The name Stacy Adams doesn’t get tossed around in popular culture like “red bottoms” or Gucci loafers. And you probably haven’t even thought of — let alone worn — a pair of Stacy Adams in years. But if you’re Black and of a certain age, you probably remember when they were the “It” dress shoe. “Stacy Adams is a Black staple,” celebrity fashion stylist Avon Dorsey told me. “My uncles had them back in the ’80s and ’90s, and they were the fly guys. If you had a pair of Stacy Adams in their generation, you were the shit.”
Stacy Adams was founded in 1875. By the Jazz Age, the company’s wingtips were popularized by musicians like Cab Calloway and Lionel Hampton, who commonly paired them with that era’s zoot suits. And while the brand isn’t Black-owned, over the years the shoes became a touchstone in the Black community. They reflected a particular type of cool. In a 1980 Washington Post article about Black style, Ernie Smith, a Black man who owned 100 pairs of shoes — some of which were Stacy Adams — describes their importance: “In high school the shoes you had to have were Stacy Adams. It didn’t matter what else you wore, but if you had those shoes, you were part of the IN crowd. You were one of the big-hat-long-shoe bandits.” The “bandit” Smith describes is exactly who fashion historian Shelby Ivey Christie pictures wearing the shoe, too. “It’s heavily associated with that Detroit or Chicago style of dressing,” she says. “The colorful suits, the dandy style in midwestern Black culture.”
My dad, Frederick Waddell, was born in 1947 and grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in Gary, Indiana. Gary was occupied and owned by Black people. My dad says that many of the people he grew up around were college-educated, working-class people, and that many of the businesses he shopped at were Black-owned. Gary birthed stars like Los Angeles Laker Willie McCarter and Michael Jackson. “The Jackson Five participated in every Gary Roosevelt High School talent show — and won,” he says. The people of Gary also liked to look their best. “Gary folks were very, very stylish. They were into the latest fashions,” he says. “Some people in the middle class had fur coats. Cashmere coats were big for the men.” And then, of course, there were Stacy Adams. At age 14, my dad worked odd jobs to save up for his first pair. “When you had enough money to buy a really good pair of shoes, you would buy Stacy Adams. And people would know them by the look,” he says. But that didn’t stop my dad from bragging.
My dad’s Stacy Adams were always black, but even in the ’60s he says you could find them in navy or tan or a two-toned colorway, and “if somebody really wanted to match the yellow suit with some Stacy Adams, they’d find them.” The designs got even more playful over time. By the ’90s, “you could find them in leather, suede, leather with the pressed-croc effect, loafer, monk strap, double monk strap, you name it,” says style blogger Quin Lewis. And, he adds, in every colorway imaginable: “In an era when men were relegated to brown or black dress shoes, Stacy Adams offered them something new and exciting.” It was also a time when men felt more comfortable wearing color. “We had the purple suit and we needed purple shoes to complete our monochromatic fit,” says Lewis.
Lewis, who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, has fond memories of his own Stacy Adams shoes. He’s 41, so he was a child during the ’80s and ’90s era of colorful male dressing. But as someone who has always had a “heightened sense of style” — Lewis says he wore suits to elementary school — he gravitated toward them. Lewis’s elder-millennial childhood marks the final period of Stacy Adams shoes’ popularity. In the ’80s, Morris Day, the lead singer of funk band The Time, was known for his Stacy Adams. He referenced the shoes in the group’s song “The Walk” (“Damn, I’m ‘bout to walk a hole in my Stacy Adams”). By 2000, Snoop Dogg had released the nostalgic “Stacey Adams,” an ode to the OG generation whose dandy style the shoe represented.
A quality, cool, trendy shoe is perennially important, but our interpretation of what that is will always change. Yes, Stacy Adams is still around. And while the brand has had notable partnerships in the last few years — an ad campaign with GQ, collaborations with celebrities like Tyrese Gibson and Terrence J — they’re not part of the popular discourse. “We don’t really have occasions anymore where you might need blue-ostrich shoes,” says Christie. Even Day, whose style has remained more or less the same, has turned away from the brand. “I’ve been wearing Stacy Adams, and Stacy Adams would never give me any acknowledgment — and I put them on the map in a lot of hoods. So how does ‘Morris Days’ sound?” he told the Star Tribune in 2019, when he announced his forthcoming shoe line.
And then there’s my dad, the kid who once saved up for his first pair of Stacy Adams. He eventually became the young man who aspired to high-end European designer shoes. Essentially, he leveled up: “As you grew older, and you started to move around the country, then you were introduced to designer shoes — Italian shoes, like Bruno Magli,” he said. My dad hasn’t worn Stacy Adams since his freshman year of college. And today, at 74, he prefers the “soft insoles, durable leather, and fit-your-feet-like-a-glove” feel of his Cole Haan loafers.
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