Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who Needs Heels to be Stylish?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Susan reports:

I'm stepping in here (literally) for Loretta, who is working through the night on revisions.

When I think of fashionable 18th c. shoes, I've always imagined the ones that look worthy of Cinderella or at least Marie Antoinette, pointed-toe slippers elegantly perched on high, curving heels. Here are three examples, courtesy of the V&A: in bright yellow, floral silk brocade, and blue silk satin.

But I learned from the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg that not every 18th c. lady wore high heels. Flats were perfectly acceptable, and just as elegant. Here are two pairs made in the Margaret Hunter milliners shop to match gowns.

The pink pair, above, are quilted silk in a diamond pattern, with matching flat leather soles. The white pair, left, (they, too, would be fastened with metal buckles, removed here) are heavily embroidered with a flowers, designed to peek beguilingly from beneath a skirt. A lady might do the embroidery herself on a flat piece of cloth, and then take the finished handwork to her mantua-maker to make up into finished shoes.

Now that we NHG seen these flat shoes, it's easy to understand how 18th c. shoes evolve into the little flat slippers so beloved by Regency ladies in the early 19th century. Remembering, too, those narrow folding steps that we saw on 18th c. carriages, these flat shoes seem not only stylish, but quite practical as well.


Monica Burns said...

Give me a pair of flats anyday, and I'm a happy camper. Lovely material these flats in the pics.

Vanessa Kelly said...

I'm with you on the flats, Monica. I haven't worn anything with a real heel in years.

Susan, those are lovely. I particularly like the white pair. Interesting that a lady might do her own embroidery for her shoes.

Lucy said...

I LOVE heels, but am usually in flats- and these are the most adorable ever! Love the second pair especially.

Anonymous said...

I typically wear flats, too. But what strikes me here is that these shoes have less sole on them than the rubberized house slippers we wear today. And the streets they walked were not exactly the smooth, paved ones we have now. Either these shoes were strictly for delicate ladies who were being carried everywhere, or walking must have been one painful experience!

I absolutely adore reading about fashion in previous centuries on this blog, but I'm also developing a serious appreciation for sweatpants and sneakers!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I've been a high-heel lifer (I really covet those Cinderella-style shoes from the V&A), but my knees do prefer flats. These shoes were so thoroughly unstructured that they reminded me more of Chinese flats, or, to be more trendy, the canvas flats made by Toms.

I did wonder about her durability, too. My guess is that these were calling-on-other-ladies-in-you-carriage-shoes, rather than for long walks in the country. But they sure are pretty!

nightsmusic said...

I too am a high heel for life person, but I love my slippers! Of course, they're suede with a sherpa lining and if I'm not going out anywhere, I live in them. I can't imagine walking any great distance outside though in them because the soles are soft and even with the additional padding the little slippers above *don't* have, it still hurts! The slippers you show are rather like going barefoot which is fine in the sand.

They are gorgeous though! I wouldn't turn a pair down. :)


Katrina C said...

I have high arches, so I've never been able to wear heels without walking like a Neanderthal after five minutes. I wish more places sold sexy, vegetarian flats (okay, so I'm picky!).

Go Loretta with your revisions! Working through the night sucks, but I can't wait to read the end result! I've only read Lord of Scoundrels, but Miss Wonderful is winging its way to me as I type!

Mme.Tresbeau said...

Lovely! I'd wear the V&A ones to Cinderella's ball, and the white flowered ones everywhere else.

Anonymous said...


Those interested in 17th century costume should check out the link above.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Glad everyone enjoyed these shoes!

Anonymous, thank you so much for forwarding this link! Those Elizabethan jackets are amazing, and this is such a cool story, with so many stitchers combining their talents. I'm sorry that the exhibition has been canceled at the Plantation -- we could probably have persuaded Massachusetts NHG Loretta to go check it out -- but I see the jacket will be at Winterthur, which is near to me as the Pennsylvania NHG. Hmmm....stay tuned!

Miss Kirsten said...

I want both pairs!

Karen said...

FWIW, lots more 18th century women's shoes at http://larsdatter.com/18c/womens-shoes.html of course -- including several embroidered shoes.

Couldn't find any examples like the flats discussed above, but there's a link to a page from an 18th century embroidery pattern-book with a pattern for embroidering shoes!

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