Shoes, Bags, and Tiaras (19 of 26)
Shoes, Bags, and Tiaras by V&A Publishing. Copyright 2009 by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Shoes: The Wind of Change – In Full Swing 1924-27
[Fashion plate from The Drapers’ Organiser; British, February 1925. The women’s afternoon and evening gowns are worn with T-bar shoes (right) and court shoes (left). National Art Library. PP.9.T]
[Women’s evening shoes. Bottom (a): Leather T-bar shoe decorated with painted motifs; Monaco, c.1925. By A. Rambaldi.. V&A: T.313–1975, Middle (b): Silk satin court shoe with a hand-painted bird motif and beaded ornament; British, 1922. Worn with a matching dress and headband. Made by Stead & Simpson Ltd; the painting was executed by the Misses Parkin. V&A: T.737B–1974, Top (c): Velvet shoe with silk satin covered heel and diamanté ornament on the bar-strap; British, c.1930. Made by Rayne. V&A: T.145:1-1997.]
The First World War brought about new attitudes towards dress. Although women had already begun to rebel against unhygienic and restrictive clothing, war conditions were a catalyst for swifter change. By 1916 a significant number of women were participating in the war effort, undertaking a wide range of duties from driving ambulances to replacing male labour in the factories. The work demanded functional, hardwearing and comfortable footwear. Pictures of elegant and stylish shoes still graced the pages of fashion magazines, but as the war continued it was the lower-heeled and sturdier models which filled the advertising spaces. Shoe manufacturers such as Delta, Lotus and Manfield & Sons increasingly emphasised the ‘dependable quality’, ‘wear’, ‘comfort’ and ‘splendid service’ of their products rather than their chic appeal or decorative qualities.
As the war progressed, extravagance in dress was generally viewed as unpatriotic and even distasteful. Fashion magazines still encouraged women to look stylish to help keep up morale, but they were careful to distinguish between what they portrayed as vanity and innate self-respect. Shoes were described as ‘quiet but distinctive’, and black remained a dominant colour as so many women were in mourning.
The end of the war brought gloomy prospects for the British shoe industry. Many of its skilled workers had been lost, the economy was in recession, and America had taken a lead in the manufacture of machine-made footwear. Shoe styles altered very little and some companies re-advertised pre-1914 models under different names in an attempt to dispose of old stock. Although the situation was slow to improve, signs of change had appeared by 1920. Hemlines had risen during the years of the war and the new simpler cut of women’s clothes gave shoes an even greater prominence. Fashion magazines stressed the importance of smart footwear and pointed out that the wrong shoes could spoil the effect of an outfit. The short-fronted toe became fashionable as it made the foot look smaller, T-bars were introduced and heels increased in height. Chequered designs and appliqué trimmings adorned many shoes, and black was often combined with white or grey in styles worn for half-mourning. There was also a huge range of ornaments to choose from, and iridescent bead insects, gauze butterflies and ornate paste buckles could transform an ordinary shoe into something new and distinctive:
Time was, not so long ago, when women’s shoes were for the most part utilitarian, the majority of them boasting but a demure black bow, or plain steel buckle of modest dimensions. Of late years, however, with the increasing variety of material and design in footwear, has come also the greater prominence of the buckle or ornament, and to-day these exist in a profusion greater than ever before (The Footwear Organiser, January 1920).
By October 1921 several palatial shoe shops had opened in the West End (London’s fashionable shopping district), and the introduction of stylish new designs increased demand for British footwear abroad. High-heeled shoes with cut-away straps and elongated toes emphasised the elegance of a shapely ankle, and small decorative buckles known as ‘fastenettes’ provided a chic alternative to the button side. The increasing popularity of novelty designs also infused many styles with a sense of fun. Celluloid heels were produced in tortoise-shell, mother-of-pearl and clouded gold effects, and some were even hand-painted with brightly coloured figures, flowers and birds.
As hemlines rose towards the knee, shoes and stockings became focal points of fashion (seen in the fashion plate above). In March 1926 British Vogue announced:
...shoes are such a perpetually intrusive and interesting subject in this mode that spot-lights the feet and legs that there is always more to be said. For the tailored suit or dress there is the Oxford with its high Cuban heel; for the more formal costume there is still the Oxford, this time with a high spike heel. For those whose ankles are not impeccable there is the less trying high-cut pump or the even more flattering one-strap shoe.
New ranges of footwear captivated the public eye and designs changed radically from one season to the next. Although the bar shoe prevailed, ‘low-cut’ Oxfords (a style of shoe first popular with men of a leather lace up with three or four holes and a one inch heel, best for walking) with slender, tapering heels became increasingly fashionable for day as well as evening wear. Daring colour combinations and bold decoration also created new and striking effects, particularly when worn for dancing. Colourful beadwork complemented the beaded fringes on evening dresses, and gold kid ornamented with distinctive motifs (see the above 3 styles) reflected the vogue for ‘Oriental’ designs. Some shoes were even hand-painted to match the gown such as the brown pair in the middle and several footwear companies offered a dyeing service.