Bicycle Footwear for 1898

Ladies Bicycling Boot 1898, Public Domain
Ladies Bicycling Boot 1898, Public Domain

When the second bicycle craze hit in the 1890s, so too did the controversy over what footwear was right for bicycling. A transformation was taking place in the feminine bicycle boot, with extremes going from one to the other. “Mannish young women” had become all the rage and their choice of bicycle boots created a juxtaposition against low shoe or the Parisian bicycler with her French heel, “suggestive of tight corsets, over elaborate coiffures…and befrilled gowns.” When women first took to wheeling, “instructors in the academies advised them to ride in high boots with heavy soles and low heels,” but after doing so, many women found such boots uncomfortable and some looked for a shoe instead. Experience soon taught feminine bicyclers that women’s legs came in all sorts, shapes, and sizes and what might be viewed as beautiful or practical on one woman’s foot was anything but beautiful or practical on another. Continue reading

The “Immoral Shoe”

The "Immoral" Shoe, Public Domain
The “Immoral” Shoe, Public Domain

In 1898, the Shoemakers’ Guild of Vienna held an exhibition and showcase of the newest and latest styles of boots and shoes. Among the specimens exhibited was  a pair of  “extraordinary” shoes, or rather boots, shown to the right. These boots became known as the “immoral shoe,” because they were “censured and confiscated by the Hon. Joseph Blitz…in his capacity as acting president and regulator of morals of the Vienna Shoemakers’ Guild.”

Apparently, Blitz decided the boots were “immoral” but never gave a clear explanation as to exactly why. He may have thought the heel was too suggestive or the overall height of the boot too high. In the end, it seems whether or not Blitz had the power to determine such a thing ended up being more controversial than whether the shoes were immoral or not. In fact, in removing the “immoral” shoes, Blitz achieved the opposite effect. People became so curious about the shoes it caused undue curiosity, and the public began to clamor to see the shoe. Continue reading

Boot Styles of 1870

Evening Gown from 1870, Author's Collection
Evening Gown from 1870, Author’s Collection

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. Continue reading

Shoe Styles Old and New

Shoe Worn by Catherine de Medici, Public Domain
Shoe Worn by Catherine de Medici, Public Domain

Shoes can be traced back to early man, with the simplest shoes being nothing more than a sole fastened to the foot with straps. Over time, shoes became more substantial and eventually a fashion statement for the feet. Similar to other fashions, shoe styles faded and revived with the era, and the modern shoes of the 1880s and 1890s were often based on fashions created long ago, reaching back as far as the 1400, 1500, and 1600s and using shapes and styles popular from those early times to create the new modern styles. One revived fashion in the 1880s and 1890s was ornamentation with beads, buckles, and small rosettes garnishing the footwear “with a view to making the shoes of the ‘summer girl’ more comely.” Continue reading

Men’s Boots – Hessians, Wellingtons, Bluchers, and Ankle-Jacks

George III in 1762, Courtesy of Wikipedia
George III in 1762, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Boots have been worn by men for years because they are hard-wearing and long-lasting. During medieval times, riding boots started to be used in heraldry. In the nineteenth century, because boots generally had a bootstrap (a loop at the top on either side), the saying developed “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” meaning a person could succeed because of his or her own efforts or perform a difficult task with outside help or aid. Early in the reign of George III, the close-fitting gentleman’s boot became common. Between the late 1700 and 1800s, popular boots were the Hessian, Wellington, Blucher, and ankle-jack. Most of these boots were created from “grain leather, the flesh side being left brown and the grain blackened … [and] in currying this sort of leather … it went through an ingenious process of contraction, to give it life; so that the heel of the wearer might go into it and come out … easier … [and it caught] snugly round the small of the leg, in a sort of stocking fit.” Continue reading