Footwear, 1930–45

views updated May 14 2018

Footwear, 193045

The types of shoes worn by men and women during the 1930s were greatly determined by the effects of the Great Depression (192941) on their lives. Those impoverished by the Depression wore old styles, sometimes with holes in the soles. Others, who were lucky enough to gain wealth during this difficult time, set new trends in leisure wear that would influence the clothing of the masses following World War II (193945). Rationing, or limiting, of materials needed for shoes, such as leather and rubber, during the war introduced new practical styles of footwear.

The most fashionable men wore a variety of shoes before the war. White Bucs, or buckskin shoes with rubber soles, were popular with Europeans, and especially Americans, whose love of sport and leisure wear continued to grow. Bucs complemented the comfortable knit shirts and loose pants worn on vacation and while watching or playing sports. More formal leather shoes, including wing tips, were worn for business. During and after the war, men began to favor heavier soled shoes made from thick leather. Military boots called bluchers, which looked like heavy, blunt-toed oxfords, became especially popular among servicemen and college students. These thicker styles were part of the Bold Look for men that came into fashion later in the 1940s.

The Depression and the war interrupted a trend in women's footwear toward more glamour and women favored more practical styles of laced oxfords. The 1930s saw the introduction of a new feminine style called the peep-toed shoe that offered a glimpse of a woman's toes peeking out from a cutout at the tip of the shoe's toe. By the mid-1930s designers experimented with platform sandals featuring tall wood or cork soles and padded leather straps. One of the most distinctive styles featured gold-colored leather straps with a cork sole of six different colored layers. As the war drew closer, women abandoned these glamorous styles for more practical shoes. Lower-heeled pumps and oxfords became the most popular. Cloth and felt uppers replaced leather as supplies of the sturdy hide were restricted to the war effort. After the war women quickly returned to wearing the beautiful shoe styles of prewar times.


Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Lister, Margot. Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century. London, England: Herbert Jenkins, 1967.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

Military Boots
Peep-Toed Shoes
Suede Buc

Footwear, 1900–18

views updated Jun 11 2018

Footwear, 190018

Men and women both enjoyed access to a wide range of footwear in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the last half of the nineteenth century several important breakthroughs had made shoes more comfortable and cheaper than ever before. The comfort came from the invention of shoes designed to fit right and left feet specifically. Up until this invention most people had worn straights, or shoes with straight soles that could be worn on either foot. Only the very rich could afford to have shoes custom made to their feet. Several different Americans invented machines to increase the speed of shoe production, especially the difficult job of sewing the uppers to the thick soles of shoes, and the first rubber heel for shoes was invented in 1899 by Humphrey O'Sullivan. Soon the United States led the world in shoe production. From heavy boots to dressy leather boots, and from comfortable tennis shoes to light sandals, people now had a great variety of shoes from which to choose.

Closely fitted high-top leather boots were one of the most popular shoe styles for both men and women at the turn of the century, and women especially liked these dressy boots as their skirt lengths became shorter and shoes became visible. By far the most popular shoe for women, however, was the pump. A pump was a moderately high-heeled shoe, usually made of leather, with an upper that covered the toes and wrapped around the side of the foot and behind the heel, leaving the top of the foot bare. These snug-fitting shoes were infinitely adaptable and could be made in any number of colors and ornamented with buckles, ribbons, or other ornaments. Women who liked to dance preferred pumps with straps across the top to keep the shoe on. The pump remained one of the basic dress shoes for women throughout the century.

While men in the nineteenth century had generally worn high-top shoes and boots, men in the first decades of the new century showed a distinct preference for low-cut shoes. The most popular shoe of the period was the oxford, which took its name from England's Oxford University, where the shoe originated. Made of leather or suede, the oxford slipped over the foot and was laced across the instep. Two-toned oxfords first became popular as summer wear in about 1912. Women also wore a variation of the men's oxford.

The tennis shoe, the most popular shoe of the twentieth century, got its start in the late nineteenth century but truly rose to popularity following the invention of the Converse All-Star basketball shoe in 1917. With a light canvas upper and grippy rubber soles, these athletic shoes quickly became a favorite leisure shoe.


Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

Converse All-Stars
High-Top Boots

Footwear, 1919–29

views updated Jun 27 2018

Footwear, 191929

Shoe and boot styles altered little for men, but a great deal for women, during the 1920s. For everyday occasions men continued to wear either plain or two-toned oxfords with rounded toes, sometimes with spats (linen or canvas shoe coverings) that covered their ankles and the tops of their shoes. As sports became more popular during the decade both men and women wore shoes made especially for sports, like the tennis shoes first popularized in the nineteenth century. Shoes with two colors and fringed tongue flaps became especially popular among men playing golf.

Women's shoe styles became much flashier between 1919 and 1929. As the decade began women wore many plain shoe styles, but one of the most popular was a high-buttoned, high-heeled shoe with a dark leather foot and a contrasting top made to fit closely against the ankle up to mid calf with many small buttons. Some shoes were fastened with as many as sixteen tiny buttons. But as the decade continued, women stopped shunning ornament because rationing and frugality were no longer needed to support World War I (191418). Shoe ornaments, including glittering bows, ruffles, and even bug-shaped pins, were sold to spruce up the old styles of shoes, which featured thick, one- or two-inch heels and laced or buttoned closures across the top of the foot. But as hemlines rose to the knee by mid-decade, fashion trends emphasized new shoes as important costume accessories. The most significant new shoe was the T-strap sandal, a style that made women's feet look daintier than older styles. Also shoes were no longer somber in color, as they had been during the war. Many were made with bright contrasting colors and decorated with beadwork, fringe, or painted designs. Some companies began to offer shoe dyeing services so that women could change the color of their shoes to match their outfits.


Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

High-Heeled Shoes
T-Strap Sandal
Wing Tips

Footwear, 1946–60

views updated May 09 2018

Footwear, 194660

Men's shoes did not go through a great deal of change in the fifteen years following the end of World War II (193945). During the late 1940s, while Bold Look, or showy, fashions were in style, there was a brief preference for thicker-soled, heavier shoes to accompany the bolder cuts and colors in men's suits. By the 1950s, however, as suit styles became more conservative, men turned to lighter soled, traditionally cut dress shoe styles such as moccasins, wing tips, or bluchers, heavy, blunt-toed oxfords. For casual wear, men could turn to the newly popular Top-Sider, a comfortable moccasin-style shoe with a no-slip sole. Late in the 1950s Italian shoe styles became popular. These were longer and lighter in weight, with a low-cut upper. Finally, for children, young adults, and active adults, the tennis shoe or athletic shoe remained the shoe of choice.

Women's shoe styles, like women's fashion in general, were much more vibrant. The New Look fashions that took the world by storm in the late 1940s brought a renewed concern for style and elegance in shoes. The shoes that were chosen with New Look outfits had pointed toes and revealed more of the foot than earlier shoes. Over the years the heel in women's dress shoes grew slimmer and slimmer. In the early 1950s the stiletto heel, which came to a nearly needle-like point, saw this trend reach its peak. As hem-lines in women's dresses rose late in the 1950s, heels actually became shorter and less pointed. The standard women's shoe was the pump, offered in an array of cuts and colors to mix and match with other outfits. Finally, the emergence of new technologies during this period allowed for the invention of plastic shoes in 1947. Within a few years plastic shoes were made in a variety of colors and styles.


Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Plastic Shoes
Stiletto Heel

Footwear, 1961–79

views updated Jun 27 2018

Footwear, 196179

The footwear styles available in the 1960s and 1970s offered men and women a wide range of choices in heel height, material, color, and design. Some footwear styles were considered ultrafashionable. Among these were go-go boots and feminine styles of shoes, similar to those from the 1920s, which were worn by young women in miniskirts in the 1960s. Fashionable men wore white slip-on shoes or low ankle boots with side elastic or zippers. These styles were available in leather but also in new, soft leather substitutes and other man-made materials. Footwear came dyed in a variety of different colors and was often treated with a glossy finish that made shoes look wet. Similar fads for platform shoes and shiny patent leather and plastic shoes emerged during this time.

Other footwear styles were considered antifashion, including the earth shoes and Birkenstocks worn by people concerned with following healthful, natural lifestyles and the Doc Martens worn first by rebellious British youth known as skinheads and soon by other youths throughout Europe and the United States. In addition to these styles a fad for exercise started a trend toward wearing tennis shoes and specialized running shoes by people of all walks of life. By the 1970s even more varieties of shoe styles came onto the market. People could wear anything from classically styled pumps and oxfords to platform styles in neon shades to sturdier, practical sport shoes.


Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

Doc Martens
Earth Shoes
Go-Go Boots
Patent Leather Shoes
Platform Shoes
Tennis Shoes

Footwear, 1980–2003

views updated May 21 2018

Footwear, 19802003

The emphasis on business attire that went along with the 1980s trend for "power dressing," or dressing for business success, triggered a surge in the fashion for stiff, formal shoes. Men wore shiny leather wing tips, oxfords, and other styles, and women wore pumps to work. Some of these dressy styles were uncomfortable, and people soon embraced new styles of shoes that were comfortable as well as fashionable. Before the 1980s comfortable formal shoes were often only available in styles suited to conservative, or reserved, old women and men, but with the increasing interest in sportswear, fashion shoe manufacturers began to combine comfort with style, making classically styled shoes with flexible supportive soles.

The health craze of the 1970s that started people wearing jogging suits and tennis shoes, even when they weren't exercising, continued into the twenty-first century when people wore fashionable brand name trainer shoes, tennis shoes, and sport-specific exercise shoes at the gym, at home, and even at work. Trainer shoes became coveted fashion items for young and old alike. By the 1990s more types of athletic footwear received attention, and many young men and women began wearing hiking boots as casual, everyday boots.

The past had a great influence on the footwear styles from the 1980s to 2003. Retro styles from the 1920s (T-strap sandals), 1960s (Birkenstocks), and 1970s (platform shoes) have all reemerged on the feet of fashion-conscious people. At the beginning of the twenty-first century fashion had become a globally influenced industry, and footwear styles of the West influenced those in the East and vice versa.


Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Cowboy Boots
Mary Janes
Trainer Shoes
Nike: The Fashion of Sports