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 50s Original Blue Lucite Heel Sandals Shoes Leonardi Originals 6 6.5 39Vintage 50s Original Sparkling Lucite Heel Sandals Connie Shoe Creations 6 6.5Vintage 50s Original Hand Painted Lucite Heel Springolator Mules Shoes 5 38 Vintage Womens Embroidered Boots Lace Up Hippie BohoVintage 50s 60s Original Daniel Green Sequin Bow Bedroom Mules Shoes 6 6.5 39Vintage Trickers Ladies Riding Boots Size 11 Superb Black Leather Biker BootsVtg Hollywood Heels Sexy Fetish 7" Heel Lace Up Dark Red Patent Pumps Size 10m Vintage Minnetonka Womens Size 7 M Green Suede Moccasins ShoesIncredible Vintage Yves St. Laurent Black Suede Heels With Elegant Platform 8.5m70's Disco Gold Glitter Platform Boots Size 6 (ref 0303)Vintage Tecnica Italian Eskimo Collectible Snow Boots Sz 41Vtg Steve Madden 90s Platform Furry Leopard Print Platforms 4.5 Inch Heels Guc 7Chanel Vintage Platform Pumps Huge Buckle Size 38.5Chanel Vintage Black Leather Cc Toe Cap Logo Pumps Heels Shoes 40.5Vtg Dansko Women's Braided Black Leather T-strap Sandals ~ Sz 7.5-8m (38)Vintage 1985 Nike Recognition Sz 9 Women (8 In Men) Justice Jordan Blazer ShoeVintage Gucci Classic Navy Loafers/shoes/heels W/horsebit 39b/us 9Studs! Heavy Zippers! Buckles! Vtg 80's Wild Pair Black Ankle Boots Sz 6Original Vintage Clear Lucite Etched Heels 1950's Wedding Shoes Perspex Peeptoe Salvatore Ferragamo Vara Shoe Pump Heel 9.5 Black Leather Classic Vintage ItalyWomen Vintage Doc Dr Martens /blk Leather Mary Jane Brogue Shoes Uk 7Vintage Converse High Top Chuck Taylor Tennis Shoes Size 8Rare Maison Martin Margiela Mmm 22 Black Studded 70s Replica Sneakers Shoes 37 Beautiful Authentic Vintage Chanel Platform Wedge Heels Shoes 37.5, 7.5 8 38Miz Mooz Size 9 Women's Heels Hunter Green Shoes Vintage Vintage Chuck Taylor Converse High Tops Tennis Shoes White Size 4.5 Small Great1963 Vintage High Heels Chandler's French Room Originals Superb Condition 8.5 BVintage Jet Black Gradient Embroidered Leather Western Boots Sz 8.5 True Vintage Lot 6 Pairs Gently Used Womens Peep Toe Shoes Sizes 7.5 To 9.5 NarVintage 90s Cabbage Rose Girly Grunge Tapestry Heeled Platform Booties Sz 7Vintage Womens Dr.scholls Sz 6 Navy Blue Wood Sandals Shoes Clogs AustraliaVintage 1985 Nike Recognition Sz 8 Women (7 In Men) Justice Jordan Blazer ShoeAuth Vintage Women's Gucci Patent Leather Silver High Heel Shoes Size 7 ~red~7 Leather Wood Heels Platform Sandals Shoes Vtg Women Boho Hippie Connie BrazilVintage Campus Riding Motorcycle Leather Boot Womens 7.5Bally Vintage Black Patent Leather Ladies Shoes Still Boxed Size 5 VgcVintage 90s Steve Madden Black Leather Platform Chunky Heel Slides Sz 9 GothVintage Boho Two Lips "tattoo" Wooden Platform Wedge Sandals Sz 8 Black Leather90s Party Platform Sneakers - Navy Blue & Silver Flames Vintage Retro Shoes Adidas Superstars 80's Meta Women's Sneakers Black Leather/ Gold Metal Toe Sz 9Manolo Blahnik Vintage Black Leather Kitten Heel Pumps Size 39 ½ Us 9.5 $765Stuart Weitzman For Martinique 8 B White Leather Pointed Pumps Heels Shoes VtgKate Spade 1990s Zebra Pony Hair Leather Shoes 8b Vintage Ll Bean Brown Leather Moccasin Boat Deck Shoes Loafers~ Size 9.5Timberland Leather Casual Shoes 13337 Vintage Women Size 9Vintage Mia Made In India 4 Inch Chunky Wood Heel Hippie Boho Sandals 6.5Vintage 1970s Chanel Women's Brown Leather Shoes: 1.75" Heel Size 38 (7.5 8 Us)Vintage Black Saks Fifth Avenue Leather Booties Shoes Heels 10Vintage Emilio Pucci Mod Print Wood Wedge Shoes 35 1/2 Us 5.5Salvatore Ferragamo Boutique Vintage Ivory Woven Strappy Shoes Sz 6.5 BVintage Brown Snakeskin Pumps Sz 9 Christian Louboutin Vintage Black Satin Chinarose Evening Heels 40Vintage Roger Vivier Green Crocodile Heels Great Condition Rare Size 7 1/2Rare Vtg 80s Usa Made Vans Tea Tapestry Floral Flower Sneakers Shoes Womens 5.5Vintage Womens 10 Salvatore Ferragamo Boutique Black Suede Velcro Strap LoafersChanel Classic Vintage Pumps In Grey Size 39.5 - No Reserve!!!Nib Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Black Croc Leather Heels Women Size 8 Aa NillaBeautiful Polly Mule Heels 8 Calisto Of California Nib Pinup Rockabilly Vtg Vlv Yves Saint Laurent 7.5 M Black Satin And Velvet Tie Up Lace Heels ShoesVintage Prada Size 10 / 40 Gray Leather Ankle Strap Pumps Nice Condition