Head Over Heels – The Fickle World of Women’s Shoes, 1880 – 1929

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Only 150 years ago, women’s shoes were hidden in the shadows of crinolines and trailing skirts.

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The archless, low heeled shoes of the mid-Victorian era were the embodiment of dignified restraint, indeed a lady was expected not to show her feet at all! But with calls for greater equality between the sexes, and the many dress reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came rising hemlines. Women’s shoes emerged into the limelight and exploded onto the fashion scene.

Corsets and tight lacing were shunned by the modern woman in favour of loser, more flowing dresses. This was reflected in footwear. Shoes for Comfort, became the slogan of the reform period, both in women’s and in men’s shoes. There were new opportunities in sport, educational, professional and social activities, all requiring different styles of shoes. Manufacturers quickly seized upon the demand for day, evening and sports shoes with thousands finding employment in the shoe industry.

For the Edwardian lady, there were evening shoes – heavily beaded slippers – made for dinner, dancing and weddings. The most common style was the Mary Jane, having a thin strap which ended in a button made from mother of pearl, metal or crystal.

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1902 Wedding Shoes

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1912 Blue Beaded Pumps

Galoshes were the fashionable walking shoe, made from leather and often decorated with stitching, eyelets, and other embellishments. These shoes were either buttoned or laced. During the warmer months, Oxfords and simple low heeled pumps, without ties or buttons were donned for walking.

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At the end of WWI as hem lines began to rise, designers introduced the new high kid boots in fashionable colours of bronze, blue and pearl grey, making the black shoes of the pre-war years look very old-hat indeed!

But with the end of the war came huge social change. The 1920s was a time of optimism; the war was over and women were seizing the moment. This was the era of the Charleston, talking movies, jazz, bathtub gin and flapper girls, who wore makeup, bobbed hair and short, shapeless dresses. Legs were covered with cream or black stockings New fashions demanded a shoe which would complement a woman’s wardrobe and show off her legs to their best advantage. Also, women who danced the night away needed lightweight shoes, which wouldn’t fall of their feet as they kicked up their heels.

tumblr_inline_n6jqa9wm3r1rsufewT-bars and straps were all the rage. High shoes were completely out of fashion; low shoes for all seasons and climates took the lead, remaining the favourite form of footwear to this day.

These days, just about anything goes in ladies’ shoes, from clumpy work style boots to ballet pumps and platform soles with stiltlike heels. But take a quick look back in time and it’s very easy to see where 21st century designers find their inspiration.

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Emma Rose Millar is author of the award winning novel FIVE GUNS BLAZING. Her novella THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, co-written with Miriam Drori and inspired by Gustav Klimt’s paintings will be published by Crooked Cat Books in December 2016. For further details visit Emma’s Amazon Author Page

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