Saturday, March 15, 2014

18th Century Shoes

England, Great Britain
ca. 1710

Object Type 
This shoe illustrates the gradual changes in the style of women's footwear in the early 18th century. The square toe characteristic of the 1670s had evolved into a pointed toe by 1710. In the late 17th century the sides of the shoe were open, but they were closed by the beginning of the 18th. However, the distinctive white rand (the narrow band of white kid around the edge of the sole) characteristic of the late 17th century remains.

Materials & Making 
The upper of this shoe is composed of green silk, which envelops the heel as well. The shoe is lined with white leather and beige silk. A narrow braid of green silk covers the upper in parallel lines. The decoration is very similar to a shoe in the V&A made in the 1670s. However, the design here is more rectilinear and geometric.

Great Britain, United Kingdom
Leather sole and heel, with brocaded silk uppers

Gentlemen would have worn these mule slippers with a nightgown. They wore these informal gowns when relaxing at home or receiving visitors. The slippers have the square toe and low heel that were fashionable in the early 1700s. They are brocaded with rich metal thread. The mule you can see at the top is one of the pair described.

Great Britain, United Kingdom
Linen canvas, embroidered with wool

This pair of women's shoes have linen canvas uppers. They are embroidered with flowers in coloured wools in cross stitch and tent stitch. This was a period when fashionable shoes often echoed the pattern of the dress with which they were worn. The shoes have pointed toes and a short, waisted heel that is made of wood and covered with leather. The latchets (straps that fastened across the instep) were originally fastened with buckles. Buckles were separate items and owners often transferred them from one pair of shoes to another. This is why so many pairs of shoes have survived without buckles, as in this case.

Spitalfields, England (textile, woven)
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1735 (made)
Brocaded silk, lined with leather, grosgrain ribbon and polished steel

Object Type 

The passion for wearing silks spread to women's shoes in the 18th century. Until the 1790s, very little leather was used for women's footwear, except boots for outdoors. The curved heel and pointed up-turned toe of this shoe are typical of women's shoes of the 1730s.

Ownership & Use 
Such a delicate shoe was intended for indoor wear only. When travelling, riding or walking outdoors, women wore leather boots. Dancing offered an excellent opportunity to show off elegant shoes normally hidden under petticoats.

Materials & Making 
The sole of the shoe is leather with a silk upper. Considerable care has been taken to fit a floral motif over the toe of the shoe. The side straps, or latchets, overlap and would normally be held closed by a steel buckle, cut and polished to simulate diamonds.

probably British
linen, silk, leather

Leather soles, heels covered in kid leather, and velvet uppers

Women's high-heeled mules, commonly known as slippers, became increasingly popular for indoor wear and were even worn for dancing. These ones have a fairly high heel and a pointed toe. The velvet uppers are ornately decorated with metal thread.

United Kingdom
Wooden soles; leather straps; iron rings

The patten as a type of protective footwear dates back at least to Roman times. They have been worn mainly for the practical purpose of protecting shoes and feet coming into contact with mud, puddles, or street rubbish, but have also been fashion items when made in more sumptuous materials. 

This particular pair are of the later type with a wooden sole mounted above a metal ring, the whole thing worn over a pair of shoes and keeping the wearer's feet about an inch above the ground: this pair of pattens probably dates from 1780-1810, but the earliest printed mention of this type with the metal ring beneath is in 1575. The squared toe is not necessarily an indication of the toe shape of the shoes with which they were worn: pattens for general wear were almost always made in a squared or rounded shape for strength, as pointed toes would have been prone to snap. Pattens continued to be widely worn until the earlier decades of the nineteenth century, particularly in the country, where improvements to roads took longer to effect.

Pattens for children are quite rare survivals, and some of the smallest pairs are apparently models. The obviously genuine wear which has occurred to this pair indicates that they really would have been worn by a child.

Copy and photos from Observatory with images from the V & A Museum and The  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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