Shoes literally ground women’s fashion. Sometimes the statements they make are loud, as in the bold look of brightly colored, zippered, vinyl go-go boots from the 1960s. Other times, shoes call attention to themselves with barely a whisper—the embroidered velvet slippers of the mid-Victorian era come to mind.

Most 19th-century shoes were known as straights, which means that the right and left shoes were interchangeable. It was only later in the century that shoes became crooked, a reference to the curve in the sole of the shoe to account for the mirrored shapes of our left and right feet. The switch from straight to crooked was especially helpful when it came to boots or shoes with buckles or buttons, which tended to be placed on the outsides of the footwear.

In the early 1900s, shoemakers made boots of purple leather, with 2 1/2-inch Louis XV heels. Some made their boots out of brown or gray suede, with long strings of buttons running up each side. Other boots of the period were laced through as many as 18 pairs of eyelets, which probably meant that women had to factor in the time it would take to get their shoes on before heading out for the evening.

Heeled slippers, with or without straps, sometimes featured crystals on their buckles. Slingback slippers with lace rosettes on their fronts (known in the shoe business as the vamp) were variations on the mule, which went back to the 18th century and enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1950s.

As with many other articles of women’s fashion, shoes blossomed in the 1920s, in part because of the inventions that manufacturers had to devise when materials were in short supply during World War I.

With the shorter skirts of the flapper era came the desire to show off the feet. Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and other major department stores sold brocade or leather strapped pumps by Salvatore Ferragamo and others. Red silk paired with gold leather was not uncommon, but the decade also had its share of sensible shoes, such as those made by Dr. Scholl’s of Chicago.

Even as the stock market sunk in the 1930s, heels continued to climb. High-heeled pumps and sandals were now the uniform for eveningwear, secured to the feet with ankle or t-straps. Wedge-soled shoes made an appearance, as did shoes made of woven fabrics, snakeskin, and even mesh. New shoe fabrics such as faille were experimented with, as were more traditional materials such as calico prints...

World War II caused designers to once again consider non-traditional materials for their shoes. Wood sandals joined felt wedges and lace-up, open-toe, sling-back alligator pumps in what was, despite the war, a crowded shoe field. Satin mules with oversize fabric rosettes on their vamps were the choice for wearing around the home.

After the war, mesh or leather oxfords, sometimes called Mamma shoes, were in high demand. Bakelite was used in the buttons of shoes, and cork filled the insides of platforms, which grew increasingly thick as the decade came to a close.

The 1950s offer some of the best shoes for fans of vintage fashion, especially for those who enjoy wearing their collection. Pumps with stiletto heels and pointed toes were the decade’s signature look—some heels were so spiky that certain buildings banned women from wearing them due to the damage they caused to floors.

A few manufacturers made their heels from clear Lucite; others used clear plastic on the vamp to better show off the foot. In addition to leather dyed in all colors of the rainbow, shoes came in everything from silk damask and brocade to burlap and woven plastic.

Round-toe Mary Janes with t-straps and a variety of buckles gave pointy toe stilettos a run for their money in the 1960s. Mules and ballet flats, or skimmers, were worn for comfort, while platform sandals and oxfords were a good choice for running errands.

Mid-calf boots in suede and vinyl were made for walking and dancing. Designer André Courrèges, produced a short white boot in 1964 that became the much-copied go-go boot. And if you wanted to make a splash at the pool, slipping into a pair of thong sandals with clusters of pink and green beads on the vamp was almost guaranteed to do the trick.

In the 1970s, shoes went seriously disco. Thick cork wedges, sometimes left exposed, sometimes covered with woven rope, were ubiquitous, as were platform strappy sandals, covered in gold glister and ribbon.

But by the 1980s and ’90s, a new crop of shoe designers had arrived, finding inspiration in mid-20th-century shoemakers such as André Perugia and Mehmet Kurdash, whose company, Gina, remains an influential force in shoe fashions today. This wave included Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo in London and Christian Louboutin in Paris, who owes no small debt to fellow Frenchman Roger Vivier.

Other contemporary shoe designers came out of the pop- and punk-fashion schools, if school is even the right word for such anarchy. Terry de Havilland made shoes in the swinging ’60s for rock royalty such as the Jaggers, while Vivienne Westwood, a pioneer of 1970s punk style, continues to make some of the world’s most outrageous fashions for the feet.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Shoes

All About Shoes

From Canada's Bata Shoe Museum comes a visually impressive exhibit focusing on the history of the shoe from traditi… [read review or visit site]

Virtual Shoe Museum

Virtual Shoe Museum

This virtual museum from Shoe Icons Publishing showcases over 800 pairs of shoes and related reference information.… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Wesco Motorcycle BootsChristian Louboutin Black Patent Leather T Strap Pointed Toe Pumps Sz 36.5 6.5Auth Chanel Silver Leather Cc Logo Ballerina Ballet Flats Shoes Size 39 Us 9Nike Kobe Xi 11 Elite Low Achilles Heel 11$865.00 Auth Balenciaga Black Leather Arena Gladiator Sandals Size 38.5 Us 8.5Christian Louboutin Men Shoes Size Eu42 Uk8 Sneakers Club FlatChristian Louboutin, Stilettos, Original, Rolando, Patent Calf, BlackChristian Louboutin Iriza Half D'orsay Pumps Size 37 1/2Balenciaga Black Lambskin Prism Wedges Size 39Valentino Rockstud Patent Leather Pumps Size 8 Euro 38 Chanel Lambskin Espadrilles 42 White Black Flats 123144Tory Burch Miller Sandal Size 8 NwtMeermin Mallorca:linea Maestro Handwelted Cap Toe Punched Oxford 5 Eyelet 9'5ukChristian Louboutin Toboggan Glitter Half D'orsay Open Toe Pumps Size 37.5Valentino Rockstud Native Couture Pastel Striped Heels Size 8.5 Euro 39Christian Louboutin Bronze Snakeskin Round Toe Platform Pumps Heels Sz 38 8Jimmy Choo Miami Champagne Trainers Size 36 Uk Size 3 Rrp £325! Sold Out Rare Christian Louboutin Metalipp Blue Pumps 39.5 Us 9.5Authentic Chanel EspadrillesChanel Tweed Black Trainers Sneakers 39.5 Chanel Tweed Suede Calfskin Sneakers Orange Cc 40 114246Tieks Size 10 Matte Black FlatsChristian Louboutin Beige Patent Leather Round Toe Platform Pumps Sz 38 8100% Authentic Louis Vuitton Annie Gm Multicolor White + Gift Ballerina FlatsVintage Buckaroo Custom Cowboy Boots By Caboots 20" Tall Collectables! 10.5 MensLeather Chanel EspadrillesChristian Louboutin Black Leather Glitter Peep Toe Platform Pumps Sz 38 8$560 Salvatore Ferragamo Mens Addo Dress Shoes Double Monk Strap Loafers 9.5 DChristian Louboutin Iriza Glitter D'orsay Pumps (size 38)Christian Louboutin Pigalle Spikes 120mm Height Heels Nude Patent Leather Size38 Louis Vuitton Perforated Suede Monte Carlo Mens Loafers Marine 12 108266Buscemi 100mm White 11 44 Leather Strap Padlock Key Fashion Sneaker Shoe $890Chanel Crackle Leather Black T-strap Pearl Cc Sandals Size 40 Christian Louboutin Patent Kid Chouette 100 Pumps 38.5 White Black 115119Authentic Chanel Navy Blue Ballet Flats. Lightly Worn. Size 39. Christian Louboutin Patent So Kate Vernis 120 Pumps 38.5 Multi Color 118157Jimmy Choo Feline Sandal Shoe Nude Size 36 Uk3 Rrp £895 Stunning Shoe RareTieks By Gavrielli Bright Kelly Green Ballet Flats Leather Womens/w 10 Free Ship100% Auth Christian Louboutin Gortik Heels Pumps Shoes 35 5Men's Gucci Sneakers Size 10 337450 10 G Christian Louboutin Christian Louboutin Suede Amyada 160 Sandals Heels Pumps 37.5 Blue 123932100% Auth. Louis Vuitton Louise Gm Chain Clutch + Monogram Vernis Patent HeelsAuthentic Stuart Weitzman 'lowland' Londra Gray Suede Over The Knee Boots 7mTrickers Size 8 Tan Calf "polo" Chukka Boot With Toe Die On A Dainite SoleJimmy Choo Blue Snakeskin Strappy Open Toe High Heel Lance Sandal Sz It 36.5 6.5$1250 Romano Martegani Mens Genuine Crocodile Alligator Dress Shoes Loafers 13 MNwt Salvatore Ferragamo Gray Patent Leather Buckle Detail Round Toe Pumps Sz 6.5100% Auth. Louis Vuitton Artsy Mm Monogram Canvas + Gift Idylle Monogram Flats Christian Louboutin So Kate Hot Pink Rare Sold Out Size 39 ***no Reserve***Vass V Cap Oxford - Plum Museum Calf - Sp Last Size 43 Uk9 Us10Christian Louboutin Red Patent Leather Round Toe Platform Pumps Sz 37.5 7.5Christian Louboutin Batignolles 100 Kid Pump. Black Leather, Size 7Men's Unworn Christian Louboutin Loafers Shoes Uk 7.5 Usa 8.5 France 41.5Christian Louboutin Beige Tan Leather Pointed Toe Pumps Sz 36 6Tricker's Size 9 Sienna Grain Calf "allan" Plain Derby Boot On A Leather Sole #11 Tory Burch Miller Gold Metallic Leather Thong Sandals Womens Size 9 MAlden, Black 401 Indy Boots - Size 8/dChristian Louboutin Black Heels- Eu 39Vintage White Converse Jack Purcell Sneakers Size 9. Made In UsaTieks By Gavrieli Women's 8 Burgundy Ballet Flats