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 Retro Open Toe Wedge Fluffy Mule Slippers Vintage Open Toe Wedge Fluffy Mule Slippers Vintage Deadstock 40's 50's Green Peep Toe Platform Ankle Strap Heels Never WornBlack Stiletto Pumps Fetish Vintage Pin-up Size 6.5uk 7" Extreme Heels LeatherTrue Vintage 70s Platform ShoesWomen's Vintage Black Rush Hour Express High Heels Size 5 1/2Black Stiletto Pumps Fetish Vintage Pin-up Size 12uk 5.5" Extreme Heels LeatherLadies Vintage Louis Vuitton Shoes, Italy MonogrammedSrare 1950s *flexiclogs Wooden Wedge Fad Sandal Clear Sz 6 Women's 7 /7.5Prada Vintage Napa Leather Red/brown Leaf Acorn 4" Peep Heels Size39/us 9Vtg 60's Frye Black Label Stitched Campus Boot Brown Us 8 B Made In UsaWomen's Vintage White Rush Hour Express High Heels Size 5 1/2Vtg Auth. Salvatore Ferragamo Gancini Logo Orange Jelly Sandals Flip Flops 9.5mAuth Beige/black Vintage Chanel PumpsVintage Doc Dr.martens English Black Leather Oxford Shoes Womens Sz.7(uk)/9(us)Vtg. 1950's / 60's Women's Spike Stiletto Shoes Black, Sz 10 B, Metal Heel Tips Vintage Jimmy Choo Sandals With Original BoxChristian Louboutin Vintage Suede Gold Trim Peep-toe Pumps Sz 36.5Vintage Prada Linea Rossa 1990s Platform Slides Black Size 36 1/2 Euro 6 1/2 UsWomens Ivory/maroon Vintage Adidas Originals Samoa Shoes Size 8Vtg Rockabilly Navy Blue Pointed Toe Kitten Heel Ankle Strap Women Shoes Size 8Miss L Fire Emerald Green Lace Front Summer Sandals Vintage 50s Lk 4 4.5 37 Us 6Estate John Lobb Hermes Paris Ladies One Strap Court Shoe Mary Jane Heels 7 Or 8True Vintage Rosina Ferragamo Schiavone Leather Pumps Heels Shoes Size 8bVintage Brown Leather Krippendorf Foot Rest Heels Pumps Shoes With A Shoe BoxWomen's Vintage Prada Green Suede Heels Shoes Multicolored Trim Sz 6/36Black T Bar Mary Jane Dolly Shoes Ballet Pumps Flats Vintage Hipster Indie 6 ♡Vintage Women's Canvas Tretorn Sneakers Sz 7.5Vintage Fendi Black White Leather Mary Janes Heel Pump Shoes Sz 37 6.5Adidas Mi Superstar 80s- Women/originals Custom Sneakers, Size 8.5-9 WomenVintage Women's High Top/high Heels Shoes - Nice ConditionGianni Versace Silk Pumps, Vintage Size 7Vintage Onex Clear Slip On Lucite Heels Size 9 NosBorn Brown Leather Vintage Look Ankle Strap Mary Janes Size: 7.5 M Us/38 EuWomen's Vintage Anne Kalso Earth Shoes Us Patent #3305947 Size 8Better Shape Up! Sexy Sandy Vintage Leather Hippie Boho Strappy Sandals 7.5Ladies Vintage 50's White Brown Spectator 9.5 Leather Vitality Heels Pumps ShoesVintage Christian Louboutin Pumps Sz 39.5Vintage 60s Hippie Suede Butterfly Embroidered Studded BootsTopshop Adidas Superstar 80's Cracked Silver Sneakers 7.5Mint Dr Martens Sz 6 Us Womens Black White Leather Flower Vtg Mary Jane ShoesGh Bass Weejuns Black Leather Penny Loafers Shoes Ladies 8 B Vintage Made In UsaVintage Ll Bean Shoes Usa Size 9 Duck Boot Slip On / Nice !!!!!!!!Vintage Fringe Concho Heeled Silver Tip Women's Western Boots Size 7Vtg Obermaterial Leder Lk Swedish Hasbeens-italy Leather Retro Heel Sandals 7 38Vintage Chanel Black Cap Toe Slingback Pumps Size 36.5 (size 5)Vintage Kangaroos Zip Pouch Sneakers Shoes Roos Women's Size 6.5Vintage Genuine Ugg Slippers *+*l.e.i.vintage Style- Black Chunky Platform Wedges With Side Laces*sz-6.5*+*Vintage Etienne Aigner Burgundy Knee High Leather Heels Size 7Nine West Vintage America Collection Made Black Suede Side Tie Ankle Boots 9 1/2Vtg 90's Blue Grey Patchwork Suede Short Boot Molded Sole Womens 8m Super CuteWomen's Vintage Shoe Company Veronica Brick Pink Suede Chestnut Canvas Boot Sz 6Women's Vintage Ariat Brown Leather Western Riding Roper Laceup Boots Sz 8 Shoes Chanel Shoes Silk Satin Vintage Heels Champagne Gold Beige Size 37 Elegant AuthVintage Dunham Women's Eskipades Warm Winter Boots Size 9 Rare Style Women Shoes Vintage Boots With Heel White Knee High Johansen Size 6Vintage Chanel Shoes - Stiletto Heels - Size 37 1/2 A - Made In France - As IsClassic Lewis Designs Springolator Stiletto Heel Gold Patent Black Suede Size 5mVintage Mister Shoes Markon Argentina Tall Black Leather Flat Riding Boots 10