Style and Grace- The Gold Buckle

This is the "all gold" style of buckle popularized by the Westindians in Panama.

This is the "all gold" style of buckle popularized by the Westindians in Panama.

The gold buckle began appearing in the district of Calidonia and San Miguel of Panama City amongst the Westindian young men who were working on the Canal Zone.

There were several different styles used in the fashioning of these unique golden buckles.  At first the solid gold buckle similar to the one in the image above was the norm and the most popular.  The scroll design worked around the person’s initials was very elaborate and particularly sought after by the working Westindian men.  With time the combination of gold and silver within the buckle became another popular design and also more affordable as the economy began taking a downturn.

As a budding adolescent I grew to admire my father, Cobert Reid’s, gold combined with silver buckle which he showed off with much pride during special occasions.

The “gold buckle” combined with the sophisticated look of a pair of two-tone shoes- the beautiful brogans- worn with a flawlessly starched cotton shirt and custom made men’s slacks expertly pressed was the signature style of the Westindians of the 1930’s and 40’s and even into the 50’s.  The one or two gold capped teeth also became a must later on for attracting the young girls who seemed to be attracted to this style like bees to honey.  The so-called Panama Hat was sometimes worn to complete the look, but it did not really possess the class and elegance to truly complement the entire look.

The Westindian young men of those days formed social clubs with very catchy names like The Sheffield Club, The Windsor Social Club, and the Spanish boys, in imitation of their Westindian companions, came up with the Tres Barberos (The Three Barbers).  These clubs were intended for purely social purposes to have a place to meet, arrange dances and public social functions like contests and pageants and carnival comparzas.

Their sponsored dances usually took place in The Silver Clubhouse at the Crossing, and at The Sojourner’s Hall or The Jamaican Society Hall where young men and women would dance to the music provided by radio stations featuring music by American Big Bands such as the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.  Later, the orchestras of the Panamanian Maestros Victor Boa and Armando Bosa began gracing the scene with live music.  I don’t need to emphasize that these events, by today’s standards, were pretty top hat and done on a grand scale since, after all, these bands were professional and highly sought after by the Panamanian public in general.

Even in my early adolescent days I remember the handmade placards and carteleros made by local sign painters, like my friend Albert Scanterbury, announcing some upcoming dance or pageant by The Sheffield or the Windsor or any other club that would give him the job, in which the photos of some young, aspiring girl models or an aspiring dancer in a dance contest would be posted for all to see and hurry to get themselves ready and outfitted to go to these affairs. These signs were posted all over the streets of Calidonia and San Miguel and soon became curious pieces of commercial art in and of themselves.

The days of elegance and grace were truly days of fashion and flare within the “colored community” of Panama.

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