Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Elegant Pair of Silk Shoes, c. 1735

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Susan reporting:

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Scraps from a new gown could be taken from the mantua-maker to the shoemaker, or pieces cut and recycled from a worn or outdated garment.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.


Hels said...

What a delight. How amazing they survived.

The shoes' uppers were brocaded in Spitalfields silk. This made them very delicate and beautiful, but also extremely vulnerable to ordinary wear. I don't mean walking in the mud of the streets outside.... even some spilled wine during the dancing would have been enough, or a dancing partner's scuff mark.

I suppose it didn't matter, IF families were wealthy enough. Then we need to ask how much would a silk pair of dancing slippers have cost?

An Historical Lady said...

I agree with Hels...nice if you were very wealthy! As a long time, serious reenactor however, I am most happy to have a few 'day' 18thc. shoes in red and in black leather, but also my gorgeous 'pearl cream' leather 'tongued court shoes' for wearing to nicer occasions! While it would be lovely to have fabric shoes to match every gown, I am glad to have my beautiful AND practical leather reproductions, with antique 'marcasite' buckles!

Chris Woodyard said...

I wonder if the pattern represents gooseberries? See this page for similar fruit in Spitalfields silk.

Amanda said...

I'm going with pomegranates - although Chris Woodyard may be right with the idea of gooseberries. So beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love 18th century shoes too. Thanks for sharing these. How fabulous!
When I first saw them, I thought pineapples. After reading comments and looking at the site that Chris Woodyard gave, I agree...probably gooseberries. Even more magnificient to have the museum pics to compare.

Barbara Monajem said...

I go for pineapple, but loved the samples on Hampshire site.

Lauren Hairston said...

They're gorgeous--and in such fabulous condition!

The Dreamstress said...

*Drool* My first thought was pineapples, but they could be pomegranets. If they were my shoes I would say they were pineapples. I have an affinity for pineapples!

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