The Evolution Of The Seductive Shoe

Fashion is ephemeral, constantly throwing new styles, shapes and colors at us as it mirrors societal changes. Historically, Fashion turned what used to be a necessity into an artistic expression of the times, cultural norms, sensibilities, sexuality and morals. Fashion ushered in a world where novelty, rapid changes in taste, and societal trends attributed a new significance to clothes and footwear.

As early as the mid 14th century, Fashion had become a system of rules by which people could express their disapproval through ridicule, criticism and ostracism. Fashion was driven and associated to extravagance and wealth.

Louis XVI’s brother, Count d’Artois, was known to order 365 pairs of shoes per year, revealing him to be far more of a shoe hound than Marie Antoinette ever was. Although in all fairness, it should be pointed out that in mid century France, interiors, even in palaces, were very dirty, muddy and often there was animal excrement about. For those who could afford to, shoes were disposable and replaced on a daily basis.

The Turning Point For Shoes

French Silk Damask Shoe with buckle c. 1760-65

Until the 14th century, shoes for men and women were similarly fashioned, sporting flat soles and almond shaped toes. With the shortening and tightening of clothing, in the mid 14th century, for both men and women, shoes came into full view for the first time and this caused ripples throughout all of society. Shoes had become as important as a hat, and needed to be “au courant,” lest one wanted to be the brunt of ridicule.

French Silk Damask shoes with fold-over tongue, trimmed with silver lace c. 1720-30

This was a turning point for shoes, when they went from being a necessity to becoming a fashion statement and an indicator of societal status, which still holds true to this day. The infamous first lady, Imelda Marcos, was heavily criticized for her collection of fancy footwear, amounting to 3000 pairs of shoes. She was a hard contender to beat. Some quick calculations clearly demonstrate that with 3000 pairs of shoes, to her name, Imelda Marcos could not have worn the same pair of shoes more than once, for a period amounting to eight years.

Platforms, pumps, stiletto-heeled sandals or ballerina flats, shoe trends come and go and return. An ongoing debate, has been raging since the late 1800’s, with regards to high heels, posture and related injuries, and pointed toes were also put into question. Health concerns influenced the mainstream and by 1904 the masculinization of women’s footwear was well underway. These concerns resurfaced again decades later, which gave birth to Dr. Scholl and Birckenstock shoe Brands.

Very few fashion items have been regarded with as much passion as shoes. In 1939 the editor in chief of American Vogue pled with the Fashion Guild to stop the promotion of the open-toed, open-backed shoe. She represented a large number of consumers, who at the time, preferred good old fashioned closed shoes. The real issue with open-toed shoes was that women’s stockings, at the time, had toe and heel reinforcements, a small detail, which nevertheless was considered in bad taste, and going bare legged was entirely out of the question. Stockings without reinforced toes and heels hit the market in 1940 and women have not looked back since. By the 1990’s, most women had opted for comfort and freedom and chose to leave their legs bare.

New heel styles were introduced by the early 20th century. Oxford pumps and sandals dominated shoe fashion in the 1930’s. Toe baring sandals were first introduced in the late 1920’s, as beachwear. Platform shoes, which made their first appearance in the late 1930’s, were originally classified as beachwear. Platforms saw periodical comebacks over the decades as these were reinterpreted by designers.

If 19th century rules of fashion, whereby popularity was the ruler by which a design’s success was measured, were applied in today’s market, then it would be correct to say that the biggest selling shoe style of the past 80 years has been the rubber soled trainer, which went on to take many shapes and styles. The personal fitness rage, which took over the 1980’s, ushered in some creative takes on sports footwear, including sneakers with stiletto heels.

Boots And Wartime Restrictions

Until the late 1780’s women only wore boots for horse riding, at some point they began wearing boots for walking as well and so it was that the fashion for boots gained popularity. Boots became the chosen footwear for bicycling and walking until skirt hems rose, and the shafts of boots grew taller. Unfortunately wartime saw a demand on leather required for military use and as a result, in 1917, boot height was restricted to eight inches in England.

Boots have come a long way since, and boot lovers can now choose boots for functional purposes, such as work boots, motorcycle boots and climbing boots, or simply choose to wear boots as a fashion or sexual statement.

American Nylon Stockings Boots with Plexiglass heels – 1967-

Shoes And Sexuality

“Shoes figure prominently in stories and fairytales, including Cinderella (a highly sexualized tale in it’s more original versions), Puss ‘n’ Boots, Seven League Boots, The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, and The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, as well a more contemporary tales. Shoes and our desire for them are the objects of art, satire, museum exhibitions, [and] films. And they are the objects of a growing number of histories, catalogs, essays, and tributes…As all of this attention suggests, what we wear on our feet is far from a matter of indifference or utilitarianism” 

It has been reported that that 80% of shoes are bought for purposes of sexual attraction.

Since the mid 14th century, fashion has faithfully continued to be influenced by popular culture. Designers have since skillfully broken the boundaries of gender roles and identities in clothing and footwear. Take for example these Oxford Pump knock offs for men.

The Future Of Shoe Design

We’ve seen futuristic shoe design such as the self-lacing Nike or gravity defying moonwalker boots, and maybe these are an indication of what to expect in the future of shoe design. However if we’re to use the last 700 years, in the history of shoe design, as any indication of what to expect in the future, then it is safe to say that shoe design will continue to take inspiration from the past, and add a new twist or some extras. here and there. There is rarely a style that is completely new. Take for example these black leather colonial pumps, with silver buckles, by John Fluvog c. 1984.

These were clearly influenced by colonial Fashion, which in turn was influenced by earlier trends dating as far back as the 14th century France, flat with exaggerated pointy toes.

These leather pumps by John Fluvog were clearly inspired by Colonial fashion, which in turn had found inspiration in earlier designs, as far back as 1795, as can be clearly noted in the long pointed toes and flat heels. Buckles were also trendy for men’s shoes as far back as 1760 France.

The consensus is that the future of shoe design will be centered around sports and comfort. I am willing to wager that shoes who’s sole purpose is seduction, even at the price of comfort, will continue to be coveted and desired by both men and women, far into the distant future.

SOURCES

  • The Seductive Shoe by Jonathan Walford
  • Psychology Today

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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