History of Ghillie Shoes

Our vintage reproduction Ghillie Shoes hold a special place in our hearts. They are comfy, sturdy, and ideal for daywear through transitional seasons. Yet, they are unique and super cute at the same time. This style of shoe has a super interesting background, so we thought we would share a little bit about the origins of this unique style.

Our Ghillies are based on an advertisement from a 1943 Montgomery Ward catalog, but ghillie shoes date back much further into history than the 1940s. In fact, the origin of these shoes can be traced back to ancient Scotland.

Way back when, people living in boggy areas of Scotland developed footwear that suited the land conditions. The result was a shoe made from leather pieces that pulled up around the top of the foot, where the shoe would be pierced and laced without a tongue. This design made for a shoe that drained easily and dried quickly, which helped to prevent foot problems from arising on long journeys through wet terrain. Long laces that could be wrapped around the ankle prevented the shoes from being pulled off when trekking through mud.

You may have heard ghillie shoes referred to as ‘ghillie brogues’ before. That’s because the word brogue (which is derived from the Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic word for shoe, bróg) originally referred to shoes with perforations meant to dry more quickly in wet climates. We now refer to decorative perforations as ‘broguing’ and the shoes that have this feature as ‘brogues’. It’s all connected! There are all sorts of brogue shoes now, including wingtips, spectators, semi-brogues, full brogues, and ghillie brogues.

Ghillie brogues from The Scottish and Irish Store

Ghillies are also an important part of the ensemble for Irish dance, Scottish country dance, and Highland dance. These specific dance ghillies are thin turnshoes made from very soft and supple leather, with a soft sole similar to a ballet slipper. There are slight variations between Irish dance ghillies and Scottish dance ghillies. Irish dance ghillies feature loops in the leather that the lacing is threaded through, whereas Scottish ghillies usually have eyelets.

Scottish dancing Ghillies from Tartantown.
Ghillies for Irish dance- see the difference?

Ghillies are frequently used as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress. Did you know that there are several variations of Highland dress, depending on formality level? Black ghillie brogues are usually considered traditional and appropriate for these ensembles, whether they be the softer turnshoe type or with a thicker welted leather sole.

Example of formal Highland dress

In the 1930s, ghillies became fashionable in ladies’ footwear. They came in all manner of colors, with contrasting laces, and in a variety of materials as well. Kedettes even made a ghillie!

Kedette ghillie

Quite a wide variety of ghillies could be found- advertisements from the time show decorative sandals, like the ones above, school shoes, thick soles, thin soles, round laces, flat laces, broguing, no broguing…you get the idea. Ghillies remained popular through the 1940s.

Ghillie options from Sears
Close-up of the pair we based our Ghillies on, from a 1943 Montgomery Ward catalog
Thank you Becca @itssewbecca for this beautiful photo featuring our Ghillies in brown!

American Duchess Ghillies have a 1.25″/3.2 cm common sense heel, round, structured toe, and leather soles. Each pair comes with two sets of laces; one short set for wearing the shoes oxford style, and one longer set for wearing around the ankle. Our Ghillies are accurate to the 1930s-1960s, and come in black, tan, navy, merlot, and brown!


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