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History of women’s shoes

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: January 18, 2014

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WITH recent news coverage surrounding the launch of Sarah Jessica Parker’s much anticipated shoe line it is safe to say that women’s footwear is a hot topic of conversation at the moment.

From the first ‘Chopines’ being invented in the early 15th century, Queen Elizabeth’s boots becoming a fashion statement in the late 1800s, all the way through to the adoption of Ugg Boots and Dr Martens that were familiar with today, the history of women’s shoes is an immensely large and interesting topic.

We’ve has teamed up with Charles Clinkard fine footwear to take a glancing look at some of the most interesting moments in the last 600 years.

EARLY 15TH CENTURY – PATTENS AND CHOPINES:

Pattens were worn over delicate shoes and had wooden soles which protected the delicate fabrics of shoes from the mud and water of the streets. These were worn by both men and women. Invented in Turkey, chopines were overshoes, similar to pattens, and the higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer. Some were more than 20-inches tall. Chopines were worn nearly exclusively by women – some of whom needed to use a walking stick or servant to help them walk. Although the church resisted many fashions, it approved of chopines as it felt that the height of the chopines made it difficult to engage in sinful behaviour, such as dancing.

1533/1580S – THE ADVENT OF HIGH HEELS?:

A common legend about the invention of the high heel is that the short-statured Florentine, Catherine de Medici, invented high heels to compete with her husband’s mistress, who was much taller than she was. She brought her two-inch heels to Paris and the ladies of the French court immediately fell in love with them. The fashion spread rapidly throughout Europe. This is potentially false as surviving examples suggest that the high heel wasn’t developed until the late 1580s.

1620-1640 – THE NEW WORLD:

The Native American moccasins were discovered in the New World and shipped back to Europe.

THE 18TH CENTURY – THE LOUIS HEEL:

King Louis XIV of France wore highly stylised heels with decorations of battles on them. These were called ‘Louis heels’ and were as high as four inches. The decorative, ostentatious ‘Louis heels’ became popular with women. A modern ‘Louis heel’ is a shoe with a concave heel that tapers out towards the bottom. They’re also sometimes referred to as ‘Pompadour heels’, named after Louis XIV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

1815-1870 – THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION:

The rise of the Industrial Revolution in England resulted in a much larger middle class. For the first time, women had a greater choice and variety of shoes than men.

1861-1890S – THE DEATH OF ALBERT:

Queen Victoria’s famous lugubrious mourning of her husband’s death in 1861 had a massive impact on fashion. Black became the most popular colour for shoes. This is arguably still the case today.

1888 – THE FIRST HIGH HEEL FACTORY OPENS IN AMERICA:

The first recorded high heel factory opened in New York, diminishing the influence of French made female shoes in North America

1914-1918 – THE FIRST WORLD WAR:

Boots were very popular during the First World War, because they were wide-toed, comfortable and hardwearing – perfect for women working in factories. When the war ended women weren’t ready to immediately give up their jobs and comfortable shoes for women prevailed as a result.

1925-1931 – THE SPANISH HEEL:

A slender version of the Louis heel rose in popularity and became known as a ‘Spanish heel’.

1930S – THE DEPRESSION, SANDALS AND SNEAKERS:

The Depression influenced fashion, and shoes became wider and lower as a result.

The popularisation of outdoor activities helped promote sandals. In the 1930s, the sandal began as beachwear, but evolved into the popularisation of all kinds of sandals and peep-toes as eveningwear in the 1940s. Sneakers also became fashionable as they were hardwearing and ideal for the economically austere times. Similarly, the delicate materials (such as silk) that had been used for most women’s eveningwear, was replaced by the tougher, more hardwearing leather and suede.

1940s: Strapped shoes and sandals became extremely popular.

1955 – THE ADVENT OF THE STILETTO:

Famously, the collaboration between Roger Vivier and Christian Dior produced the ubiquitous stiletto: a shoe with a low-cut vamp and very narrow Louis heel. It was dubbed stiletto after an Italian name for a small tapering dagger. Women were sometimes banned from wearing stilettos in public buildings, as they caused a lot of damage to the floors.

1965 – TROUSERS AND GO-GO BOOTS:

It became widely acceptable for women to wear trousers as both formalwear and casualwear. As a result of this, slip-on shoes with clunky heels became fashionable. Go-go boots are perhaps the most iconic pieces of footwear to come from the 1960s.

1970S – HIGH HEEL CONTROVERSY:

The Women’s Liberation Movement rejected the high heel. They felt that it objectified women and that it was restrictive and over sexualised – similar to the Chinese practice of foot binding. Also during the sixties, platforms and wedges rose to dizzying heights. Some platforms even sported stiletto heels. The extreme height of platforms, wedges and heels prompted health warnings from the medical world; they feared for the fashion followers’ spines and feet.

1979 – NIKE AIR:

Arguably the greatest innovation in athletic footwear: Nike added air into their soles for shock absorption and many sports shoes were ergonomically designed for comfort and foot health.

1980S – CHANGING FEMINIST OPINIONS ON HIGH HEELS:

They argued that fashion can be an artistic and cultural experiment with appearances. High heels didn’t have to be antagonistic to gender equality. Lower heels from the ’60s and ’70s returned to fashion in the ’80s and Manolo Blahnik’s high-heels were on cat-walks and high streets around the world.

1990S – THE ’70S REVIVAL BROUGHT BACK PLATFORMS:

They became one of the signature looks of the Spice Girls, who represented a new type of feminism: ‘girl power’. The Spice Girls’ brand of feminism arguably stemmed from Madonna’s controversial, iconoclastic approach to empowerment and female sexuality.

LATE ’90S – EARLY ’00S:

The slimmer Cuban and Louis heels came back into fashion, gradually pushing out the block heel that had been so popular for most of the ’90s.

MID 2000S – UGGS:

Ugg boots reached the worldwide market. They had been around since the 1960s when Aussie and Kiwi surfers needed something to keep their feet warm, but they got extremely popular in the mid-noughties.

LATE 2000S-2013 – ANDROGYNY AND DR MARTENS REVIVAL:

Supermodel, Agyness Deyn, brought Dr Martens into mainstream fashion. She was even brought in to help design several Dr Marten collections. This period also saw a lean towards androgyny when masculine brogues and Converse could be seen on the catwalk.

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