(WireImage, Getty)

While dark skin does lessen the visual impact of missing hosiery, the overall effect is still suggestive of not having had enough time to finish getting dressed.

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(Ralph Lauren, Getty)

Even jackets of the less formal variety can benefit from the added formality of socks.  Admittedly the sockless look works on British rapper Tinie Tempah (right) due to a combination of his darker skin, unadorned vamps and the slippers’ pairing with an equally informal velvet jacket.  Just keep in mind that while variations such as this might look great on their own they usually don’t hold up well alongside men in more conventional attire.

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(WENN)

And finally, an illustration to show how much more damaging the effect is when a man is seated.  Leave the exposed flesh for women’s evening wear, gentlemen.  They make it work so much better than we do.