rich ornamentation, the Greeks used color and the height of the sole
to indicate social standing, and the Romans – besides developing
sandals tough enough to tramp around the empire – were fetishists
when it came to their ladies’ shoes.
Ovid tells us a senator carried one of his lover’s sandals
in his tunic and kissed it often.
standards of craftsmanship collapsed with Rome, except in Byzantium,
where shoes and boots of the ruling class (men and women) were
heavily jeweled in the 5th and 6th centuries,
some even gilded. The
Church and early Christians had no compunction about coveting these
and so the practice of giving lavish shoes as presents began. They
also constituted major bequests, leading to the phrase “following
in one’s father’s footsteps.”
In the 10th century, gemstone (often pearl) beading was de
rigeur for the affluent, appearing as a central element on shoe
insteps and the turned-down
tops of boots called pedules – and by the time of the
Norman Conquest (1066), shoes were often ornamented with gold. Then
things went nuts for 300 years or so, with the dominant attribute of
men’s shoes being oints so long people tripped themselves
regularly and did
goodness-knows-what under the table.
Variously called poulaines, Crackowes and Winklepickers,
they were meant to be ribald – okay, even obscene –
as were their successors and
gender opposites: fur-lined, slashed shoes called
and Bear's Paw shoes. In their so-called “Dunderbludgeon”
variation, gouty Henry VII found relief, but his courtiers were
constantly stepping on one another and stomping off to duel.
Shoes of this type sprawled as wide as 12 inches before
they were at last legislated out of favor like poulaines.
Poulaine with elevated patten support
of the period, blessedly left out of these unsavory trends, went for
heels, a fashion set in the early 16th
Catherine de Medici moved from Florence to Paris to marry the king.
Small, she wore high-heeled shoes at her wedding and they
remained in vogue all her life.
Men eventually took to them, too. Mules with pearls or
rabbit’s ear bows and one-inch platform soles were Elizabeth I’s
heels also came in and, from Italy, the chopine
abuzz. This design raised the platform as high as a towering – not
to say tottering – two feet!
Walking canes instantly became stylish (well, duh), as did
having a couple of maids or escorts constantly at hand.
the start of the 17th
century, slippers seemed
more right. (Why am I
not surprised?) They
were first tied on with elaborate spangled rosettes, then ribbons in
the classical manner. By
1680, however, the usual instep fastening was a strap and a – now
we’re here – buckle
. We’re highly unlikely to
run across any treasures from this timeframe, though; they’d
belong in a museum. Even
Georgian ones are exceptional finds.
& Regency Footwear & Buckles
the 18th century, slippers morphed to pumps on high spool
heels and were sporting glitzy jeweled buckles before
the decades, heel heights went up and down between slippers and
pumps, but those buckles sparkled on.
The rich had them in gold or silver with real stones, while
others had imitations with rhinestones or pastes. The latter are
much more likely to be found today, since few “real” jewels
survived the Victorian Meltdown; they were convinced their taste
could improve on anything that went before but, in all fairness,
those who came before them did their share of “updating” the
family jewels, too.
a faux-gemstone piece is honestly from this era, you’ll be able
to see through the stones the tiny black dots of pitch by which
they were attached. Very occasionally, real stones
were fastened in by the same means.
shoe buckles of round shape, BTW, are associated with a group called
the Macaroni Club or Macaronis. Not a club, per se, but a
sort of youth movement among wealthy Englishmen (and some New
Englanders), who couldn’t get enough of all things Italian and
French during the 1770s. The
name, applied derisively by more staid Brits, referred to their
importing continental cuisine, as well as flamboyant clothing and
that background, does the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” mean more
to you? You may also be
interested to know that General George Washington’s toes sparkled
when he was inaugurated as America’s first president.
in Paris were a decided influence on shoe fashion through most of
the period – squatty Louis XIV by threatening death to commoners
in tall shoes and Louis XV by inventing the heel shape
that still bears the name “Louis” or “Baby Louis.”
After the Revolution, French fashion altered markedly; in
fact, at least one aristo faced the guillotine, betrayed by his
diamond buckles. Others,
wiser, contributed theirs to the new government’s depleted
Pre-revolutionary Louis Heels
Even before the end of the 18th
shoe manufacturing had begun in earnest and the first retail shoe
stores were open, making quality shoes available to many more people
and tempting everyone to own several pair. The idea of having easily
removable shoe accessories began to make a lot of sense.
A pity that guillotined Parisian didn’t have his change of
buckles ready in time!
century began, further strong personalities made
signal contributions to footwear:
the Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher, created for the comfort
and convenience of armies under their commands.
Strong neoclassical influence was also felt at this time,
both in Napoleon’s Empire and Regency England, which made flat
shoes and Grecian sandals very popular. So were exotic styles
crafted to match the gauzy Oriental cotton fabrics that began
reaching Europe then; these were decorated with beads, pearls and
lightweight slip-on styles, although impractical for outdoors, were
suitable for dancing and reflected the popularity of balls in social
life then. These ballerina designs with their square toes and
fragile ribbon ties gradually gave way to white kid or silk boots
with side laces that weren’t much sturdier.
Footwear, Buckles & Clips
Victorian period in England began brightly enough in 1837 – she
did love her diamonds, when a young thing – but Prince Albert’s
1861 death damped down the mood about as well as a revolution.
There was also the problem of the crinoline skirt, with its
hoops so easily tilted.
ladies’ feet were primly booted (lest a glimpse of foot flesh
drive men mad.
Victorian boots styled for modesty
influence was the rising
popularity of active Scottish holidays, sparked by Victoria’s
stays at Balmoral, after which one boot style was named.
shoes did appear, they had small heels, pointed toes, rosettes and
lots of decoration – or were gussied up with buckles or early
clips, usually quite large and often of cut steel, also known as marcasites
which the Victorians regarded as a suitable material for daytime
wear. Recent advances in manufacturing, including the introduction
of stamped jewelry components, made shoe accessories more widely
available and affordable. And,
with shoes being easily available, people owned more than ever.
The idea of removable ornaments now made perfect
of cut steel, faceted like diamonds to glitter like crazy, had
been crafted since
earliest marcasite work is generally regarded as the finest, but any
examples that are individually riveted are highly desirable.
Even molded faux-marcasite pieces,
if antique, are definitely collectible. Something to
bear in mind about these is that they aren’t quite as tough as
they look. Rust is
their mortal enemy, so try your best to keep them dry.
France, which didn’t endure half a century of collective mourning,
exquisite silver and paste shoe buckles were produced, which you can
still find if you’re lucky, and some splendid Art Nouveau designs
are available from time to time.
especially interesting type of buckle for bead fanciers is the
“winged” sort which took flight (as it were) in the late 19th
century and continued to be made in the early 1900s.
These feature, around a central element, a winged arrangement
of wires on which tiny beads are strung.
They can be really delightful.
exquisite French buckles of beaded mesh also date circa 1900.
Century Footwear, Buckles & Clips
clips became far more common than buckles in the 20th
century and were produced in large numbers for about 60 years,
giving us many wonderful Edwardian, Art Deco and Retro designs that
are perfect to wear with today’s vintage-inspired fashions.
you know if you follow fashion news, Edwardiana is a huge trend. Although the era technically lasted only from 1901 to 1910,
the style wasn’t superceded until after World War I.
It began in the Victorian manner, which of course didn’t
die with the queen.
long and full, “Gibson Girl” bodices were still tightly corseted
and accessories were an obsession. Court shoes with small Louis
heels were popular for evening, often accented by embroidery,
metallic thread and/or beadwork of glass or jet on the toes.
Decorative buckles were enjoyed by many, especially if they
were clever enough to create them. From the Ladies' Home
Journal and other magazines, women learned to make the trendiest types of shoe buckles, as
well as bags, cutwork
and lace accents, hair and hat decorations,
fans, etc. Hats went totally
mad for a while in size and
ornamentation (requiring hatpins of lethal length, which will be the
subject of our next newsletter).
the more modern side, women’s activities were branching out; for
instance, bicycling became a rage. Daytime
boots were right for this pursuit and there were even boots
for evening, made of satin or kid with beaded straps& in
tiers across the shin.
ankle-binding ”hobble skirt” debuted circa 1910, inspired by
“harem” skirts, and Eastern-style jeweled slippers staged a
comeback to complement these, but a mincing gait no longer seemed
ideal when men went off to fight The Great War, leaving women to run
the factories. As shoes, like clothing, became more utilitarian,
buckles and clips were at forefront, adding style both by day and
night. Cut steel,
silver filigree and rhinestone versions were worn, as well as those
wonderful home-mades, so often beaded.
exhilaration of war’s end, along with women’s newfound
independence and successful conclusion of the female
suffrage movement led
inevitably to the Flapper,
with her short hair, short skirt, long beads and “Charleston”
shoes. The foot became a focal point and the “bar shoe” – a
single-bar pump with a pointed toe, high-waisted heel & one tiny
button – was favored for dancing the night away.
Cutwork-decorated, crossover, t-strap and high-tongued shoes were
also popular. Many
styles were vividly colored and made of luxury materials or lavishly
embellished; even so, you’ll often see Deco buckles designed to
slide down that high-tongue or over a t-strap.
stock market crash of 1929 summarily ended the party by plunging the
world into economic depression.
In other bad news,
there came the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.
People escaped to the movies and were influenced by
silver-screen glamor girls
in bias-cut dresses, furs and fabulous jewels, inspiring diamond
rhinestone knockoffs including loads of shoe clips it’s still easy
to find. Sporty styles like slacks took off, too, worn with sandals
or the new open-toed shoes prompted by a penchant for sunbathing.
Platform shoes also made their 20th century debut,
featuring materials such as wood and cork to
complement exotic prints and colors.
shoemaking, a leather shortage
was soon joined by wartime restrictions on its non-military
use and that of rubber, along with the rationing of shoes.
Despite the Depression, the average American woman had five
pairs by 1940 – and a good thing, too, because she’d have to get
as much life out of them as possible, after the 1941 bombing of
Pearl Harbor. Heels, BTW, were then limited to one inch in height
and there were only six color choices. War era shoes being
made not for style but substantiality,
clips came to the rescue
again, as during World War I – and those who didn’t have them used
everything they could lay hands on to ornament their wood- or
cork-soled “wedgies.” If
you find clips commercially produced during the war, you may well be
surprised by their quality. As
with other costume jewelry of the period, silver was often used,
since many other metals
were claimed for the war effort.
after the war's end in 1945,
clips remained popular, because they represented a stunning value. High-fashion shoes with ornamented insteps cost about twice
as much as plain pumps and other heels. The glamorous post-war
“New Look” placed great emphasis on the foot, with introduction
of the slim stiletto heel and a dazzling array of colors.
Since everything in the 1950s and early
1960s was supposed to go together as an ensemble – anybody else
remember dyed-to-match shoes? – colored clips supplied an
affordable option. Clear
rhinestone versions were popular in this era, too - often
worn by schoolgirls also
sporting prom-night tiaras.
the 20th century shoe clip heyday, which came to a close
with the more casual looks favored since the mid-1960s, clip
mechanisms in general became lighter, simpler and often more
effective, which brings us to our concluding point
Importance of Patent Numbers
huge plus for collectors of
shoe jewelry is that the operational elements of clips were
often under patent and, if you have a patent number, you’re just
seconds away from a very precise dating. Patent numbers, organized by year of issue, can be accessed
at various sites online, including http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/issuyear.htm
(US) and http://www.patent.gov.uk/patent/whatis/oldnumbers/