Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shoes of Silk, Shoes of Earthenware: c. 1730

Thursday, May 5, 2011
Susan reporting:

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


Emma J said...

Georgian shoes really have to be the best! Thanks for finding them.

Margaret said...

My grandmother had a collection of little porcelain & colored glass shoes, though I don't think any were as old as this. Most were like Victorian booties and dancing slippers. She always called them "bride shoes", so maybe that business about them being for luck is true.

Allison said...

Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, MD found a shoe concealed in our roof during an ongoing renovation. Check out our blog post to see a picture:

Chris Woodyard said...

I have a number of miniature Victorian china shoes, some topped with wedding rings and doves. I was told that they were used as wedding or shower cake decorations and the smaller ones were actually baked into the cake as lucky finds (like finding the baby in the King Cake.) I don't know if any of this is true though. See for an example which is about 1 1/2" long.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Emma J, yeah, Loretta & I are unrepentant shoe-lovers, too. The 18th c ones are gorgeous.

Margaret & Chris, whether on cakes or in them, there does seem to be a link between brides, weddings, shoes, & good luck. Somewhere in there, I'm sure there's a link to Cinderella, too.

Allison, thank you so much for the various excellent links on concealment shoes! It's a fascinating topic - don't be surprised if I return to it for a future post. :)

nightsmusic said...

Gorgeous shoes. Both of them. I'd love the chance to try one like the top shoe on but alas, my feet probably wouldn't go in more than a third of the way. I'd like to know how they felt to wear though.

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