Vintage Shoe Fashion

Updated: March 6, 2024
"These boots were made for walking" - and so were the shoes. But they also were made to be fashionable in their time.

From foot binding in China to the Inuit's sealskin boots - decorated with vertical patterns for men and horizontal patterns for women, foot coverings have varied widely throughout cultures and time. But no matter what the culture or the era, most societies have used a type of shoe (from sandals through high heels) to protect their feet. The use of shoes is thousands of years old.

Some interesting shoe facts:

  • Heels were first introduced in the 1590's - at an inch high. By the mid 1600's, women's heels were 2 - 3 inches high.

  • During the reign of Louis XIV, red heels could only be worn at court - giving rise, throughout Europe, to the "power" status of the color red.

  • In the 18th century, as skirts inched up to the ankles, high heels on women became of erotic interest. At the same time, for practical reasons, the heels of men's shoes became lower - under an inch.

  • By the end of the 17th century, buckles had replaced ribbons laces for practical reasons.

  • Ankle boots - called demi-boots or half boots - came into vogue in the 1800's because of the popularity of "pedestrianism," women walking for exercise.

  • In the latter 1800's, due to an interest in Asian cultures, embroidered silks were used on shoes.

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, shoes became less interesting. Black, brown, and white footwear predominated until the 1920s. Colored footwear was generally worn only with evening dresses.

  • In the 1930's, shoe makers became (fashion) designers and shoes - especially for women - became really interesting. Spectators, oxfords, pumps, sandals, brogues, platforms . . . the designs and materials became endless.

Today, shoes are a great expression of individual taste and can be coordinated with any personal style. But what was popular in the past can be adapted to today - and with the advent of photography we are lucky enough to be able to see what was popular in days gone by.
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