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    

Splendid 1860's White Satin Wedding ShoesAlaia Paris Vintage Beige Heel Sandals Suede Uk 6 Us 8.5 / 39 Vtg Salvatore Ferragamo Sz 7b Vara Bow Shoes Pumps Pink Leather Made In ItalyVtg Womens Salvatore Ferragamo Sz 10.5b Gancini Open Toe Slingback Heels BlackComme Des Garcons Vintage Rare White Sandals Jp 24, Uk 6, Or 39, Us 8.5 - 9Rare Vtg 70's Famolare Italy Leather Wavy 3.5" Wedges/shoes Boho/hipster Sz 7.5Vintage Lotus Open Toe Wedge Rabbit Fur Mule Slippers Uk 6Betsey Johnson Shoes 8 Heels Polly Of California 7 Vtg Genie Pin Up White SnowEuc Vtg Womens Salvatore Ferragamo Sz 10b Open Toe Slingback Heels WhiteVintage Christian Louboutin Paris Shoes Gift Empty Storage Box 38.5 PumpVintage Nancy Haggerty Ny Couture Bridal Wedding Shoes Evening Flapper Era YqzGreen Leather Remix Wood & Metal Polly Heels Cute 50's Vtg Style MulesFrye Vintage Designer Pumps, Heels, Shoes, 6-7, Plum, Purple, Leather, T-strapWhite Leather Side Buttoning Shoes, Scalloped Edges, 1860'sChanel Brown Quilted Court Shoes Vintage 100% Leather Block Uk 4.5 Eu 37.5 UsedVintage Taos Moccasins Fringed Leather Boots Ladies Size 6.5-7 Hippie Soft SoleSalvatore Ferragamo Shoes Vintage Red Suede Pumps Size 10.5Vans Original Made In Usa Vintage Men's 4.5 Authentic Shoes Womens 6 Super RareVintage Womens Dingo Glazed Rust Size 6 Cowboy Boot ShoesVintage 1980's Nike Air Swoosh Womens Bowling Shoes Blue Gray Size 7 Ladies Retro 80's Vintage Reebok Freestyle Shoes White Neon Paint Splatter Sz. 8Vintage Oxblood Salvatore Ferragamo Size 7.5 B / 38Wild Womens Summer Vintage Beach Rivet Sandals Flip Flops Strappy Flat Shoes Us7Vintage 1950s Harrods Boudoir Bedroom Slippers Shoes Made In Italy Silk & LaceVintage Made In Usa Vans Shoes Sneakers Red Lace-up Sz 7.5 Canvas Big V TreadLadies Vintage Battani Silver Go Go Hippie Knee Boots Sz 7-7 1/2 NarrowVintage Birkenstock Birki's Sandals 2 Strap Tan Suede Leather Sz 40 L 9Keds Womens 11 90's Floral Skater Neon Sneakers VintageRare 1990's Vans Lucy Royal Blue Size Men's Us 7.5 Women's 8.5 Skate Shoe Nib Vintage Rare Mint Asics Gel Exultes Womens Og Us 7.5 C1990 Lyte Running ShoesN.y.l.a. Foxxy Black/white Leather Spectator Swing Vintage Heels Open Toe Sz 7bWomens Miz Mooz Vintage Gray Tumble Leather Strap 3.5" Heels Shoes 7.5 M1950s Vintage Black Silk Satin Stiletto Mules By Schiaparelli Sz 5 1/2Adorable 1960s Paradise Kittens Floral Fabric Pumps Shoes & Matching Purse PinkChanel Vintage Shoes, Sandals, Heels Size 37 1/2Prada Pumps Size 38 Eur Vintage90s Vtg Tommy Hilfiger Flag Shoes Sz 5 1/2 3m Tongue Retro Aaliyah Sailing 1996Saddle Oxfords, Size 7, Funtasma, Black & White, 50s, WomensFrye Peep Toe Ankle Strap Yellow Vintage Look Heels Size 7Vintage Braided Urban Outfitters White Hippie Sandals By Bdg, Sz 8 Vintage 1960's 1970's Black Leather Mod Hippie Go-go Gogo Festival Lace-up BootsVintage Peep Toe Black Suede Heels; Size 8?Vtg Taos Moccasins Beaded Usa White Leather Woman Sz 5-5.5Vintage White Salvatore Ferragamo Brass Bow-tie Boutique Size 8bVintage Mexican Tooled Leather Thong Hippie Boho Sandals Sz. 9Vintage Margaret Jerrold Floral Toucan Bird Patchwork Leather Shoes 8 NVintage Ysl - Yves Saint Laurent Patent Leather Pump Court HeelsDrop Dead Gorgeous Authentic Vintage Rare Gucci Pumps Heels 38 8bYsl,yves Saint Laurent Blk Ponyhair Croc Print 60s Gogo Girl Sexy Tall Boot 7/7nWomens Vintage Timberland Brown Leather Loafers Deck Boat Shoes Uk 4.5 Eu 37.5Womens 8 M Miluced Vtg Mexican Huaraches Sandals Brown Woven Leather SlingbackVintage Womens 41 /10 Robert Clergerie Beaded & Seashelled Sandals FranceLeather Craft Vintage 80s Multicolor Leather Huarache Sandals 6 Boho HippieVintage 60's/70's Rust Suede Over The Knee Hippie/boho Boots, Sz 9Prada Capretto Fume Cotto Vintage Leather PumpsVtg Prada Leather & Nylon Strap Open Toe Summer Casual Sandals Us 7.5 - 8 Eu 38Vintage 1960's 1970's White Vinyl Mod Hippie Go-go Gogo Festival Lace-up BootsVtg Salvatore Ferragamo Brown Leather Pumps~snakeskin Accents At Toes~sz 10 AaaWomens John Fluevog Wingtip Leather Shoes Vintage Size 6 Uk Or 8 Us Excellent!!Doc Martens Vintage Brown Leather Mary Jane Clog Shoes Women 9 Us / Uk England 7