An 18th c. lady's shoe could be a graceful, wearable work of art, the collaborative product of craftspeople skilled in leather work, embroidery, silk-weaving, and even jewelry. This shoe, left, of silk brocade is a wonderful example, the height of fashion from the curving heel to the upturned toe. It's definitely a shoe meant for drawing rooms and assemblies, and likely never walked out-of-doors much farther than from the carriage up the steps to the front door.
Sometimes, however, an elegant shoe could also be inspiration for another artisan, as the shoe, right, demonstrates. Made of the tin-glazed earthenware commonly known as Delftware, the maker of this shoe captured in clay all the stylishly curving lines and stitched details of then-contemporary footwear. Historians believe that these shoes were most likely intended as tokens of affection, exchanged between friends or lovers.
But the blue-and-white shoes could have had more significance than simply pretty trinkets. Shoes have long had superstitions and beliefs attached to them, most involving good luck. "Hurl after me a shoe," wrote the Elizabethan playwright and poet Ben Jonson, "I'll be merry whatever I do." Shoes were sealed into the walls of houses from the middle ages into the 19th c. to help keep away misfortunes and witches, and today newlyweds still have old shoes tied to their car's bumpers for good luck. Could these shoes have been a pair of good luck charms as well as a stylish statement?
Top: Pair of Shoes, London, England, 1729 (dated), tin-glazed earthenware Bottom: Women's Shoe, England, 1730-1740, brocaded silk, silver, leather, linen Both collection of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
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.