Why shoes? Well, a few weeks ago, I was ranting about boots. Specifically, the fact that, in images intended for Regency covers, all the male models seem to wear knee-high boots, even with evening dress.
This kind of boot, from the Wade costume collection at Berrington Hall, really doesn’t look appropriate for evening, does it? Imagine dancing with a man wearing those 😉
To be fair, the cover images don’t normally include spurs, as this original does, carefully separated by tissue paper to protect the boot’s leather.
I haven’t found a cure for the boot problem yet—other than cropping out the blasted things—but it gave me the idea of doing a blog about footwear.
And, for the record, an example of the kind of shoe the gents should wear with evening dress is below. (Yes, I admit they look more like slippers to us, but the V&A says they’re shoes.)
Right and left shoes?
When I was looking at historical examples of footwear, I realised that right and left shoes were usually the same. Interchangeable. That was a surprise.
If you look closely at the shoe above, you’ll see that the owner clearly wore it on the right foot. And it’s meant for the right foot, because the decoration is on the outer edge. But if you look at the insole, you’ll see that it is symmetrical, to fit either foot. So, do we conclude that shoes came the same shape and you then wore them in to fit particular feet?
I puzzled for some time, trying to decipher the writing on the insole. I thought it was the owner’s name. D’oh! When I changed the contrast on the image to produce the versions here, I could see that the word is “Droit”, the French for right. So when these shoes were new, the shoemaker or the owner wrote inside them to indicate which shoe went on which foot.
Proving my point?
This pair of leather shoes (shown right), dating from about 1810, looks to me like two right feet. Do you agree?
They are very pointed, with damage on the points, and obviously well worn by their owner. They have leather soles with a very small flat heel.
Comfort? Support? Not much
These astonishing chartreuse yellow shoes, with black decoration, are also symmetrical.
The colour remains extremely bright, even today. Chartreuse yellow-green may have looked a lot less startling by candelight, of course. I showed Regency gowns trimmed with a similar colour in my earlier post about bosom and ankle detail.
These shoes are more substantial than some. They have leather soles and a small black leather heel, even though the body of the shoes is quite flimsy. They probably date from the 1790s as elaborate heeled styles went out of fashion in the 1800s. Not sure they’d have been comfortable to walk in. Those incredibly pointed toes!
They look almost new. Were they so uncomfortable to wear than their owner dumped them, I wonder? Or maybe she had only one evening gown she could wear them with?
Very pointed evening slippers must have been fashionable. Here is another pair, in a creamy beige.
You can see from the front view that they were very pointed indeed. And the side view shows that there was precious little foot support being provided by the slipper itself. A night of dancing must have meant very tired feet, don’t you think? (Not much different from nowadays, then?)
This 1817 French print of a ballgown (and also a blue walking dress) shows that the flimsy flat evening slippers were still in vogue then, though it’s also clear that they were secured by ankle ties. As you can see, the slippers are still pointed, though perhaps not as much as earlier.
This is a much more substantial pair of shoes, in leather, with a small heel, from the Berrington Hall Wade collection. Date, probably pre-1800. The front of the shoe is highly decorated.
You can see from the underneath that the shoes are still symmetrical. Also very pointed.
They look as if they’ve been worn enough to make each shoe conform—a bit—to the shape of right and left feet. But actually, the sole shows little wear at all.
Pointed toes not for walking very far?
I found an even more extravagantly decorated pair in the V&A collection. These very pointed shoes date from the 1790s and the green leather has been cut out to reveal embroidered silk satin underneath. The heels are covered in white leather.
Being made of leather, these green shoes would be substantial enough for walking but their owner would probably have been very careful about the weather—she definitely wouldn’t want rain or mud to spoil those embroidered toes, would she? We can also see that these shoes, though originally symmetrical, have been worn enough to have taken the shape of right and left feet.
This pair of tan-coloured leather walking shoes (also in the V&A collection) looks almost modern, I think.
They do have pointed toes, but the points are less exaggerated than before. The style appears to be on the model of the gentleman’s velvet evening shoe shown earlier. Both date from around the same time.
Design of shoes changed, but when?
At some stage, and I don’t know exactly when—if anyone out there does know, please share—the design of shoes and slippers changed. Shoes started to fit right and left feet.
The example of an evening slipper (left) is clearly for a left foot but, sadly, I don’t have a date for it.
The original colour seems to have been a bright gold, but it’s been well worn. The toe area is a much duller colour and looks quite dirty.
But this slipper came from a shoemaker in Cadiz, not England. If you enlarge it [just click on the pic] you’ll be able to read the maker’s label on what is definitely a left-foot insole.
It’s noticeable that the Cadiz slipper doesn’t have the exaggerated point of some earlier shoes. That’s also true of the dark blue satin shoe below, which dates from about 1830. It reminds me of a ballet shoe with a blocked toe. It looks to have a lot more support for the foot than the earlier, flimsy slippers. And that tie should ensure that it wouldn’t slip off while the lady was on the dance floor. [Apologies for the poor focus on this one. My camera was dying at the time.]
Do you fancy wearing any of these? And do you know the answer to my puzzle about when shoes began to be designed specifically for left and right feet? If so, do please share.