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    

Vtg 90s Lipstick Suede Leather Cutout Heel Unique Chelsea Ankle Beatle Boots 7.5Vintage Chanel Women Shoes Size 8 Black HeelsVintage Shoes Flexiclogs 1970s Retro Wooden Mod Glam Rockabilly Red ClogVintage Open Toe Fluffy Fur Mule Slippers Uk 7Yves Saint Laurent 8m Ysl Women's Vintage Black Slip On Ball Heels Shoes RareVintage Prada Milano Women Shoes Size 38 Gold With BeadingVintage Prada Milano Dark Velvet Ballet Flats Shoes Sz 6 Euro 36 W Orig Box, EtcVintage Vans Usa Made Womens 10 Canvas Low Top Sneakers Rare Skate Shoes NsVintage Chanel Women Shoes Size 8 White & BrownVintage Turquoise Beaded Guild Moc Moccasins Nice Peyote Bird DesignVintage Chanel Quilted Logo Heels Shoes 9.5Sz 8 Authentic Vtg 1930's Daniel Green Satin Slippers Champagne Pink Color W/boxHarley Davidson Women"s Vintage 7.5 Brown ShoesVintage Open Toe Retro Fluffy Fur Mule Slippers Uk 5Vintage 80's Zalo "rock Lobster" Crawfish Leather Shoes Pumps 7.5 ~ Worn OnceUsa Made Vintage 80s Unbleached White All Star Hi Chuck Taylor 7.5us 38 M9162 NwVintage Sneakers Keds White Canvas 1" Platform Casual Shoes Size 11 Unused Vintage Pair Prada Women Shoes 37 1/2 Brown With BeadsReebok Classic High Top Sneaker Pink 2 Strap Vtg Shoes 80's Women's Size 9 1/2Vintage Chanel Two-tone Captoe Bone Black Low-heel Pumps 37.5 Us 7Amazing Suede Vintage Charles Jourdan Peep Toe Heels With Rhinestone Ball 8 MSalvatore Ferragamo Pumps Shoes Heels Sz:8.5 B Vintage Womens Italy BoutiqueVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Cream Embossed Print Round Toe Womens Pumps Size 6.5Vintage 50s Round Toe Babydoll High Heel Shoes 6 Vtg Manolo Blahnik Black Shoes Size 35/au 4 Bnib+ Store Receipt Dust Bag HeelsVintage Gianni Versace Blk Leather Pre-death Gold Medusa Ad Campaign Shoes 36.5Gucci Vintage Capretto Olive Green Pumps Shoes Size Us/8 It/38Gorgeous Late 1990s Fully Hand Beaded High Stiletto Heeled Shoes Excellent Con 8Polo Club Deck Sneakers 8.5 Women Beverly Hills Vintage? White Canvas Boat ShoeVintage Usa Chaco Vibram Black Sandals Womens 10 40 Monochrome Classic HikingGuess Sz 3.5 Vintage 90's White Multi Hi Top Lace Up Sneaker Retro ThrowbackVintage Original Dr Scholls Exercise Red Leather Wood Sandals Sz 7 Austria MadeVintage Minnetonka Moccasins Beaded Shoes Hard Sole Women's Size 10 NiceVintage Women's 1970s Nike Señorita Cortez Size 7 Distressed Made In UsaMargaret J. Parrot Leather Shoes Vintage 1980sVintage 1960's 1970's 60s 70s Gogo Brown Cobbies Boots Size 9mVintage 1970's Wood And Leather Platform Mules,shoe,high Heels,purse,7 1/2,italyYellow Saltwater Sandals Size 8 Vintage Rockabilly Pinup Vlv Viva Good ConditionEllie Women's Retro Saddle Shoes - Black/white - 8 - Vintage Costume 1950'sVtg Gucci Women's $695 Crocodile Red Leather Pumps Made In Italy Heels Shoes 38 Vintage Keds Beige Canvas Oxford Shoes Terry Cloth Lined 8.5 Wf34300xw Unworn Famolare Vtg 70's "get There" Brown Leather Wave Sole Clogs Mules Size 8 9n UsaVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Women ShoesZalo Fish Leather Shoes Vintage 1980sSalvatore Ferragamo Vintage Womens Shoes Size 9 Black Classic Signature BuckleGucci Vintage Black Square Toe Pumps Heels 8.5bVintage Gucci Black Satin Sandals W/ Original Box Sz 7.5Prada Vintage Womens Shoes Size 8bRuby Shoo Eva High Heels Vintage Retro Euro 38 Size 8Vintage White Leather Granny Lace Up Boots, Gunny Sak Style 6 1/2 Vintage Zodiac Platform Shoes 10 Boho Hippie Grunge 90s Does 70'sVintage Neiman Marcus Slingback Shoes Sz 9 Made In Italy"vintage" Gucci Guccissima Canvas Malibu Bamboo Heel Pumps Size 11bVintage Brown Fendi Logo And Leather Pumps Heels Gold Buckle Shoes Size 7 / 37.5Vtg 80s Avia 1325 High Top Deadstock Nos Sneakers Basketball Shoe Women's 6.5Vintage Louis Vuitton Tassel Pumps - Size 37 1/2Vtg Bruno Magli Italian Slingback Blue High Heel Women's ShoesGucci 100% Auth. Coffee Brown Gold Leather Italy Loafer Shoes Real Vintage 5.5Campers Shoes Vintage Photo Print 8.5 WomensSalvatore Ferragamo Vintage Women Italian Leather Wedge Shoes Size 8