Whether it's 1770 or 2010, ladies have always loved their trendy shoes. As we've learned in Colonial Williamsburg, making 18th c. ladies shoes were a specialized trade, and the shoes were often sold in their own shops, separate from men's shoes.
Shoe making was also a trade that welcomed female craftspeople, with women documented as being not only shoemakers, but owners of shoe making shops. It was also a highly skilled trade to learn, with apprenticeships of seven years. An accomplished shoemaker could produce a hand cut and sewn pair of shoes in about eight hours' labor. (Shoe makers in the 18th c. are not to be confused with cobblers. Cobblers only mended shoes, and were regarded as less skilled. By the mid 19th c., when factory-produced shoes were putting the skilled shoemaker out of business, they, too, began to repair shoes, and the trades of cobblers and shoemakers merged into one.)
The majority of 18th c. English women wore plain black shoes (similar to these, right, that are worn by most of the interpreters in CW) on a daily basis. In addition to leather, the uppers of women's shoes were also made of colored wool fabric, or calimanco, a glazed worsted woolen. Stylish ladies craved more decoration. Ladies's magazines of the time offered embroidery designs for DIY embellishment at home, with the finished pieces then brought to the shoemaker to be made up. Other ladies chose patterned silk brocades for shoes to compliment their gowns.
We've posted earlier about the beautiful embroidered flats made by the CW mantuamakers. Here we can see a heeled shoe in progress at the shoe maker's shop. The heels were carved from beech, a wood chosen for being lightweight but hard, and then covered with leather or cloth. The rest of the shoe would be constructed from the heel and sole upwards, fitted and designed for the individual customer's foot and taste. Often the mantuamaker would supply the embellished silk upper, and the silver or brass buckle that closed the lappets over the tongue would be purchased from a jeweler. When done, this particular pair will have yellow leather-covered heels and silk uppers. We can't wait to see them!
But if you're eager for a pair yourself, check out this pair of antique silk brocade originals, left, from the 1720s-40s, spotted by one of our readers (thank you, Chris) on eBay. Be aware, though: looks like you'll have to supply your own buckles.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.