The British Galleries of the magnificent V&A were on Loretta's schedule during her recent whirlwind tour of London. She knows my weakness for 18th c. shoes, and e-mailed this photo, above, to me as soon as she returned home – and now I'm sharing it with you.
This pair was likely made in England around 1735. The shoes have leather soles and carved wooden heels, while the upper is brocaded Spitalfields silk, woven in London. The high, curving heels were also covered with the silk, and contrasting silk binding is used for edging. The lappets - those two little tongues across the front - would have been fastened through a pair of fancy buckets, most likely sparkling with paste brilliants (see this pair with buckles in place from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.) See here for more about 18th c. shoe making.
For most of the 18th c., ladies' shoes were usually made with fabric uppers, not leather. Patterned silk shoes like these were particularly fashionable, whether in silk to match a specific gown, or in a contrasting design to make a bolder "statement." Scraps from a new gown could be taken from the mantua-maker to the shoemaker, or pieces cut and recycled from a worn or outdated garment. The costly silk meant such shoes were confined to indoor wear; no elegant lady would dare venture into the mud and questionable filth of an 18th c. street in such a shoe. Most likely they were reserved for the dance floor, where the swirling skirts of a country dance would display them to best advantage.
What is the carefully matched design woven into the upper? Loretta thinks it's a pineapple, while my vote is for a pomegranate. Both fruits were popular, exotic motifs in Georgian design. The V&A doesn't offer their opinion on their website. What's yours?
Update: Here's the link to the V&A's listing of these shoes, with more photos.
Above: Pair of Lady's Shoes, Spitalfields, c. 1735, Victoria & Albert Museum. Photograph copyright Loretta Chase.
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.