March 18, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.5: 18th Century Shoes

Today on Closet Histories we are taking a quick look at ladies shoes of the 18th century. Overall, 18th century shoes can be characterized by a curvy heel, pointed toe and latchet fronts that either tied shut or were closed with shoe buckles. The shoes below are in order from earliest (1700's) to latest (1790's) and show the general progression of ladies shoes in 18th century Europe (and by extension the colonies, aka America).

1700-1715, LACMA
Starting at the beginning of the century with our first extant example, we see the basic silhouette of early 18th century shoes. Notice the thick "French curve" heel and prominent metallic embellishment. The shoes fasten in front by buckling the latchets (front straps over the top of the foot) with metal shoe buckles that pierce through the latchets. Shoes were made from wood, leather, fabrics, and glues. Here you can see the the white rand (a layer of white leather between the fabric and outer sole of the shoe, looks a bit like piping) that is a typical feature of early 18th century shoes.

1720's-1740's, MFA
The second extant example, from the earlier half of the century, is a mule style. Mules are a name given to backless style shoes which slip on. The shoes above are done in red velvet with metallic trim. The heels would have been carved from wood, and you can see the thick leather that makes up the underside and sole of the shoes.

1720's-1730's, MFA
Another early example with a prominent white rand and thick curved heel. These latchets are too short for buckles and were most likely tied shut with ribbons or cord.

1750-1760, MFA
This example was just too pretty to not include! Lightest pink silk (though it may have started life much brighter and faded) with swirling silver metallic embroidery! These have a higher heel and a pointer toe and were likely made to be worn with a more formal ensemble.

1740, Albany Institute of History and Art
These shoes are made with Spitafields silk brocade. The top edge of the shoes and latchets are bound in contrasting green bias tape or ribbon. The white rand is still noticeable though the toes of this pair have rounded slightly. Read more about Spitafield silk here.

1740-1749, Powerhouse Museum 
Here is an extant example of shoes with their matching pattens. Pattens were overshoes meant to protect your nice silk pumps from the dirty streets. As you can see above, one simply slipped their heels into the pattens and tied them to to secure them. 

1760-1770, V&A
This lovely shoe, our first example from the later half of the century, has its latchets fastened with a paste jeweled buckle. The shoe itself is done in a mettalic silver and silk brocade and you will notice is missing the white rand from earlier in the century.

1775-1785, LACMA
This pair almost looks simple when compared to some of the earlier examples with their mettalic embellishment. In sky blue textured silk with white binding, this pair also features a slimmer heel, though the shape is still that curvy shape so typically 18th century in style.

1775-1800, MFA
A later mule so similar and yet so different from the first pair. This shoe is more streamlined but still features a white rand.
1780, Shoe Icons
A truly frothy confection worth of the 1780's don't you think? The dainty thinner heel and softer toe shape coupled with the frilly embellishment on this shoe scream late 18th century pretty.

1780, V&A
A example of a shining jeweled shoe buckle. Shoe buckles like this were most often set with paste (glass) stones. No one wants to loose a real diamond shoe buckle.

1790's, MFA
As the century wound to a close, the high heeled pump style shoe began to fall out of favor. High heels were associated with the aristocracy, which by the end of the century had also majorly fallen out of favor! Lower heels and flat shoes became more common, even though this extant pair from the 1790's is still sporting some lovely embellishment!

1780-1800, V&A
Another example of the lower heels from the end of the century. The toes also have become more pointed again. These shoes look so modern, almost 1950's with their triangle print and fringy pom poms!

1794, MFA
I just had to include this last pair from the mid 1790's, mostly because they feature a new invention of the time, hot air balloon flights! Also the design is entirely beaded, which is something I have never seen before. 

I don't consider myself a shoe expert by any means, for more information on 18th century shoes I must point you in the direction of Lauren from American Duchess. She has studied 18th century shoes extensively as she has her own line of reproduction historical shoes! I dream about owning several pairs, one day when I have a good job, she is going to get a huge order from me!

That's all from me today, have a good Thursday everyone! 

All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!


  1. I adore looking at shoes from this era! They are just so dreamy! As uncomfortable as the shape looks, I wish I could have some modern-shape shoes with the same kinds of fabrics and adornments as these. Like a cute pair of flats with an embroidered hot-air balloon. That would be sooo fun.

    1. They are totally dreamy! Keep an eye out for shoes from irregular choice, or other more indie brands as they sometimes do awesome brocade/lace/beaded things!

  2. Replies
    1. Of course Lauren! Your passion for shoes, and your blog/company in general, are hugely inspirational!

  3. Seriously wonderful selection of 18th century shoes plus facts and observations on them. I'm nothing short of head-over-heels in love with the beaded final pair. I've always been drawn to hot air balloon imagery, so those stunners really speak to me.

    Like yourself, I daydream (big time) of placing my first (hopefully hefty) order from Lauren's amazing site someday, too.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica, I'm glad I am not the only one creating mental wishlists at Lauren's site :)


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