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 Chanel Chain Link 3-strap Ivory Sandals - 37.5 - 7 Leather Sole - ItalyGucci Vintage Navy & White Leather Horsebit Loafer Heels Size 5 BVintage Made In Usa 80's Brick Red All Star Low Chuck Taylor Gym Shoes 8.5 6.5Salvatore Ferragamo Vintage Shoes/pumps Size 9 CRe-mix Vintage Shoes/sandals, Cherry Red Leather, Size 9m Euc $195Re-mix Vintage Shoes White Pleated Toe Wedge Size 8 Pinup Rockabilly Hermes Gorgeous Vintage Classic Black Calf Leather Pumps Shoes Rare!! Sz: Eu 36Kate Spade Vintage Black Mesh & Red Ball Sandals Size 8 MVintage Keen Canvas Light Flax Yellow And Gray Women's Shoes Sz 8Rare Vtg 1960s 1970s Suede Granny Takes A Trip Boot London Ossie Clark Biba GothGenuine Chinese Foot Binding Shoes From The Late Qing Dynasty - Tiny Vamp !Keen Vintage Sports Sandals Women's Size 9 Black Athletic Hiking Water BoatingVintage Nike Shoes 1981 Size 4.5 Olivia Oceania 1065 Orange Tag Original Box NosVintage Converse Made In Usa Flint Khaki Womens All Star Hi 8.5 Us 40 EurSportmax Womens Shoes Vintage Leather Ballerinas Flats Made In Italy Bow Silver1960's Herbert Levine Shoes Disco Gold Funky Art Decor Size 5 1/2Nike Lady Oceania Running Shoes Sneakers #1786 Size 8 1/2 W/ Box Vintage 1980'sVintage 80's Red White Black Stripe All Star Low Chuck Taylor Shoes Usa 6.5 UsVintage? Candie's Purple Leather "demi" Heels Sandals Size 8 Made In ItalyTopshop Brown Tan Leather Weave Alexa Loafer 1980s Retro Indie - Uk5 Eur38Spalding Original 50's Saddle Oxford -true Vintage Ladies Shoes Handmade 8 / EucVintage Women's Leather "huaraches" Sandals, Burgandy, Size 7Vintage 80's Usa Made Red Gray Plaid Wool All Star Hi Chuck Taylor 7us WomensClassic Jessica Simpson Jumba Sandals Womens Size 9 Oatmeal Vintage FloralVintage In The Box Salvatore Ferragamo Pleated Open Toe Block Heel Sandals7.5aaaLevant 1960's Funky Hippy Disco Art Decor Shoes Size 5 Made In SpainChanel Vintage White Sandals Strappy Ankle Medallion Cc Detail 37.5 WhiteVtg Women's Reebok Classic Pink Patent Leather Platform Sneakers Shoes Size 7.5Women's Salvatore Ferragamo Vintage Black Suede Lace Up Tassel Heels Shoes 9Born Women's Leather Shoes Sandles Flower Bottoms Vtg Nordstrom Exclusive Sz 9Antique Shoe Mule Slide Party Dress Diva Vintage 1930s Pinup Bombshell Brown Vintage 1950s Mandels Skyscraper High Heel Shoes Nice Brown Size 9m New Clean!Vtg 60s 70s Walter Steiger Black Leather Stiletto Mule Slides Metal Heel PinupVintage Prada ShoesVintage Keen Olive Green Athletic Canvas Summer Shoes Sz 880's Mora Spain Designed By Beverly Feldman White Leather Fringe Jacket ReadAuth Hermes Suede Platform Pumps W Box Classic Pinup Career 35 90sVintage Doc Marten Women's Wing Tip ShoeSalvatore Ferragamo Italy Designer Vtg Black/ Navy Leather Pumps Heels Size 8Tommy Hilfiger~vintage 90's Hip Hop~flag Logo~wedge Heel Tennis Shoe/sneaker -8mVtg White Vanity Fair Woman's Slippers House Shoes Xl 9-1/2 10-1/2 Nip With TagVtg Vanity Fair Glacier White Woman's Slippers House Shoes Xl 9-1/2 10-1/2 NipVintage Bowling Shoes Size 8 Red Suede Retro Hipster Womens Lace Up OxfordVintage Minnetonka Moccasin Brown Leather Beaded Moccasins Shoes Women's 5 5mBlack Bow-knot Women Suede Shoes Vintage Platform Sexy Stilettos High Heels Eu39Reborn Doll Accessories Green Canvas Soft Soled Baby Shoes Beautiful Gift$580 Vintage Escada Luxury Designer Black Crinkle Patent Pump Shoes Eu/36 Us/6Vintage 1950s 5 Inch Hi Heeled Shoes Black Super High Heels Size 9b New Clean!Women's Bass 100 Yr Anniversary 70's Size 6.5m Leather Platform Sandals Shoes Vintage Nokia Tan High Heel Rubber Rain Boots Euro 39 Us 9 Guc Vtg 80s Turquoise Teal Spanish Leather Sergio Zelcer Kitten Heel Deadstock 790's Timberland Women Canvas Shoes 71392 Vintage Size 6Crown Vintage Gold Cork Slip On Wedge Open Toe Sandals Dress Shoes Shoe 8.5mVintage Converse All Star 1980's - Made In Usa___ Rare__size 5Vintage Dearfoams Slippers Beige Size Medium 61/2-7 1/2 UnusedVtg Vintage Arnold Churgin Ladies Green Tiffany Blue Patent Sandals Retro ShoesVintage Mercury House Slippers Unused Pink Rose Glitter LargeAuthentic Ysl (yves Saint Laurent) Vintage Pumps - Size 6Vtg 90s Grunge Size 8 Skechers Platform Black Boots Chunky Heel Club Rave GothBeautiful Vintage Heels In Printed Silk With Embroidered Overlay 9n