High-Steppin’ Through History



Inspired by Pam’s “shoe” theme, I started browsing the web and found some great sites on 19th century shoes. Being a visual writer, a picture can spawn an entire story so I thought I’d share some of the interesting sites, pictures and tid-bits I found. 

First up are antique 19th century embroidered shoes, which I adore! These are my kind of dress shoes! (Site: Angel Fire)


I happen to have a bit of a green fetish and just love these suede 5-strap button shoes.

Just as lovley are these white satin fan-tongue court shoes

Some shoe history from My Vintage Sole:

  • The 19th Century Shoes were lace-up styles and became popular in the late 1800’s and continued into the early decades of the 20th century. The lace-up shoes or boots are higher than the button-up shoes. The reason could have been that laces could be drawn tighter, giving more support for the high top.
  • An interesting point regarding Victorian Morality (Victorian Era 1837-1901) is that women’s ankles were to be covered to protect them from men’s prying eyes. Ironically though, the intricate tight lacings of the ankle boots had a titilating effect.
  • The higher, front-laced 19th Century shoes/boots had sturdier soles and became even more popular when Queen Victoria started wearing them at her Scottish castle Balmoral. The two-toned lace up boots have been known as Balmorals since then.
  • Glimpses of the foot exposed while walking inspired bootmakers to adorn their creations with silk fabrics and metallic thread embroidery. For revealing shapely ankles, buttons were preferred over laces.
  • In the 1890’s, ornately decorated boots with flowers and birds were worn by opera-goers and became known as “opera boots.”
  • During this time period walking boots could be functional as well as fashionable. Sensible, utilitarian boots were a cold-weather staple in the latter half of the 19th century. The typical walking boot was lined with flannel, had a half inch heel and cost about $5.50.
  • The early 20th Century is often referred to as the Edwardian Era (1901-1910) after Queen Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII. The elite of this day also referred to this time as the Belle Epoque, or “Beautiful Age”.  
  • In 1850 shoes become “crooked”, meaning they are designed so that there is a difference between the right and left foot.
  • In the 1860’s the “Louis” heel (curved outline, flared at base) appear on shoes and are still commonly seen on shoes and boot to this day.
  • In 1870 the high-button shoe or boot is in fashion. The most common high-button shoes that we associate with have the flap of leather that folds over the front and is fastened by buttons on the side.
  • A button-hook (metal hook used to pull button through button hole) is an essential tool for everyone owning a pair of high button shoes.

This is a replica of the ladies high top shoes, with holes on each side for laces. They have a toe cap (you can see the stitching for the toe cap in picture). The heels date from about 1867, but this shoe also has metal eyelets which were not patented until the 1890’s. They have rubber heels which were patented in 1889. Genuine black kid, American made.
While I’m on my vintage clothes kick, here’s an outfit to go with those lovley satin shoes…a marvelous classic circa 1865 lady’s two piece golden russet colored silk faille dress.  
I do believe that whole “barefoot and pregnant” saying is quite fitting, as any pregnant woman can attest…shoes simply do not fit in those last few months of pregnancy. Here’s a fine and elusive post Civil War three piece lady’s maternity ensemble.
Personally, I have two favorite types of shoes: boots in winter and flip-flops in summer…when not barefoot. In THE GUNSLINGER’S UNTAMED BRIDE one of my favorite scenes is when Juniper talks Lily into taking off her boots to walk barefoot through the river with him 😉
I have some replica boots with mock buttons up the side (zipper on the inside *g*) which tend to be my faves.  This summer I’ve been sporting green beaded dragonfly flip-flops. 



 How about you?  What is your favorite type of shoe?




**I also found a great page titled How to dress like a gentleman– A guide on the history of the gentlman’s shoe-dress like a true genta fun site if you’re interested! 

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45 thoughts on “High-Steppin’ Through History”

  1. I like to be comfortable. Even flip-flops may be fading from my shoe wardrobe as I have arch ‘issues’.
    I also work somewhere FREEZING, I am serious, that building is single handedly burning a hole in the ozone layer with it’s over-use of it’s air conditioner.
    So I wear black boots to work everyday, and fairly heavy socks and and a blazer and STILL my fingers are icy. When I leave work I go from so, so painfully (I’m serious) cold to blazing hot outside and it’s nauseating.
    I think my grandma owned a button hook. I remember seeing it.

  2. If I can’t be barefoot, then it is tennis shoes for me!
    Seeing the soes with the button hooks reminded me of the scene in “Pollyanna” where she gets new shoes and they show them being buttoned up.

  3. HI Stacey!

    I love this post. Interesting, interesting. My favorite kind of shoe is — well, I have many — I love barely there sandals with a 2-3 inch heel — but I also love the pump. Boots are not really my favorite, because I find them uncomfortable. But I also love the peep-a-poo toe — on heels or flats. Because I on the short side, I find that I almost always wear a heel, even if it’s only a kitten heel.

    Great post, Stacey.

  4. Hi Pam! Glad I’m not alone with my bare tootsies *g*

    Recently I have found platform heels to comfortable–but I love it when fall hits and I can start zippping into my tall boots 😉

  5. Yipes, Mary! Where do you work? Sounds like you need a pair of those gloves with no fingers in them 😉 Or a lock pick for the thermostat box *g*

    I have high arches too, and love those foamy flip-flops with a little rise to them that conform to your foot 😉

  6. I hate shoes I would love to go bare foot all the time but now I have plantar fasciitis and a heel spur. I went to the z-coil store and got some shoes they help with the pain but the shoes are ugly I couldn’t really find anything that was very pretty and I have big feet.
    I would love to live in a world where we didn’t need shoes. I would love to wear all those beautiful high heels.

  7. Hi Kathleen! Aren’t those button shoes great?!

    I’ve recently discovered Born shoes–an ultra comfy loafer that has a rather luggy sole with the stitching all around on the outside.

  8. Thank you, Kay! I too love those peep-a-poo toes! I tried to find a pair for the outfit I wore to the Ritas…but I was unscuccessful 🙁 Maybe next year 😉 I loved all the pics Pam posted of the different types of shoes worn at National 🙂

  9. Hi Stacey!

    I love all those pretty shoes, but the pic of the matunity ensemble really got my attention. Those poor women. I’m from the south, so all I can think of when I see an outfit like that is how very hot those women must have been. Ugh!

    So anyway, as I said, I’m a southern girl and I love to be barefoot. Even so, I love shoes, too. lol I’ve even been known to buy a pair and find the outfit to match later.

    I like backless shoes. I recently bought a couple pairs with straps and even though I really like them, I probably won’t wear them very often because I hate having to adjust the straps all the time. Give me slip ons of any kind–from high heels to flip flops–and I’m a happy camper.

    Now, I’m off to see that well-dressed gent site you posted.


  10. Hi Carla!! I’ve only recently become spoiled to the slip on. It’s hard to go back to the confines of a heel strap *lol* Since I work from home, I am happily barefoot most of the time so slip-ons are great for those times I realize I should have picked up my kids an hour ago and need some quick foot-tread on my dash for the door 😀

    Hope you like the Gent site! Thanks for stopping in 😉

  11. Hi Stacey,

    My shoe of choice is Keds tennis shoes. I’m almost always in them unless I dress up. Then I have a pair of sensible black dress shoes. No high heels. I’m at the age and time of my life where I go for comfort and that’s it.

    Love to look at shoes from the past. That green pair with the straps looks like some we’d wear today. When I imagine women in the West, I see them in the side button or laceup boots. I just wonder if women had to carry one of those button hooks with them everywhere they went in case they had to take off their shoes for some reason? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to put their shoes back on. Hmmmmm.

    I LOVED that scene in Gunslinger where Juniper and Lily walked in the river! That was a very visual, sexy scene. I also loved the scene where he tried to hide Lily under that tarp and take her down the mountain. So funny!

    A fun blog today! 🙂 Hope you’re making headway with your deadline.

  12. Hi Stacey,

    I love the green suede and the brown boots. I still have a pair similar to the brown to wear when I go to Chicago in winter. I used to love high heels but I can’t wear them anymore for fear of losing my balance. The higher heels I can indulge in now are two-inch. At home I live in flip-flop or just wear a pair of socks. I can’t wait to start reading my Gunsliger.

  13. Hey Stacey – love your post! I actually needed to do some research on late 19th century footwear but hadn’t gotten around to it. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.

    I’ve never been comfortable in high heels. The black spit-shined work boots I had to wear during my military career suited me fine. When I retired, I was diagnosed with flat feet – who knew? That means I need splints (a hard plastic insert) and transfer them to whatever shoes I’m wearing. So, I’m restricted to shoes with backs which is okay most of the time. But I used to like wearing white sandals to church in the summer. Now, that’s out. Same goes for any other sandal unless it’s a very short walk so I don’t have to add the splints.

    During the summer, I’m barefoot in the house. When the cold weather comes, I slip on mocassins.

  14. Oh, I’ve had many pairs of Keds, Linda 🙂 My only adversion to high heels is my complete lack of balance *G* Those green suede shoes are about as high as I can go…unless they are platform heels, just bought some strappy platforms last year…boy did I feel tall *lol* 😉

    I’m so glad you enjoyed GUNSLINGER, Linda–thank you, thank you!! Lily and June were a lot of fun 🙂 Now to get Garret and Maggie to the FINISHED LINE *g* (hugs)

  15. My personal favorite is barefoot but I love those high boots with the little heel. I bet they were sexy when they lifted that full skirt and gave a hint that a lucky watcher might see an ankle. Then, oops! No way, more leather. Perhaps those women had the right idea

    Thanks for the information!

  16. I’m usually barefoot but if I had to pick a favorite type of footwear I’d go with boots. I used to have at least a dozen pair but have cut back considerably from my single/non kid days *g*

  17. Shoes!!! OMG I love shoes. Shoes, boots, flip flops, heels, flats, sandals, wedges, you name it, I’m a fan! I wore footwear similar to these for my wedding, low brocade boots with the small heel and a ribbon instead of buttons. I just love the whole old-fashioned boot look. For every book I sell, I reward myself with a new pair of shoes dedicated to that book. It makes me happy LOL

    That said, and having somewhere between 50-100 pair of shoes, I go barefoot more often than not. Writing at home lends itself to comfy joy that way, doesn’t it?

  18. My favorite shoes? I don’t have any favorites!
    At almost 72 y/o, I can’t wear heels for fear of
    losing my balance and landing on my tush!! I used
    to love wearing pumps or sling-back sandals with
    peep toes! They don’t make attractive AND comfortable shoes for grannies!!

    Pat Cochran

  19. Hi Stacey!

    I love those high-button boots that our heroines wear. I try to get them on my gals as much as possible–LOL–something so sexy about them.

    I bought a great pair of sandals in San Francisco–large wedge heel made of straw, beige straps, but the wedge is beneath the toes, too, so it’s not too high to walk in.

    I’m normally in track shoes, even at the computer–ortho guy said it’s better for my knees and body alignment. It helps when I’m at the computer all day! No slippers or flip-flops for me unless it’s for short periods.

    Pretty pics! You own some pretty shoes!

  20. I tried to get Lenora Worth to talk shoes on her blogging day here a couple weeks ago…

    She collects shoes and apparently brings L-O-T-S of them to conferences. Hopefully she’ll be at the ACFW conf in Minn in Sep so I’ll find out myself then. 🙂

    I won a book from her online last fall and she included a neat notepad in the shape of a red stilleto shoe.

  21. Oh, the single non-kid days…pretty sure my skin-tight pants were tucked into my knee boots back them *LOL*–or the torutres of youth *G* I’m enjoying the COMFORT of middle age 😉

    Thanks so much for stopping in Beth!!

  22. Oh, oh, my fellow Boot Lover *g* I envy your shoe reward system *g*—so gotta start that routine *g*. So tell me…what shoes did you get for Riske Business????

    Thanks for stopping in Tawny!!

  23. Hi Pat! I don’t believe it–all the shoes my grandma wears are attractive 🙂 I’m thirty-seven (bumping up a number next week1) and I’m all about stability…and comfort *GGG*

    Thanks for sharing!

  24. Fun blog, Stacey. And most of those lovely vintage styles would look right in place today. Guess there’s only so much you can do with feet (unless you bind them like the Chinese used to).
    I refuse to wear any shoe that isn’t comfortable, and I’ve found that good quality footwear is worth the price, especially if it’s on sale! Just copped a gorgeous pair of open-toed baby soft leather dress shoes with high wedge heels, for 70% off. Now just need a place to wear them.

  25. Very lovely, Stacey! I love seeing all those glamourous shoes and gowns 🙂 As for my own favorite shoes, we end up doing a fair amount of walking, so my favorites are any comfortable walking shoe that also looks relatively cute–not costing a mint is also a plus! And Elizabeth, total yikes on the foot binding–my father-in-law has a pair of handmade shoes that belonged to his grandmother, who had bound feet–the shoes are tiny!

  26. Stacy, where does your Grandma shop for her
    shoes? I’d love to find some neat shoes!!

    Pat Cochran

  27. Thanks, Elizabeth. I’ve seen a few shows on foot binding…goodness…gives me shivers everytime I see the tiny lotus shoes. Those poor little girls.

    I agree–you can’t beat quality shoes 😉

  28. Stacey – love the shoes from yesteryear! But I will admit, the first thing I do when I get home is take my shoes off. I love going barefoot. Most women’s shoes are sooo uncomfortable, thus my daughter’s comment when I was shopping with her for wedding shoes, “Mom, just expect to have your feet hurt most the day!”
    Did you know that women’s shoe sizes were so incredibly small in the mid 1800’s? I read that the average male was 5 foot 6 and the average female even shorter. Men’s boots from that time, look so small compared to the size 11’s of today.

  29. Hi Fedora!! Oh wow, what a treasure to have, Fedora. I’ve seen some in museums and can’t believe how small they are. Girls were bound when they were so young. The documentories I’ve watched are heart-wrenching. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Hi Charlene! Wow, I didn’t know that about the smaller feet. Very interesting. I have read that the steroids used in growing animals and other food products has been attributed to people growing taller and taller. My boys are both six feet tall. My baby has had a size 12 shoe since he was 11. He’s now in a 13 and in a size 13–eeek!!!

    I wore ballet-type slipers with my wedding dress…despite my mother’s protest *lol* That was during my NO HEELS days 🙂

  31. OH Stacey..I really enjoyed your blog! It was so informative and fun! Thanks for taking the time to post all the cool photos!

  32. Hi Stacey – I want to thank you for featuring my shoes on your website. I appreciate it so very much. I’m working with another shoemaker on getting high button shoes made – it’s quite an ordeal, but I love the look of the shoes and many future customers have contacted me about them.

    Again, thank you so much for finding my site and featuring it. Take care. Joanie

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