What are Brogan Shoes?

Brogan shoes are a type of ankle-high boot that was made popular during the 1700s and 1800s. They are especially known for being worn by the working class, and are generally characterized as being heavy, sturdy, and durable. Being a type of an oxford shoe, they are made of leather and have enclosed lacing. The term “brogan” is thought to be derived from the word bróg, which means “shoe” in Gaelic.

The basic brogan shoe is usually very plain in design. Often, they are made of leather or other flexible material. They have a heavy and durable heel that is intended to last through the wear and tear of long wear. Brogan shoes have lacing up the front, like an oxford shoe, that keep them secured to the wearer’s feet.

Soldiers began wearing brogan shoes during the American Revolution in the late 1700s. They were originally worn by members of the British Army. By the time the American Civil War was taking place, most soldiers were known to wear brogan shoes as a part of their standard uniforms.

More often than not, these shoes would be a neutral shape and able to be worn on either the left or right foot. This would allow for the person wearing them to even out the wear and tear of daily use, increasing the lifespan of the shoe. A popular style of the brogan shoe was the Model 1859 Jefferson. It had a squared-off toe, as well as a standard four eyelets for the leather laces to pass through.

Along with being popular among foot soldiers, their sturdy build made brogan shoes an obvious choice for those in the working class who needed a durable ankle boot to get them through their day. The heavy soles on the shoes were ideal for long hours in the factories, especially during the peak of the Industrial Revolution. They were seen as a working person’s shoe, so the term “brogan” as well as the brogan shoe took a lowly connotation.

In recent times, the term brogan shoe generally means any sturdy work shoe. Many higher-end fashion designers have incorporated versions of the brogan shoe into their collections. Stylish brogues made of various leathers, such as alligator or ostrich, have been seen on the runway of many high-fashion collections even though their use and design is far from the original brogan shoe.

Brogan shoes were the type of hard-wearing shoes supplied by slave owners to their slaves on the plantation. There tended to be little variation between the male and female versions and, at least on the larger plantations, were made in house. That is to say, the materials came from livestock slaughtered on the plantation, the hide of which was tanned in the plantation tanning house, and then shoes were then made by one or more slaves to whom the task was assigned on a regular periodic basis.

The shoes were handed out to the slaves together with clothing (also homemade from cotton or wool produced and spun on the plantation) once or twice a year, usually at the start of the spring or autumn.

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