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    

70's Red Glitter Knee High Platform Boots , Superhero/disco - Size 8 (ref H)Vintage 80s Vans Made In U.s.a. Sneakers Shoes Tennis Skate Surf Style Footwear Salvatore Ferragamo Vintage Vara Varina Lillaz Heel Pump Bow Uk5/-5.5 Us8Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Boutique Blue Leather Vara Low Heel Pumps Size 8.5 BVintage Chanel Black Leather And Patent Court Shoes Size Eu 39 / Gb 6 / Us 8.5Vintage 80s Vans Made In U.s.a. Sneakers Shoes Tennis Skate Surf Style Footwear Women's Vintage Sas Sz 9 Genuine Leather Comfort Sandals TripadVtg Womens Chaco Water Sandals Sz 8 Toe Band Waterproof Durable Sport HikingVintage Minnetonka Moccasins Knee High Fringe Brown Suede Lace Up Womens Rare 7Gucci Vintage Tassle Loafers Flats Red Burgundy Uk4.5/eu 37.5Vintage Ladies Ferragamo Navy Blue Leather Heel Court Shoes Size 7c Eu37.5 Uk4.5Authentic Vintage Chanel Logo ShoesVintage 1950s Springolator Gold Rhinestone Heels Mules Slides Stiletto Size 9Vintage Mary-jane Heels, Off-white, Size 8?Vintage 1970's Wonder Wedge By Bonnie Smith For Kimel 6" Heels Art Deco VelvetVintage Women's Keds Royal Canvas Sneakers, Purple, Nib, 1993, W 10 M 8Papillio Birkenstock Vintage Rare Leopard Sandals Shoes Size 9Women's Aldo 90's Platform Sandals Size 7Women's Tahari 60's Inspired Pointy Flats Size 7Ex Irregular Choice Strappy Summer Getaway Natural Shoes Sandals Vintage Uk 4Vintage Chanel Navy Leather ShoesJeffrey Campbell Black Leather Woodies 40 Clog Platform 70's Vtg IshT.u.k. Platform Black 50's Cherry Womens Sz 9 Cherries Punk Rockabilly,hott !!!!Dr Martens Tred Air Black Leather Vintage Wingtip Mary Janes Shoes Women's 8.5Teal Leather Sandals - Made In Brazil, VintageVintage Chanel Classic Cc Logo Cap Toe Ballet Ballerina Flats Size 38 - EucVintage Italian Boutique Salvatore Ferragamo Black Patent Shoes Sz 7.5 Vintage Dr.scholls Original Wooden Sandals Sz 8 ~ White ~ Excellent ConditionFab 1950s Vintage Deliso Debs Stiletto Heels Shoes Size 5Prada Vtg Leather Red Tan Brown Colorblock Pumps Heel Shoes Steampunk 36.5, 6.5Vintage Leather MoccasinsAuth Vtg Gucci Signature Logo Leather Canvas Tennis Shoes 37Chanel Nail Stiletto Brown  silk Heels Dress Cocktail Lucite Dress Vintage 38 8Church's Patent Black & Tan Leather Heels Shoes Vtg Court Italian Indie 38 Uk 5Church's Black & Tan Leather Heels Shoes Vtg Court Italian Indie 38 Uk 5Vintage Slippers 1960's Slippers Mint In Package Milady's Mid Century Retro NosVintage Doc Martens 90s Floral 8-eyelet Mint Women's Size 10 (8 Uk)Vintage Gianni Versace Black Slide Woven Sheer Pattern Pumps Eur Sz 40Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Black Pumps Size 8.5 C WomensVintage Dr Martens Navy Blue Mary Jane Shoes Size Womens 5 EnglandDoc Martens Mary Janes Off White Vintage Egg Shell Pattern Us 7.5m Uk 5Holie Vintage 70s Black Leather Boho Cut Out Swedish Wooden Clog Shoes 39euroAuthentic Women's Vintage Oscar De La Renta Stiched Pumps Heels Shoes Size 7mVintage Saddle Shoes Bearfoot Great W Poodle Skirt Halloween Size 6 1/2-7 WomensVintage 90s Sartore Paris Made In Italy Leather Riding Boots Sz 38.5 Vintage 1990's Red Suede T-bar Hush Puppies, Mod, Grunge, Indie, Uk 6/39Authentic Vintage Chanel White Leather Platform Pumps, Size 39Vintage 50's Spalding Oxford Saddle Shoes White & Brown Vintage Women's Usa Made Chaco Z/2 Colorado Vibram Sandals Shoes Size 7 Vegan Vintage Deadstock 70's Flip Flops Surf Thongs Sandals M Women's Lot Of 2Chanel Beach Slippers Rubber Logo Purple Orange 8.5 Vintage Slides Shoes BagVtg Ladies Auth. Chanel Black Leather Captoe Italy Classic Pumps Heels 36 Us 6Vintage Women's Fortitude Size 7 1/2 1ca Running ShoesBiviel Size 8 Black Cut-out Heels Sandels Retro 1940s 1950sVintage Christian Dior Shoes Leather Heels With Ankle Strap, 8 B Made In SpainT.u.k. Mondo Creeper Shoes Size 9 Black Leather Urban Outfitters Nasty Gal 90s Chaparral Moccasins Woman Size 6Vintage Yves St. Laurent Ysl Platform Patent Leather Shoes Size 8 1/2 NVintage Salvatore Ferragamo White W/black Leather Spectator Pump 3" Heel Size 7nVintage Ysl Yves Saint Laurent Navy Blue Satin Pumps - 8.5 M