Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Stylish Pair of Red & Green Brocaded Wool Shoes, c1735

Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I saw these 18thc. shoes earlier this year as part of the exhibition Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories 1750-1850 held by the Portsmouth (NH) Athenaeum. I've written about other shoes and garments from the show (here, here, and here), but there's something about the cheerful red and green brocade of this pair that made me want to share them now in December.

These shoes are made not of silk, but of wool brocade. Long-wearing and easily dyed, wool was a popular choice for women's shoes in the 18thc., but not many survive in modern collections. Wool is a protein-fiber that's a tasty treat for moths, and while these shoes have been expertly conserved, there is still moth damage along the sides and fronts that reveals the linen lining. The shoes would have been fastened with buckles through the straps across the top of the foot; buckles were considered fashion accessories that were switched from pair to pair.

These were fashionable shoes, too. Not only was the brocade expensive, but the high, curving heels were more stylish than practical, and it's likely the shoes belonged to a wealthy woman. While their complete history isn't known, the label pasted inside one of the shoes shows they were made by John Hose, a prominent London cordwainer (shoemaker) whose shoes were imported to the American colonies. The shoes are "straights," without a defined left or right, and were probably not bespoke, but bought from the shopkeeper who had imported them.

There's another clue that these shoes were valued. Look closely at the vamp, below the straps, in the photo, right. At some point, the shoes were widened with a gusset, an inset piece of solid-colored cloth. Did the original owner need the additional room because of pregnancy, age, or illness? Or were the alterations made by a later owner? No matter the reason, the shoes were clearly important enough to the wearer to have them carefully adjusted for longer wear - a very different philosophy from today's "fast fashion."

Many thanks to our good friend Kimberly Alexander for assistance with this post. For more information about these shoes and many others, stayed tuned for her upcoming book Georgian Shoe Stories From Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.)

Above: Women's shoes, made by John Hose & Son, London, c1730-40s. Collection, Historic Deerfield, Inc.
Top photo courtesy of Historic Deerfield, Inc. Bottom photo ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Also interesting to me is how rarely these shoes are pattern matched. You would think that the two shoes would have the same pattern centre on them etc, like happens with matching chairs, but they rarely seem to.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

MrsC - Agree! As someone who goes crazy matching plaids and patterns when I sew, I'm always surprised when craftspeople from the past didn't. Part of it may have been cost - it takes more fabric to match patterns, and fabric was the most expensive part of any garment/shoe construction - or it may have been personal choice.

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