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    

Adidas Womens Superstar 80s Trainers Black/tan Sz 7.5 Leopard Sneakers Us 9 41.3Vintage Usa Converse Blue Chuck Taylor Low Top All Star 6.5 8.5 Usa Uk 40eur MibOriginal Goody Two Shoes Vintage 70's Disco Platform Heels Shoes Sz 7 No~reserveVintage 1970's Black Paisley Lace Up Hippy Women's Boots 17" Tall Women Size 7-mWoman's Vintage Chanel Black Flip Flops Sandals Sz 7Vintage Gucci Blue Leather Espadrilles Wedge Heels Shoes Size 38 M 8Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Black Patent Leather Vara Bow Flat Shoes - 6 1/2 BRare Vintage Vans Off The Wall Red Strap Sneakers Women's 6.5 Usa 80s 90sVasque "rift" Women's Hiking Shoes Vintage Patchwork Leather Low Boot 8.5 AetrexVtg Salvatore Ferragamo Couture Black Satin Gold Buckle Flat Shoes Sz 7.5 BVintage Ladies Saddle Shoes Sz 8Saddle Shoes Oxfords Black White 50's Sz 9 Vintage Dr Doc Martens Shoe Mary Janes Black Leather Women's Uk 7 Us 9 EnglandVintage Womens Converse Usa Made Maroon All Star Low Chucks 6.5us 3.5uk 36 EurVintage Battani White Lace Up Leather Gogo Boots 50's 8.5 Cosplay Costume HippieSkechers 1990s Retro Platform Trainers Sneakers Size 9Vintage Bass Tall Boots Lace Up Leather Brown 1970's Womens Size 8Vintage 60's Taj Of India Silk Flat Pointed Evening Shoes Gold Size 9-1/2 NConverse Monochrome Black Vintage Chuck Taylor Hi Top All Star 7.5 Usa Uk 38 Eur1990s Vintage John Fluevog Hourglass Slingback Heel Size 7?Rare! Vintage 50s 60s Tretorn Sweden Quilted Waterproof Knee-hi Rain Boots 37 6 Vintage Dr. Scholls Original Made In Italy Leather Wooden Exercise Sandals Sz 6Vtg Salvatore Ferragamo Black Patent Leather Gold Buckle Heels Shoes Sz 10 BVintage Womens Converse Usa Made Maroon Red All Star Hi Top 5.5us 3uk 36eur MibVintage Usa Made Converse 80s Red All Star Hi Top Chuck Taylor Shoes 5us 3uk 35Vintage Remix Leather Green & Blue Low Wedge Sandals Peep Toe 36 6 EucAuthentic Vintage Chanel Shoes Size: 8 In Us, 38 European Size Used Without BoxRare Womens 9 1/2 Taj Of India Style 5 4680 Flat Black Fabric Pumps Narrow - WowDr Scholls Sz 8 Original Leopard Animal Vintage Italy Wooden Exercise SandalsVintage White Leather Gogo Boots Size 8.5Vintage Harley Davidson Womens Zip Leather Shoes Sz 7.5 Vintage 70's Heels Platforms Macrame Shoes Wood 7.5Vintage Lace Ankle Moccasin Boot Shoe Sz 7 7.5 Brown SuedeVintage Chloe Gold And Copper T-strap Women's Shoes Low Heel Size 8.5bBlack & White 50's Saddle Shoes Women's 7 Girls 5.5 Sock Hop Costume School EucVintage Moccasins Honey Beige Sz 8 Wmns Lace Up Leather Suede NativeA.p.c. Whiskey Loafer Heels 1970s La Garconne French Sz 38Hermes Limited Edition For I.magnin Vintage Shoes Sz 8Vintage 1990s Converse All Star Chuck Taylor High Heeled Shoes 6.5 57002Vintage Yves Saint Laurent Womens Red Shoes Flats Canvas Sz 38.5Vintage Reebok Classic Womens Size 9 Orange Sneakers Tennis ShoesFioni Mod Black/white Vintage Patent Womens Shoe Size 9Vintage 50’s Black Suede Peep Hole Pumps Rockabilly Pinup Sexy Sweet 4” Heel Vintage Unesex Shoes Via Roma Size 39 1/5 Esprit Vintage 1980's Gold Metallic Flats Pointed Toes 10 MVtg Salvatore Ferragamo Black Leather Mary Mule Gold Buckle Shoes Heels Sz 7 BVintage Beaded Slip-on Khussa "aladdin" ShoesDr Scholls Classic Ladies Sandals Size 10, VintageEvan Picone Vintage Leather Beige Cream Shoes Women Size 7 1/2 M Made In SpainAdidas Superstar 80's Primeknit Sneakers, 7.5Vintage 90s Lei Goth Boots Shoes Zip Up Sz 8 Platform Black1980's Vintage Anne Klein Ii Mushroom Suede Leather Sling Back Heels 10mVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Italian Leather Women's Shoes Pumps Heel Sz 6Vintage Women's 3 1/2" Anne Klein Beige Leather Pumps Size 9.5Vtg Timeless Classic Ferragamo Black Patent Leather Pumps Italy Size 8 B Euc!Vintage 1980s 90s Amalfi Italy Black Satin Leather Soles Shoes 7.5 Strapey HeelsVintage Prada Shoes With Kitten Heel & Buckle Size 36.5 Mary Jane StyleVintage Wedge Sandals Sz 8 Marooon/ Dark RedVintage Italy Kinney Shoes: Ruluc Ideal - Goat Fur Boots - Chewbacca StyleAdidas Originals Superstar 80s W B26730 Rita Ora Trainers White Size Us8 - Eur40