Sunday, March 22, 2015

Clogs for Keeping an 18th c. Lady's Shoes Clean

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Isabella reporting,

While I was visiting Colonial Williamsburg last week, I had a most interesting discussion there with interpreter Nicole Rudolph of the Margaret Hunter Shop about what 18th c. English ladies used to protect their shoes. With their high curving heels and uppers covered in silk or silk brocade, the footwear worn by Georgian ladies is among the most elegant and dainty in the history of female shoes. Keeping such shoes clean in the streets of London must have been quite a challenge.

The most likely truth, of course, is that the stylish shoes that survive in museums today most likely never ventured into the city's mean streets, but were worn only indoors. Still, there were those few steps to cross between a carriage or sedan chair into the house where the ball was being held, and this is where some kind of sole-saving overshoe was necessary.

Modern collections refer to these by various names: clogs, pattens, overshoes all appear. I've always thought of pattens as more heavy-duty protection, like the ones I wrote about here. Clogs seem generally to refer to the lighter, less substantial companions to dress shoes, like the ones worn over the shoes, above left. (The buckles have been removed from the shoes.)

Often made in a matching or complimentary fabric to the shoes they would protect, most mid-18th c. clogs like these, right, protected the shoe's sole and little else. Some scholars also suggest that the clogs might also have acted as a kind of arch support, making it easier to walk in the high heels (think of it as an early version of a wedge heel.) The clog tied on over the toe of the shoe, and fitted beneath or around the heel. Surviving examples show the shoe and clog as a matched set, one made for the other, and it's likely that when a lady bespoke a pair of new shoes, she also ordered the matching clogs at the same time. There are as many variations in clogs as there are shoes, including how much (or how little) of the shoe is protected. Here is yet another pair in an earlier blog post.

In addition to her duties as a mantua-maker and seamstress, Nicole has studied 18th c. shoes, and has made replicas using 18th c. techniques. Recently she made this pair of clogs, lower left, based on extant examples, to fit a pair of of her silk satin shoes. (The buckles on her shoes have been removed.) These clogs and shoes are in the style of the late 1770s, and, since Nicole does not have a carriage, the clogs offer a more substantial protection when she walks to work on wet days. The clogs are made from leather, and cover not only the toes of her shoes, but fit entirely, and snugly, over the heels as well. The laces on the front help to keep them in place. Nicole reports they work quite well, and definitely have helped keep the white leather heels of her shoes white.

Hmm...perhaps this is another fashion that could be ripe for revival?

Many thanks to Nicole Rudolph - visit her blog here.

Above left: Pair of silk-covered leather shoes with velvet-covered leather clogs, Great Britain, 1730-40. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Right: Pair of silk brocade shoes with overshoes, England, 1740-50. Powerhouse Museum.
Bottom left: Pair of silk-satin covered shoes with leather clogs, made by Nicole Rudolph, 2014. Photograph © 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


Anonymous said...

How interesting that clogs would have made it easier to walk in heeled shoes. I saw a documentary recently (actually about dancing) that mentioned that wearing heels in the 17th and 18th centuries gave wearers a mincing walk. This was because the shoes didn't have shanks (the reinforcing piece hidden in the sole between the heel and the ball of the foot) and walking normally would cause the shoe to collapse. I would be intrigued to know if your mantua-maker friend could say if this were true! I had always assumed that the rhyme "Mount on French heels/When you go to a ball /'Tis the fashion to totter/ and show you can fall" referred to heels being high, rather than the structure of the shoes being unstable.

Sarah said...

I remember when I was a very little girl you could still get rubber galoshes, a term now applied to rubber boots/wellington boots but they weren't the same, they were rubber but you slid your shod foot into them and fastened them at the back. 'Wellies' are rubberised canvas, but galoshes were raw rubber, semi-transparent. I suppose the reason for them going out of use is two-fold; firstly the prevalence of man-made materials in shoes in the modern age [you have to LOOK for a shoe with a leather sole, and generally have to import it from Italy] because most soles are DMS. Secondly, shoes are mass produced in such quantity that the patterned fabric ones become cheap enough to throw away if too heavily soiled to throw in the washing machine. The number of cobblers who carve a last for hand made shoes fitting one pair of feet are dwindling, and I only know of one locally.

Sarah said...

I didn't know that there was no shank in those days though, it makes those who danced the minuet much more worthy of respect. Thank you for an informative post and an interesting follow up comment

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