The Gentle Step

Fashion History Museum

Footwear Revolutions and Revivals 1790 - 1890

Equal Standing
By the end of the French Revolution, high heels had fallen from fashion alongside France's aristocracy. Fashion looked for democratic inspirations that would place everyone on an equal footing and the heeless or low-heeled slipper became the style.

Olive leather flats with pointed toes and stencilled designs and yellow silk tassels (1800 - 1810)

Pair of blue satin shoes with embroidered vamps
(1810 - 1820)

Green silk shoes with green ribbon laces (1820 - 1825)

Velvet shoes with squiggly pattern and leather toe caps, resist dyed cotton velvet and leather with laced closure, 1845

Dainty Boots
For warmth and propriety, ankle boots came into fashion for women in the late 1830s. Most had side laces, hidden on the inside of ankles. By 1850 an innovative fashion for elastic-gusset boots was popular.

Ankle-high side laced boots of black wool, leather soles, no heels (1845 - 1860)

White kid boots, heelless, with elastic gores inset on both sides of the ankle

Cream silk ankle-high boots with small red heels, and wide laced closure

Exotic and Historic
The 19th century curiosity for faraway places and distant times showed up in fashion in the form of exotic textiles and historic trims. Embroidered and Kilim woven uppers were imported from the Middle and Far East, and historical styles of the 17th and 18th centuries were trimmed with bows and lace. 

Pair of black shoes, kilim woven uppers of wool with colourful woven floral pattern, gold silk lining (1855 - 1865)

Bronzed coloured kid 'chameleons' with blue silk underlay and trim, machine chain stitch embroidery

Cream silk shoes (1865 - 1875)

Square toes, low heels, and blue silk trim around topline, vamp trimmed with blue silk and lace bow

Shoes with square toes, latchets with silk ribbon ties over tongues and low heels

Gold embroidered purple velvet mules
1868 - 1875

Man versus Machine
Heels returned to fashion in the 1860s and were growing taller every decade. Most footwear was now being mass manufactured. However, in a similar manner to couturiers who produced the finest fashions, the finest footwear continued to be made by shoemaker artisans.

High heeled boot with white top stitching, teal blue and brown kid upper in undulating pattern, button closure

Black leather shoes
(1882 - 1890)

Round toe, low heels, throat decorated with black silk bow, bow and vamps decorated with cut steel beads

Front laced cream satin oxfords with tasseled cord ties

Boots with button closure, low heels and round toes, bronze coloured kid (red dye over brown) (1885 - 1890)

Fashion History Museum
Credits: Story

All footwear from the collection of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

For more information see, The Seductive Shoe, by Jonathan Walford

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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