Outside of the long eighteenth-century, what man buckles his shoes? Those paste and steel buckles so evocative of the Age of Reason, yet so antithetical to its tenets--a lace or piece of string is after all much easier to find and use than a buckle and so much more scientifically rational in its simplicity.
Buckle shoe, mens, leather / silver braid, with detachable buckle, copper / steel, maker unknown, England,  / c. 1780 (Powerhouse Museum Collection)
“This buckle shoe was probably made in 1761 for the coronation of George III, in the style imitating the previous coronation of 1728.”
Yet for all the simplicity, stylistically, the laced shoe leaves something to be desired. For the modern male foot the buckled loafer might be considered the equivalent of the eighteenth-century shoe, but the loafer buckle is decorative, not functional. The shoe that still uses a functional buckle without appearing strictly nursery bound is the monkstrap--a side buckle shoe with a name that predates the Age of Reason. The conservative nature of men’s clothing over the last three centuries may be the only reason it still exists, in not one, but two forms the single and double strap with buckle.
The utilitarian buckle allows the strap to be tightened in the summer with lighter socks and loosened in the winter with heavier socks, much as I suppose must have happened in the eighteenth-century with woolen or silk hose. I wonder if Addison or Steele ever wore shoes that required two buckles? Hmmm……
Jeff Hopper, editor and men's wear blogger for SilkDamask.