These shoes were made for walking…

Shoes are a necessary part of our lives and have been for thousands of years. The earliest known shoe found in Minnesota, US is over 8,000 years old! Early shoes were made for their practicality. The wearer was not particularly concerned with how well the shoes complimented their outfit, the drier their feet were kept was of far more concern.

As time wore shoes began to take on greater importance as they indicated the level of a person’s social and economic status. They were the ultimate accessory to compliment one’s outfit and changed almost as frequently as they do today. The more elaborate and decorative the shoe, the more their practicality and ability to be worn easily diminished. From medieval men’s ‘poulaines’, shoes with such long pointy toes that laws needed passing to limit their size to the ‘platforms’ of the 1970s, shoe styles have significantly varied.

Black synthetic platforms bought in 1974 for £10.99 and worn by a 16yr old Leeds girl

During the seventeenth century the development of a proper heel and arched sole became the shoe fashion ideal. In France during the reign of Louis XVI (1638-1715) high heels became very popular for men. Having shapely legs became a dominant fashion feature for both men and women and having beautifully decorated shoes to accentuate those legs was of the up most importance.

Female silk brocade shoes with pattern, 1730-1740

By the nineteenth century shoes began to differentiate between left and right. Before that shoes had been made as ‘straights’. The fashion mood became more sober and women’s shoes had more subdued colours. The feet were expected to look small and delicate as befitting ‘gentle birth’ and women were encouraged to ‘pinch their feet into small shoes’. During this time shoes also began to be mass produced in factories rather than in small shoemakers’ shops meaning that cheaper shoes were more widely available. Outdoor sports also began to have an impact on the types of shoes produced.

Black patent leather slip on shoes with blue silk embroidery, 1865-1875

Moving into the twentieth century, the wars dictated the fashion of shoes. During WW2 the ‘peep toe’ shoe, considered frivolous and potentially dangerous was banned until the end of the war. The subcultures that appeared in the 1970s such as punk greatly influenced shoe fashions and shoes were produced that reflected this.

Leeds Museums’ collection has examples of shoes made by famous designers such as Walter Steiger and Vivenne Westwood. As well as high street names like Dolcis and Bally. These shoes were bought and worn by Leeds inhabitants.

Red satin shoes made by Dolcis, 1960

Walter Steiger evening shoes bought for dancing, 1980-1985

Nowadays shoes come in many varieties to go with the changing seasons, different outfits and all kinds of activities. How many pairs of shoes do you have?

By Georgie Cash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s