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Spats, Once Popular for Gentry, Go the Way of Buggy Whips

Werner Hundt of Hillsboro, Ore., asks: "Whatever happened to spats?" Mr. Hundt says spats "were comfortable in snowy, icy, wet weather, kept the elements out of low shoes, kept my feet warm ... in cold, elevated trains."

AL JOLSON sported a pair of spats in "The Jazz Singer." The Little Tramp stumbled his way across the silver screen in them. Today, you can sometimes spot them on the legs of marching bands. And during World War I, doughboys wore a version of them, called "leggings," over their clodhoppers.

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Spats, short for spatterdashes, fit over the top of the shoe and fasten beneath the instep. They've been around since the 1700s. But it was the advent of motor cars in the early 1900s that made them stylish - and necessary. "When people started riding in horseless carriages, the roads weren't paved," explains Len Goldstein, owner of Keezer's, a Boston used-clothing store.

"After the rain, the ruts would be filled with water. People wore them to protect their spiffy shoes and pants from the mud," he says.

As their popularity grew, designers began making spats in different styles and colors, usually black, white, or gray. Boy Scouts donned canvas versions as part of their uniforms until 1919.

Spats were widely used until World War II, after which paved roads made them obsolete. There just wasn't as much mud to spatter.

Mr. Goldstein says: "They stopped making them at the same time they stopped making top hats, derbys, and raccoon coats. It was the end of an era.''

Vintage spats are a rare find in the used-clothing business. Because they were made of wool, they are frequently moth-eaten. Keezer's sells them for $15 per pair.

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