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THE SPAT’S BACK

Times Staff Writer

DURING the last few seasons, we’ve seen the return of 1960s patent-leather go-go boots, 1930s-era brogues, the classic 1950s ballet flat and the 1970s platform.

But spats?

That’s right, they’re not just for Mr. Peanut anymore. Spat-like flourishes are showing up clinging to high heels, looking like a gladiator’s leather armor, and on fall’s must-have booties, which are being embellished with ankle buttons and straps.

The Hives were onto the trend early. They began wearing spats with their trademark white suits about three years ago, bringing a debonair touch to nightclubs and gritty stages all over the world. “The fascination is part ‘20s mobster, part Scrooge McDuck and part 1903 French infantry,” says frontman Pelle Almqvist. Perhaps that is the draw: a traditionally dressy element with a bit of cartoonish absurdity. The Hives can pull it off as a costume, but how many people can really wear spats and not look as if they’re about to break into “Puttin’ on the Ritz”?

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Thankfully, rather than making footwear with full-on spats, most designers are incorporating details that are “inspired” by spats. Chanel has an ivory patent-leather spat shoe, and a black patent-leather bootie with a removable turquoise tweed spat that snaps into place. A Givenchy version teeters toward dominatrix with an open-toe, black patent boot that laces up the back of the leg like a corset. For Spring 2008, Prada uses ankle buttons on its suede sandals and hybrid sandal boots.

Buttons down the side flap of the cheap chic Lela Rose for Payless’ Turnmill boot make for an exact replica of a spat sitting on a shoe. For $40, this is the least expensive way to sport a spat.

Then there’s Posso the Spat (www. possothespat.com), an L.A. company that has taken the trend literally produces a line of high-end spats, some of which cost about as much as the shoes they are designed to cover. Stylists Marylouise Pels and Vanessa Giovacchini launched the brand when they became bored with the flats and skinny jeans look, and saw spats as an easy and unpredictable accessory to freshen up an ensemble.

Their offerings range from low-cut black leather versions to more daring knee-length crocodile spats. “They are an easy fix,” Pels says. “People love the hunt for something new that they can make their own. They look great over a basic flat or sandals or over skinny jeans.”

But just where did spats come from? Call them the leg warmers of the 18th century. The Holly Hobbie shoe covers started as a functional knee-length accessory called a “spatterdash,” used by women, farmers and soldiers to keep out the mud and cold. In the early 1920s, the length of spats shrank as they evolved into a pricey status symbol and a marker of class among well-to-do men of the time. Spats resurfaced in the 1980s, most notably on Michael Jackson in his video for “Smooth Criminal,” where they drew attention to his moon-walk.

With the menswear trend this season, they are looking right again. Depending on how you wear them, they can be dainty, bondage, gladiator or goth. One thing’s for sure: They will get you noticed. And you should probably be prepared for a joke about a monocle.

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melissa.magsaysay@latimes.com


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