Monday, August 22, 2016


THE 19th CENTURY – Modesty and Technology
Nature may dictate height but the shoe designer is more than capable of manipulating it. This was never more obvious than immediately following the French Revolution (1792) when shoe heels all but disappeared. Their demise was motivated by politics and the desire to suggest that everyone was born on the same level.
Red silk Victorian shoes, c. 1870. Courtesy of the Vienna Museum.
Heels first returned on male footwear when in the late 1810s a new fashion emerged. Trousers were anchored with stirrup straps underneath the foot, which displaced the older knee-length breeches. The heel was an additional aid in keeping the pant strap in place.

By 1830, the square toe had come into fashion. An efficient industry manufacturing women’s silk and kid footwear was developed in France in the 1830s using piecemeal workers. Their shoes were created for speculative sale in shops. The shoes were narrow but their construction was light and forgiving, allowing the wearer’s foot to splay over the edges of the sole. Sturdier leather shoes and boots (for both men and women) were still made to order by a local shoemaker.

1860s satin boots
By the 1850s boots became a positive necessity for women in order to retain modesty. The fashion was for steel-framed crinoline hoops that tended to swing when walking. Boots prevented exposing the female ankle, protecting her modesty.

Shoes; Armenian; 19th century; Metropolitan Museum
Long, full skirts predominated after 1840 resulting in a plethora of plain and uninteresting footwear. Even so, some shoes were made that were worked in colourful embroideries; the decoration usually created with machine-sewn chain stitching
Evening Boots 1885, French, Made of silk
Small heels were re-introduced to women’s footwear mid-century, although they weren’t standard until the 1870s when bustled skirts became the mode. The high heel was causal in protruding the posterior, which in turn enhanced the bustle’s primary objective! By the mid 1870s “Louis” (hourglass-shaped) heels of two inches were not uncommon.

Rare Victorian Era Ritter road-skates or foot bicycles. 1898.
Revivals of 18th century-style bows and buckles became fashionable additions from 1863 when the “Fenelon” bow (a multi-looped bow) first appeared on the toes of shoes. Skirt fronts fell close to the body in the 1870s and 1880s, therefore the toes and vamps (forepart) of shoes and boots became visible. As a result shoes took on more detail in the form of punch-work and embroidery, or inserts and cutouts. Similarly, button closures became very popular. These were thought a neat, yet more attractive way of closing boots than laces or elastic inserts.

In the 1880s the United States began manufacturing footwear, using technology it had been developing for around 20 years. Innovations in production comprised lasting (shaping wooden shoe forms), cutting, sewing, beading, and sizing footwear. This meant that sturdy, fashionable, fitted footwear could be produced for a fraction of the cost of custom-made.

While this allowed many people to afford better quality shoes for less money, it also set the stage for “couturier” shoemakers to cater to the elite. Paris-based shoemaker Francois Pinet is generally credited with being the first important “bottier.” His costly made-to-order boots and shoes were the perfect ornamentation to a Worth or Redfern gown, whilst at the same time excelling in quality construction and fit.

Boots, 1880s
Boots by Jean-Louis François Pinet (1880s)~Image via Bata Shoe Museum
Hellstern and Sons | Shoes | French | The Met 1870s
Boots continued to dominate shoes as daywear as the century drew to its close. New styles were introduced to accommodate the changing needs of the active woman. Sporty styles in canvas with rubber soles or low-heeled leather boots with wool shafts appeared. They were designed for such activities as playing lawn games or partaking in the biggest and hottest craze of the 1890s – bicycling!

Women's evening boots, 1865. Royal blue cotton sateen boots with white stitching
THE 20th CENTURY – The Shoe Revealed!
By 1914, skirt lengths had begun to shorten and were sometimes cut in such a way as to make the ankle clearly visible. Boots started to fall from favour for evening wear with some exceptions. These were “Grecian” or “Tango” boots with decorative cutouts or strap arrangements.
Stunning vintage wedding dresses to go on display at the V&A

For modesty reasons, the boot held on to its popularity for daywear until the early 1920s. Their days were numbered when skirts rose to mid shin. Wearing boots left an unsightly gap between the top of the boot and the hem of the skirt. The only remedy for this was to wear shoes, which made visible the pleasing contours of the lower leg. At this point boots virtually disappeared, their fate being to languish in fashion wilderness (their only outing being as galoshes in foul weather) until the mid 1960s.

Shoes 1914, French, Made of leather and silk
Ironically from the 1920s to the 1960s, while women were making huge strides in their quest for liberation, their footwear became more debilitating. The shoe, which was now in full view, became an integral part of the fashion wardrobe. Shoes were now being made in colourful leathers and decorations. High heels tightened the calf muscle and made the ankle appear slimmer, creating a more shapely illusion, which women eagerly latched on to. Instep straps on shoes eventually fell from favour in the late 1920s. Their crime was to cut the length of the foot.

Slippers Hellstern and Sons (French) Date: 1911 Culture:French Medium: silk…
The long-absent classical sandal re-appeared in the early 1930s for beach and eventually eveningwear. Smart, high-heeled laced shoes made good alternatives to plain pumps for a sporty look and two-toned spectator shoes were suitable for summer weather. In 1939, open toe, sling-back pumps were shown for the first time. This was amidst much complaining from the ‘fashionables’ because the reinforced toes and heels of stockings were not exactly appealing in this shoe style.
Beaded Lace Up Shoes - c. 1910 - @~ Mlle
 Numerous shoe designers entered the scene in the 1930s, most notably Henry Rayne and Andre Perugia. They created shoe collections under their own labels and also supplied couturier collections.

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