Thursday, March 5, 2015

Heels or Flats? Two Pairs of 18thc. Women's Floral Shoes

Thursday, March 5, 2015
Isabella reporting,

All the fashion pundits are predicting that floral-patterned shoes will be big for spring. We agree - and offer these shoes from the 1730s-1750s to prove that flowered footwear is always in style.

The heeled shoe, above, is from the 1730s; only one of the pair survives. I love how it's all swooping curves, from the white leather heel to the slightly upturned, pointed toe with a metal tip. It would have been worn with ribbons or laces, now missing, and probably a pair of brightly colored stockings.

What's amazing to me is that all those swirling flowers are embroidered in tent stitch, the diagonal stitch that's used for needlepoint. This is worked at a very fine gauge – from the photograph, I'm guessing it's about 20 stitches to the inch – to create the flowered fabric of the shoe. The description suggests that this needlework was done by the owner herself, and then made up by a professional shoemaker. What a delightful stitching project that must have been!

The shoes, below, likely date from the 1740s-1750s, and in an era when most women's shoes had heels, these are flats. (For another look at mid-18th c. flat shoes, see these reproductions made by the craftspeople of  Colonial Williamsburg.) Their rarity implies that they were bespoke to suit a particular lady's taste; perhaps she was an older lady who wanted the stability of a flat shoe. These shoes would have been fastened with a decorative buckle through the latchets. They are made from a costly ribbed silk fabric, lavishly embroidered with a floral design in shades of pink and green silk with silver threads. As shoes of any vintage go, these achieve that rarest of qualities: they managed to be both comfortable, and beautiful.

Unlike shoes that we've shared from various museums, these shoes are currently for sale on this dealer's site, which also has more photographs and information. If the shoes are bought by a museum, then we can hope that once they're studied, catalogued, and preserved, they'll still be available via a web site. But if they're purchased by a private collector (perhaps one of our readers?) they may disappear entirely from public view - so enjoy them now, and think of their long-ago first owners who wanted to welcome spring with a pair of flowered shoes.

Above: Embroidered women's shoe, 1730s.
Below: Embroidered women's flat shoes, 1740s-1750s.
Both from Meg Andrews; photographs copyright Meg Andrews.


Karen Anne said...

Those would make great patterns for sneakers. Instead of the lunatic in a paint store colors that sneakers come in now.

Elizabeth said...

Wow. The detailed stitching of the 18th century never ceases to amaze me!

Zena said...

These are lovely, thank you. You can still buy needlepoint kits for slippers. You do the stitching and the seller makes up the slippers when you've finished. Attractive idea, no?

Kaisievic said...

Lovely shoes - still fashionable today!

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