Having finally got the house back to normal, and the horrible winter illnesses have faded away, I’ve had time to think about updating the blog, so I decided to revisit some of the exhibitions I got to visit last year, and there’s a few photos from 2015 included…
The one element we share with the men and women of the past is that shoes and boots say something about us; we’re conformists, or complete exhibitionists, or perhaps somewhere in-between types.
Shoes may be practical or decorative, and at various times across the century practicality or decoration has been predominant.
Whenever there’s an exhibition display of costume, shoes are the useful accessory but get overshadowed by a beautiful dress. Being able to concentrate just on the shoes themselves allows you to see not only the skill of the shoe-designer/maker, but the detail in the material used: leather, brocade, silk, or embroidered textiles.
The Shoe exhibition that Fairfax House in York ran last year, had a number of items on loan from other UK museums (Northampton, and Hereford among them). There was even a black boot belonging to Lord Wellington that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place nowadays.
Sadly no photos could be taken at Fairfax House, so I’ve searched through my own images from other museums and exhibitions I’ve been to, where photos are allowed under set conditions.
(That’s when a good digital camera is invaluable; images can be zoomed in on, and if needed light applied once you’ve downloaded them to your computer.)
I’d happily wear the early 18th century Louis heels if a shoe designer made them for shoes in my foot size, but without the pointy toes!
Heels were worn by both men and women; also decorative buckles to fasten shoes. They could be simple or elaborate, big of small, the must have fashion item of the 1700’s.
It wasn’t until I saw the shoes on display at the Fairfax House exhibition that it became obvious how the shape of the toe and design of women’s shoes had changed in a century.
Shoes were neither left or right, so the young women of the 18th and early 19th century probably experienced the pinched toes, and a not perfect fit that many young women nowadays tolerate, but like their earlier counterparts put up with it until they can get home…
So from the pointed toes and lower heels of the 1790’s, women’s shoes became flatter and the pointy toe became rounder and then flat and square. With the materials becoming softer – silks and satin’s, and with the lower cut the need to be tied on, and suitable for dancing in the ballroom.
Outside these softer shoes would be unsuitable for walking in, so boots became popular. There are delightful creamy kid leather ankle boots (circa 1810) in the Alfred Gillett Trust Collection (in The Shoe Museum in Street, Somerset).
You can follow the ever-changing fashion in shoes via online availability, or depending where you live, by museum visits.
If the UK, there’s The Shoe Museum in Street, Somerset.
On future visits to costume exhibitions I’ll definitely pay more attention to any footwear in the display…
Images 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 from Shaping The Body, Castle Museum, York.
Images 3, 4, 6 from Pickford House Museum, Derby, Derbyshire.