In 1870, women’s outfits were long, flowing, and often covered their feet, but that didn’t mean women thought any less about the footwear worn under their dresses or skirts. Women wore a dizzying assortment of fashions—ballroom, evening, morning, shopping, traveling, and walking outfits—and this created a desire for an array of footwear to match such activities. Boots in 1870 were as versatile as a woman’s outfit. However, they tended towards a broad, round toe and a short heel. They were created from more than just leather too, as cloth topped boots came into vogue around this time. Additionally, although elastic boots had been all the rage in the 1840s and were still worn in the 1870s, button boots were considered the most fashionable of footwear even if it was an arduous task for women to pull them on and button them up.
Ballroom dancing was as much a rage in 1870 as elastic boots had been in the 1840s. Of course, because of that, a ballroom boot, just like a ball gown, was seen as a necessity for any women attending a ball. It was also just as difficult for a woman to select the right ballroom boot as it was for her to decided on an appropriate ball gown. The ballroom boot to the left was typical of the type of footwear that might be worn to a ball in the late 1800s. This particular pull on boot was made from “white gros grain, embroidered with white cordon.” It had a short heel, and the front of the boot was elaborately decorated with white satin knots and white cord tassels.
Another fashionable ballroom boot worn in 1870 is shown at the right. It was a buttoned shoe but gave the “appearance of shoe and silk stocking” by using various types of fabric to produce its ornate look. The shoe portion was created from white satin and the boot portion made from flesh-colored silk covered with white lace. Additionally, this boot was ornamented at the edges, the top, and across the instep with matching ribbon and ribbon decorations. Similar to the previous ballroom boot, this boot also sported a shorter heel so a woman could bear the many hours required for twirling and spinning across the ballroom floor.
One boot that buttoned up and was a popular new fashion in 1870 is shown to the left. This ladies’ boot was an “everyday boot” as it could easily be worn with a variety of outfits. It could be put on first thing in the morning, worn when visiting friends, and used when out for a walk, shopping, or to dinner. It was made from bronze kid and patent leather, and, besides the offset buttoned edge, a zigzag seam added decoration along the edge. Additionally, bows of brown satin were placed across the instep and at the top of the boot.
When it came to button boots, one female boot wear, after years of struggling to put on and take off her boots, described the elastic boot as “the comfort of my life.” As with any fashion, however, the fashion for elastic boots peaked and button boots were back in fashion by 1870. One reason button boots fell out of fashion was the difficulty women experienced when buttoning them up. Women found either they were not strong enough or their hands and fingers were not small enough to accomplish the job.
Because of such difficulties this resulted in the invention of the buttonhook (see the two different types in the illustration on the right), as well as a shoe jack or shoehorn (a curved device that helps to slide the heel of the foot into a shoe or boot). The buttonhook was generally a round steel hook that was threaded through the buttonhole, attached to the button’s shank, and pulled the button through the hole. In fact, buttonhooks were used so frequently in the late 1800s, shoe sellers began to give them away as an advertising tool, which can be noted by the advertising etched into the two buttonhooks and shoe jack illustrated on the right.
- Boot and Shoe Recorder, Vol. 33, 1898
- Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, October 1870
- Hall, Joseph Sparkes, The Book of the Feet, 1847