Saturday, March 10, 2012

Choosing Modern Historically Inspired Shoes

I originally featured this topic on my partner site, the Emerald Parlor, and wanted to bring it here to you. Most of us are not reenactors (who must follow rigid historical guidelines for our costumes), but rather costume enthusiasts, and this allows us greater freedom when choosing accessories to compliment our regalia, especially shoes. But for the costume enthusiast on a budget, shoes can often be the most expensive part of his or her ensemble. There is a pocket friendly alternative to purchasing historical, vintage, or reproduction footwear: the modern department store shoe (carefully selected for its historical-like qualities, of course).

1). I spotted these Anne Klein pumps about a month ago at my local DSW - I was debating on whether I should snap them up, and decided against it, reasoning with fate - if they were there the next time I did a shoe run, it was meant to be and I'd buy them (on clearance for $20). They were, and now they are added to my 1950s-1960s inspired shoe collection. Note the low, slim heel, the pointed toe, the stark ivory patten binding along the top-line (in contrast to the black patten of the shoe), and the chic little ivory patten bow at the toe.

Compared to...

Leather pump by Bruno Magli, 1958. Metropolitan Museum of Art

2). I bought these Nine West suede Oxfords about three years ago from DSW on clearance for $25, and they have served me well. These booties have a 1940s-1950s appeal: the blocky heel, the rounded toe, the key-hole lacing placket across the vamp, the suede leather, and the Oxford design.

Compare to...

Advert from www.glamourdaze. com

Leather booties by C. Nannelli, circa 1954. Brooklyn Museum Collection

3). Again, another DSW find: Bandolino wingtip Mary Jane's for $25 on clearance (noticing a trend, here?) - how can you go wrong? lol! These have a 1920s-1930s flavor: note the round/almond shaped toe, the strap across the upper vamp (and the button on the strap), the (lower) thicker heel, and the wingtip design.

Compared to...

1930s advert compliments of

Leather oxford by Thomas, circa 1928. Metropolitan Museum of Art

4). These 5th Avenue dress sandals are another recent buy - JC Penny's for $5 (they were 90% off) - which I bought purposely for a late-1920s suit I would like to make for late spring. These have an easy 1920s-1930s flavor to them: the low heel, the two-toned leather, the closed toe and heel design (with open sides), the T-strap and buckle closure, and the round/almond shaped toe. 

Compared to...

Silk dress sandal by N. Greco, circa 1926. Metropolitan Museum of Art

1930s avert compliments of

5). Here are a pair of Mainframe fashion leather boots I purchased in 1998 at Sears for $10 on clearance (I bought these specifically for a late-Victorian costume I made). Note the historically inspired characteristics of this boot: (soft) pointed toe, front (or side) button detail, low French-style heel, and ankle length boot shaft.

Compared to...

Leather black boots by Hellstern and Sons, circa 1900-1910. Brooklyn Museum Collection

 6). These Easy Street pumps were bought yesterday at DSW (on clearance for $18) as an Edwardian dress pump. Since April marks the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, several of the girls and I are making evening dresses for the occasion and going to dinner. I was worried I would not find a suitable pair of shoes - then Viola! Note the (low) thicker heel, the slim design of the shoe, the pointed toe, and the bow decoration.

Compared to...

Satin evening pumps by Nancy Haggerty, circa 1918. Brooklyn Museum Collection

Satin wedding shoes, 1903.V&A Museum

7). I also bought these Life Stride black pumps yesterday at DSW on clearance for $18 (indeed, I was on a shoe buying binge). What is interesting about this shoe style is that I can use it for two very different fashion eras - late-Georgian/early-Romantic and late-Victorian. Note the historically inspired shape: the long, slim design of the shoe, the flat squared toe, the short, thick (French) heel, and the straight, flat line of the shoe's sole (there's no apparent arch).

Compared to...

Dress slipper (English), circa 1860. Brooklyn Museum Collection

Silk slipper, circa 1785-1800.Metropolitan Museum of Art

8). This pair of black leather BCBG pumps I bought at DSW (no surprise there!) for $14 on clearance. I did not buy these for costume, but rather for work - but as fashion trends dictate, they went out of style with my ever changing wardrobe, so I recycled these 1700s inspired cuties to my costume closet. Note the long pointed toe and the elevated French heel:

Compared to...

Of course, none of my modern shoe examples are exact in all historical aspects of their inspired (or ascribed) shoe era, but they do have key design attributes that make them usable for historically inspired costume. The trick is to know what makes a Victorian shoe a “Victorian shoe”, or what makes a 1940s bootie a “1940s bootie”. Making note of these style details will help you in choosing an appropriate modern alternative to an historical, vintage, or reproduction shoe.

Happy sewing!


  1. Ah, your shoe wardrobe must be like mine! I have a few historically correct ones, but most of my costume shoes have a the look and feel of the period and were bought in second hand shops!

  2. In truth Lorna, this is so because until Laura R. (American Duchess) began her shoe line, I did not really like most of the reproduction shoes on the market (it's not the quality of these makers' shoes, but their design elements - I do not find them attractive). And, there's budget to consider - why pay $$$ for a shoe I'm only lukewarm about. I am so dang picky, I know - lol!