Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Why Shoe Design is a Little Bit like Rock Music

Think for a moment about rock and roll music from, say, 1958 to 1982. Everything was being done for the very first time. Everyone from Buddy Holly to Prince created something absolutely fresh and new with each song they wrote.

Most of the time since that era, rock has mined it’s own golden age to create new music that references the old songs.

Likewise, shoe design has had it’s own golden age, from around 1922 to 1968. Everything since then reprises and synthesizes those earlier designs.

Footwear was pretty much ignored for centuries in the west because, up until hemlines stated to rise in the 1920’s, you couldn’t see ladies shoes under their long skirts. Shoe design became a new art form that really took off  in the 1920s and ’30s when bare legs and sheer stockings became acceptable and shoes became a focus.

The twenties shoe style was pretty basic, not too fancy but good fun and danceable. Flappers wore a mid heel Mary Jane with a high front, like this:

1920's shoes

1920’s shoes

1930’s shoe designers took the basic shape of the Mary Jane and played with it while keeping it’s familiar outline.  The  very scandalous open toe was invented, along with the sling back and the pump. Fashion was expressed in color and surface design rather than in shape.

1930's shoes

1930’s shoes

The fun loving, wildly creative 1940’s shoe designs are like a Freddie Mercury-Elton John-David Bowie hybrid.  To my eye, the forties was a golden age for shoes.  I’m such a fan of the rounded toe and the absolute frenzy of playful design. Wartime shortages caused experimentation with new materials like cloth, straw and wood.  We see platforms, ankle strap and peep toes, like these:

1940's shoes

1940’s shoes

The fifties-the decade that gave us gave us bullet bras and tightly girdled waists- brought a severe femininity and  an exaggerated sharpness to shoes, from the stiletto heels to the pointed toe, comfort be damned. There was a parallel trend toward saddle shoes, Keds and loafers for the growing teen population.

1950's shoes

1950’s shoes

In the sixties, the mini skirt showed more leg than ever before and brought interest in boots. All that leg was balanced by a square toed, low heeled, chunky shoe.

1950's shoes

1960’s shoes

The sixties was also the last decade with completely new shoe silhouettes. Just like in rock music, further decades reinterpreted and reinvented the older styles.

Footwear in the 70’s looks back to the forties with platforms, peep toes and creative materials, as well as chunky boots.


1970’s shoes

The eighties looks back to the fifties with stiletto heels and pointed toes, this time in New Wave brights. Like the fifties, the eighties was also a Keds decade.

1980's shoes

1980’s shoes

More recent decades have given us lots of super casual shoes that match our increasingly casual lifestyles, along with creative reinterpretations of the past.

Here is a little glimpse of some vintage shoes I have in the shop right now:

vintage shoes

Left side, top to bottom: 30’s, 40’s, 80’s, 80’s

Right side, top to bottom: 50’s, 60’s, 70’s 70’s

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

Comments are closed.