Would you wear and use a vintage pocket watch?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Foot's Afoot -- Victorian Shoes!

     In Victorian times, even more so than today, a person was often judged by his or her shoes.  The quality and condition of one's boots supposedly revealed the financial status and personality of the wearer; dirty or unkempt shoes were often taken for a sign of laziness, as properly maintaining the leather footwear took a good deal time and effort.   A basic shoe-care kit would at the very least contain shoe cream, brushes, saddle soap, wax, rags and polish.  
      When these substances would no longer keep the shoes in tip-top shape, people would have the footwear re-soled and re-heeled, which was much less expensive than purchasing a brand new pair.
     As for choosing footwear and stockings for ladies, the The Lady's Dressing Room, by Baroness Staffe, trans. Lady Colin Campbell, 1893 - Part II has this to say about it:

    If the foot is narrow and a little too long, the boot or shoe should be short in the toe, and laced or buttoned down the front. An ornament on the top . of the shoe diminishes the length of the foot in appearance.    A short fat foot demands a long boot, buttoned or laced at the side.
    A very flat foot requires rather high heels. If, on the contrary, your foot has that high arched instep ...  it is not necessary to exaggerate the curve by high heels, which shortens disadvantageously the foot that has no need of shortening, and throws it out of its necessary equilibrium.
Molière shoe, which makes the ankle appear thick, and cuts in two the arch of which we have just been speaking, should be abandoned in the name of aestheticism. The low-cut shoe is, on the contrary, very graceful and becoming.
    The Wellington boot is altogether unacceptable. The
brodequin and kid boot should reach higher than the ankle. No other boot is fit for winter wear, as the ankles must be protected from the cold. A black boot is the only really pretty one; but if made of stuff, it will add to the size of the foot much more than in leather or kid.
    A white shoe should only be worn on a faultless foot. And, indeed, it is best to wear shoes a shade darker than the dress. A white shoe enlargens and widens the foot.
    An open shoe may be worn in various colours which are forbidden in a boot. All the same, it is well to choose a colour that matches the dress, but is a little darker. Black shoes and black stockings diminish both the length and breadth of the foot.
    Women with thick ankles should wear stockings with embroidery high up on the sides in the length, not across the width: it will make the ankles appear smaller. When strong boots are worn with a light and elegant toilette, it is a sign of the very worst taste. If you cannot have nice boots and shoes, you should wear quiet and simple dresses

     Regardless of age, ladies were required to wear silk stockings (for the wealthy) or wool socks (for the less well-to-do) with their footwear, to cover the legs completely.   Modesty was considered a woman's greatest virtue!
     By 1850, manufactured shoes became widely available, and some say that this began the downfall of the cobbler and the rise of shoe "sweatshops" in Victorian England.   A scandal of sorts arose; shoe customers would often be "fitted" at a store, and the owner would then obtain a pair from the "manufactory" and sell them to the unwitting customer as custom-fitted; technically, the shoes were often still made "by hand", but often not by a lone lifetime cobbler and not specifically for the customer at hand.  Of course today, having a pair of shoes made to fit is a luxury of which most of us cannot conceive!
     Though the knee-high Wellington rain galoshes (or stall-mucking "Wellies") were not considered acceptable for proper Victorian ladies, there are other excellent choices if you wish to follow Victorian shoe etiquette.   You might try a pair of packers, spats, Gibson Girls, spool heels, Louis heels, opera boots, granny boots, pirate boots, or combat boots in Victorian, Edwardian, or Country styles.
Ladies' Gibson Girl Button Down Boots and Button Hooks

A wide variety of period replica footwear can be found online at: WesternWeddingBoots.com , and  http://www.victorianshoes.com/   contains a collection of paid links to shoes and other Victoriana fashion which may prove helpful in your search for the ultimate boot.

     For real handmade reproduction vintage shoes, you might try:  My Vintage Sole
from the site:  " My specialty is in providing quality made affordable Reproduction vintage shoes and Victorian and Edwardian style boots that are historically accurate in appearance.  They are custom made (meaning that each of our shoes/boots are made to order; the patterns are hand cut and then hand sewn, you then have options to choose your material, type of heel, perforations, type of sole etc.) by a dancewear manufacturer with over 20 years of experience."

     And finally, here is a fascinating article about Victorian Shoes in the Making.  It precisely follows the process of creating a ladies' button shoe step by step, showing images of the patterns and parts which a mid-1880's shoe factory would use.

     I hope you have enjoyed this sampling of Victorian footwear.  May the soles of your shoes never let in the rain!


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