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    

Louis Vuitton Vintage Fleur Pumps 38.5 Black 151487Vintage Open Toe Retro Wedge Fluffy Fur Mule Slippers Uk 6.5Vintage L. Slesinger & Son Baltimore Black Silk Art Deco Rhinestone Heel Shoes Beautiful Art Deco 1930's Black Silk & Silver 'rayne' Strappy ShoesChanel Dark Brown Vintage Logo Pumps Flats Ballet Shoes Eu 37.5 Uk 4.5 Us 6.5Vtg Chanel Pink White Logo Cc Stripe Wedge Heels Sandals Shoes Size 39.5Vintage Geo. E. Keith Co. Ww2 Era Nurses Heeled Brown Leaher Shoes Size 7 AaVtg Dr Doc Martens Mary Janes Patent Leather Double Buckle Us 7 Uk 5 England Women's Adidas Mi Superstar 80s 2015 Nib Rainbow Snakeskin 9.5Vintage Woman's L.l. Bean Duck Shoes Blue Rubber/leather Made In Usa Sz 6 RareVintage 1970's Weyenberg Retro Platform Heel Leather Zip Boots Women's Sz 8.5cVtg Versace Medusa Head Gold Black Logo Strap High Heels Sandals Shoes Size 41Beautiful Gu Re-mix Vintage Shoes -- Green Slingbacks, Size 61950s Lot Of 2 Vintage Springolators Heels Dress Shoes Rockabilly Pinup Size 8Vtg Prada Ankle Black Canvas Fabric Chunky Heels 37 ItalySeychelles Vintage Retro Gold/gray/yellow T-strap Mary Jane Pumps Heels Sz 8.5Vintage Womens Leather Deerskin Fringe Tan Moccasins Slippers Ankle Boots Sz 7/8Women's Adidas Originals Superstar 80's Rose Gold Metal Toe Sneaker Size Us 8Dr. Martens Womens Black Leather Oxford Shoes W/laces #1461 Vtg 90's Size 8 NwobVtg Maud Frizon Jeweled Black & Gold Leather Ballet Shoes Flats Eur Sz 37 Us 6.5Rare Mint Vintage 60s 70s Platform Gold Lamae Heels Mules Sling Back Shoes 8-9Dr Martens Vintage Black Leather Oxfords Us Shoe Size Womens 8 (uk 6)Rare Vintage 90s Old School Adidas Italia Navy Blue / Silver Size Uk 5.5Vintage Women's Cover Girl Blue Sued Lace Up Hiking Shoes Vibram Soles Size 9Vintage Bally Italy Ladies White Patent Leather Silver Bit Shoes-8.5m-$479+Gucci Brown Round Toe Web Stripe Leather Pumps Size 37.5 7.5 VintageCrown Vintage Penny Loafer Flats Caramel Beige Brown Size 8 Leather Shoes'60s Vtg Mod Sling-back Brown & White Spectator Platform Shoes, Gaymode JcpenneyVintage Stuart Weitzman For Mr. Seymour Teal Purple Snakeskin Pumps Size 7.5 AaVintage Daniel Green Floral Brocade Tapestry Bedroom Slippers ShoesVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Red Leather Mary Jane Shoes Strappy T Strap 7.5 BVintage 80's Authentic Chanel Tan Pumps Shoes Size 39 ( Euro) Excellent!!Gucci Vintage Thong Flat Sandals Shoes Sz 38+ Us 8b Ivory Embossed Leather EucVans Plat Skool Vans Original Platform Shoes 1990s Black Women's Size 9Hello Monster Boots 10 "speed Lace" Hot Topic Vtg 90's Festival Platforms BlackRare Vintage Dr. Martens Made England Black Platform Ankle Shoes Size 7 Uk 9 UsVintage Betsey Johnson Carved Wood Shoes 10 Denim Slip On Pinup Clogs HeelsVtg 1950s Pink Satin Pink Fur Trimmed Slippers Gaymode House Shoes Sz 7- 8Roger Vivier Paris For Saks Fifth Avenue Black Leather Vintage Heels 7b Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Women Shoes Pumps Heels Pearl Cream Leather Sz 9 3aTommy Hilfiger Vintage Platform Sneakers Shoes Navy BlueVintage Chanel Woman's Camellia Wedge Heels With Sling Back-size 38 1/2Vtg Timothy Hitsman Leopard Pony Fur Suede Pumps Size 10 Medium Nwob WowVintage Zodiac Platform Hippie Hippy Shoes Black And White DaisyVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Platform Heels, Sandals, Black, Size 6Vintage Christian Lacroix Ladies Shoes Black Satin Size 36Knee-hi Tall Fringed Lace-up Swede Leather Moccasins Boots Euc Avenue Classic Black Pumps Heels Bow Detail Size 11w *worn Once* 50's Pin UpNib T Strap Black White Vintage Pinup Halloween Heels Women's Sz 9.5 Peep ToeWomens Black Heels Size 8.5 Platform Vintage Brand Fetish Excellent & NiceVintage 1960's Wood Geta Ladies Japanese Sandals Clogs Shoes Women's ✞Lansing Platform Wedge Boot 10 Vtg 90's Festival Stretch & Zip Matte Black VeganVtg Fredericks Hollywood Black Brown Kitten Boudoir Heels Slides Sz 5 6 FeathersStunning Vintage Stuart Weitzman Coral Satin Crystal Sparkle Pumps Shoes 8.5 NrVintage Timberland Size 9m Women's Brown Leather Hiking Trail Ankle Boot ShoeDansko Black Lace Up Leather Shoes Oxfords 39 8 8.5 Vintage Look Nurse SturdyVintage Blue Dearfoams Slippers, Size Large 8-9, Slip On Open Toe Ballerina, NipVintage 1940's ? Anti Gravity Invisible Club Deco Black Pump High Heels 9.5 - 10Vintage Size 8 Women's Looney Tune Hi Desert Keds Canvas ShoesRare Vintage Versace Heels Sz 39 8.5