During the lean years of World War II, the materials essential to the cobbler’s art—leather, steel, and rubber—were hard to come by. These shortages inspired Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo to experiment with new materials for his shoes, testing out uppers made from twisted paper cord and packing string. Replacing the standard steel arch support was tougher, but Ferragamo eventually drew from the classic sandals of ancient Greece, fitting the sole with cork instead of steel. By the mid-1940s, cork-bottomed wedges were one of the most popular shoe styles in America.

Following the war’s end, manufacturing restrictions were suddenly lifted, and in a rejection of the blurred gender roles of the war years, women’s shoes became excessively feminine, incorporating higher heels and exciting new materials. Sandals with Perspex acrylic straps and Lucite heels recalled Cinderella’s glass slippers, while the innovative Spring-o-lators allowed designers to do away with back straps by using an elastic bridge between the ball of the foot and the heel to keep the shoe flat against the foot.

In 1953, Roger Vivier, a designer for Christian Dior, introduced the world’s first stiletto, taking elegant, impractical footwear to a new level. Vivier experimented with heels of all shapes, from one inspired by a curving comma to another by a rose’s stem, complete with thorns, but each lifted the foot precariously off the ground.

Shoes like these no longer performed their basic protective function, but instead became an extravagant means of displaying the female form. Stilettos also telegraphed one's class, as such expensive and impractical clothing required a certain level of wealth.

High heels had their detractors, and younger women in particular went for more casual styles like classic Mary Janes and two-toned saddle shoes. Even some celebrities, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, preferred low-heeled pumps to emphasize their more traditional, aristocratic tastes.

The countercultural Beats went even further in rejecting the stiletto, with their neutral-colored flats and simple black boots. In 1960, while working for Dior, Yves Saint Laurent introduced his “Beat Look” collection, which shocked the brand’s conservative clients and ended his stint at the company.

Despite the disapproval of affluent customers, comfortable and earthy designs like the sensible Birkenstock and leather moccasin spread throughout the 1960s as the alternative hippie movement was marketed to the mainstream. Simultaneously, the pop-art aesthetic of Mod style began to infiltrate footwear, bringing over-the-top looks like the knee-high Go Go boot...

Yet as more women entered the workforce, they wanted fashionable shoes that could be worn comfortably all day long. Chanel’s two-toned pump featuring a wider heel, first appeared in 1957 and became a staple for working women of the '70s. Ferragamo, now run by his daughter Fiamma, debuted the Vara pump, with a low, chunky heel and knotted bow over the toe.

Meanwhile, the disco-era nightlife encouraged gaudier designs, like gigantic Lucite platform heels with flashy metallic uppers. Inspired by vintage looks from the '50s and glam-rock stars of the '70s, Thea Cadabra created fantastical shoes designed to look like spaceships, ice cream cones, and palm trees. Terry de Havilland reinterpreted the platform wedge, topped with bright shades of metallic leather.

During the early 1970s, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland was the first to encourage Manolo Blahnik to pursue a career in shoes after viewing some of his theater-set sketches. Blahnik steered his initial collections away from the heavy platform styles, resulting in delicate, strappy high-heels fit for a fancy dinner or a meeting with the boss. Wealthy and powerful women adored Blahnik’s shoes, with their refined femininity and somewhat conservative style.

At the same time, the '70s saw the arrival of the athletic shoe, or sneaker, as physical fitness culture was embraced by women across the U.S. and brands like Nike, named for the Greek goddess of victory, were launched.

Moving into the '80s, the “anti-fashion” of power dressing for the office took its cues from more conservative menswear. Working women opted for plain pumps in darker neutral tones with closed toes and low heels. Meanwhile, the punk-rock crowd laced up their Dr. Martens boots, whose thick soles and tough designs were originally aimed at working class laborers. At the opposite end of the spectrum, plastic jelly shoes offered a fun and frivolous take on street style.

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    

Vintage Birkenstocks Rio Ladies Blue 2 Strap Mules/womens Sandals Sz 40 9 1/2-10Vintage 70's Nike Womens 8 Rare Korea Made Blue Suede Sneakers Running Shoes MoVintage Camper Shoes, Size 7 Us, 37 EuVintage 90's Vans Usa Made Womens 6 Nos Blue Canvas Skateboard Shoes Slip-ons RqSwedish Hasbeens Natural Pink Low Heel Wedge Sandals Vintage 36Vintage Birkenstock Sandals Tan Leather - Arizona Sz 38 L 7Authentic Original Vans Made In Usa Velvet Sneakers Sz.8 1/2Vintage Authentic Chanel Logo Ballet Flat Shoes Black Sz 38.5Vans Vintage Nos Usa Made Womens 7 Black Canvas Skateboard Slip-on 90's Shoes WvRemix Shoes Pleated Toe Wedges In Black New!!Vans Vintage Nos Dead Stock 90's Usa Made Womens 9 Black Canvas Skate Shoes MzVans 90's Vintage Nos Usa Made Womens 8 Black Canvas Skateboard Slip-on Shoes XbWomens Vintage Chaco Zong Waterproof Vibram Sport Sandals Sz 10 Purple/greenCandie's Vintage White Slide-in Sandals , Size 7 1/2 Us 3 1/4" Tall HeelsVintage Arche Shoes, Size 7 UsVans Mismatch 6 / 6.5 Womens Usa Made Vintage Nos Red Canvas Mary Janes Shoes FeOuigal Soldout Black Suede Platform Sandals 9 39 70s Wedges Opening CeremonyVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Vara Bow Red Leather Heels Pumps 7.5 Aaaa Ex.cond.Vintage 1980s Rich Teal Soft Leather Heeled Boots Sz 9 Vintage Arche Shoes, Size 7 Us8.5 Woven Colorful Pink/grn Leather Huarache Flats Sandals Vtg Brazil Shoes 90sSexy Woman Vintage Stiletto Platform Pump Slim High Heel Shoe Us8/eur39 BlueLouis Vuitton Vintage Flip Flop Sandals Shoes 6.5 7Vans Vintage Nos Old Stock 90's Usa Made Rare Womens 8 Skateboard Slip Shoes FeVintage Nos Naturalizer Beige Nubuck Leather Gladiator Huarache Sandals Shoes 10Nib Vintage Minnetonka White Leather Beaded Eagle Western Moccasins 8.5Swear Alternative Womens Vintage Cool Leather Platform Sneaker Shoes Size 37Vintage Jean-paul Gaultier Lace Up Canvas Leather High Heel Boots 39/ 81960s Vintage Polly Leather Mule Wood Platform Rockabilly Heels May & Co 6.5 Ed Hardy Stencil Womens Low-rise Shoes Vintage Sailor Lady Sneakers Size 101950s Women High Heel Shoe Lot Of 3 Black Dress Shoe Brown Suede Sz 7 And 8 NnnVintage Daniel Green Wedge Slippers Shoes Gold Metallic Sz 7 N DormieVintage Dots Red Flip Flops Sandals Slippers Platform 7Unworn Vintage Nike Nos Deadstock Womens Roadrunner Running Shoe Original BoxVtg Honors Red/multicolor Woven Leather Huarache Sandals 8.5m Women Boho BrazilTrue Vintage 50s High Heel Shoes Sandals Tan Leather Size 5 38 Vintage 90s Made In France Pony Fashionista Wedge Boots Sz 39Vintage Icon 8.5m Shoes Very NiceVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Red Leather Kitten Heels Size 8Never Worn Amazing Vintage 'gucci' Horsebit Heels!!! Mint!! Size 8 1/2.Vintage Dries Van Noten Sandals Beige Leather Slides Made Italy 8.5 Lightly UsedVintage Platform Huaraches / Woven Leather Sandals - Size 81960s Vintage Polly Gold Mule Wood Platform Rockabilly Heels May & Co 5.5/6Vtg. Selby Yellow/tan Leather/patent Leather Classic Dress Heels ShoesUnlisted Black Multi Polka Dot Cherry 8.5 Ballet Flats Rockabilly 50's Pinup Vintage Camper Shoes, Size 7 Us, 37 EuBonwit Teller Chicago - Cellini Vintage Alligator Pumps Women's 8.5 B Fits 8 B Vintage Stuart Weitzman 8.5 M/n Patent Leather Gold Coil Heel Pointed Toe PumpsWomens Hollister By Abercrombie Vintage Beaded Sandals Flip Flops Large 9 101977-1989 (punk, New Wave, 80s) Flats & Oxfords Leather Us Shoe Womens 7$498 Prada 1970"s Brown Tan Prada Suede Mirror Flat Flip Flop Slide Us5.5 It35.5Alaia Vintage Black Leather Silver Stud Details Ankle Strap Flat Sandals Size 37Vintage 60's 70's Dark Brown Suede Fringe Boots Mod Hippie Go-go Festival BohoVtg Retro Asics Womens Shoes Size 10Frye Maya Vintage Peep Buckle Pump Shoe Navy Leather Studded 8Vintage Designer Salvatore Ferragamo ShoesVintage Chris Evert Canvas Women Oxford Shoes Size 8 New In BoxVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Red Classic Pumps Size 6b 1960s Vintage Polly Clog Mule Wood Metal Platform Rockabilly Heels May & Co 6.5True Vtg Walter Steiger Black Leather Alligator Embossed Pumps Heels Size 7.5 B