The Shoe Styles I've Known of: Plain Toe Bluchers
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
The history of the Blucher is inextricably linked to its creator and name-sake; the Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Blücher was renowned as a ferocious man who created many bitter enemies, both on the field of battle and in the courtroom. But our investigation here is focused on his near-obsession with military footwear.
In the large campaigns of the Napoleonic wars, soldiers were expected to march for weeks without changing uniforms (in Prussian Blue) or shoes. The incredible demands placed upon footwear by unrelenting use in cold, wet and muddy conditions required a new solution.
Blücher designed a shoe with a roomier last for use with thick woolen socks. He eschewed complex patterning for a design that minimized seams and stitched on the facings high on top of the vamp to increase water resistance. Simple, but tough leathers were used to maximise the lifespan of these creations. These design parameters remain in today’s many iterations. While wearing these shoes, his forces marched victoriously into Paris in 1815 following the famous Battle of Waterloo.
Interestingly, Napoleon repeatedly underestimated Blücher as a military leader, and characterized him as a very brave and resolute soldier, but with little to no capacity as a general. Indeed, his many catastrophic military failures are roughly equivalent to his resounding successes. Regardless of his actual abilities as a general, his skills in shoe design have been recognized in posterity.
Today, the Derby is recognized as a quintessentially British shoe, but the Blucher is recognised as a quintessentially American one. How this most European of designs should come to be so associated with the USA is perhaps through the role that American manufacturers played in assuring their ongoing success. Indeed, the design language of rounded lasts, robust leathers, and uncomplicated designs aligns with stereotypically American aesthetic preferences.
The Blucher is most commonly encountered with a plain toe, and this is the classic design that will be investigated in this article. The whole-cut uppers are best in textured leathers, suedes, or Cordovan, and will often be accompanied by a storm or reverse 360-degree welt and chunky rubber or leather double soles. Browns and burgundy are most suited to this style due to the casual nature of the design, but black can provide a chic option for those with more European stylistic sensibilities.
An unapologetically ‘chunky’ shoe, this design works best with similarly robust clothing fabrics and silhouettes. As befits its original design brief, this shoe makes a fantastic walking shoe in all conditions, be it on city streets or country paths. Although there are several attractive options in the Attainable category, spending a little more will bring access to very high-quality whole-cut leather uppers. The arguments for spending north of $800 USD could also be contested given the inherent rusticity of this shoe’s last and design.
The options for this particular style are not overwhelmingly common in this price bracket (under $400 USD). While several Spanish makers are presenting interesting options, most options are available in the next price bracket, especially in more premium leathers.
On the other hand, while some Chinese-manufactured shoes have been extremely popular in recent years from brands like Grant Stone and Meermin, the author’s own lack of exposure and experience with these models leads to a reticence to recommend them. In the shoes presented, expect high-quality Goodyear welted manufacture with solid, but not flawless uppers and basic finishing.
Option 1. Skolyx PTB in brown suede
Skolyx is the house brand for the eponymous Swedish shoe care specialists and retailer. They provide a great quality-to-price ratio for classically styled shoes with an emphasis on great fit. This model is built in Mallorca on a 360-degree Goodyear storm welt, which increases weather resistance. The soles are a proprietary low-profile rubber sole and add to the shoe’s versatility and comfort.
The Ben last was developed to include the classically rounded toe shape while maintaining a relatively tight waist and supportive arch. This should enable the shoe to fit many feet well. Unfortunately, the patterning incorporates a single seam along the joint, which detracts slightly from the whole-cut appearance of the shoe.
The beautifully warm brown suede is from an unspecified Italian tannery, but its short nap and versatile colour should provide years of hard wear. This colour would especially suit being worn with gold socks, mid-wash denim jeans, a grey sweatshirt, and a gun club tweed raglan coat for a sporty and fun weekend look.
Option 2. Allen Edmonds Leeds in black calf
This American heritage maker has a long and storied history of producing PTBs. The Leeds model is particularly favoured in Shell Cordovan, although in this author’s eyes, the price differential for that particular leather moves these shoes uncomfortably close to other manufacturers’ offerings with far higher quality standards. Rather, the unusual choice of black calfskin will be proposed as an alternative for a more formal dress.
This shoe features a super comfortable full leather insole and mid-sole that is unequaled in its ability to conform to the wearer's foot over time. Coupled with the voluminous 511 last, large instep lacing adjustability, and ten width options, this shoe is guaranteed to fit well. 360-degree storm welts and a double ‘butyl’ leather sole complete the package.
One caveat for Allen Edmonds shoes is that due to recent quality discrepancies, it may be worth choosing your pair in person from a retail store to avoid potential defects in the upper leather or finishing quality.
As previously alluded to, the combination of sleek black calfskin uppers and unapologetically casual patterns and last can make odd bedfellows. But this apparent contradiction can also open up new styling possibilities.
Playing off this juxtaposed theme, they could be paired with a suit in a casual cut in rough grey herringbone tweed, a black knit tie, and a pink oxford shirt for a playful yet classic town and country look.
Option 3. Löf & Tung Gessi in Mahogany Country Calf
Another Swedish/Spanish option here, which cements the combination of Scandinavian design flair and Spanish manufacturing skill as the current leader in the attainable bracket. This model possibly presents the best value proposition from a pure specification perspective.
French-grained calfskin uppers (probably from Du Puy), genuine Dainite rubber soles, and a lovely harmonious design incorporating a 360-degree storm welt take this shoe to the next level. This design is built over the T last, which is a slightly more modern almond-shaped last with a touch of elongation. This slightly elevates the overall formality of the shoe, making it appropriate for relaxed business ensembles too.
In this vein, a fine pairing would be medium grey flannels which would play off the visual texture of the grained leather. Worn with navy socks, a burgundy wool sports coat, a blue broadcloth shirt and a navy club tie, one would stand out for all the right reasons. Such an outfit would be perfect for festive occasions, parties, or dates, where personality can be channeled through clothing.
Option 1: Car