So you have the dress, the hat, and the jewelry, but no outfit is complete without shoes! What shoes should you choose to go with your period costume? You don’t want to get caught wearing a Victorian boot with a Renaissance gown or a pair of platforms with a Southern Belle dress! This brief guide provides a look into the shoe fashions of the most popular, upper-class costuming eras from the 14th to early 20th centuries. The best source for discovering period-appropriate shoes is to look at paintings from the era or originals. Humans are creative creatures, so there are many varieties and styles that were made in the period, but aren’t necessarily common, so if you find a period shoe that doesn’t quite fit the “norm,” it’s okay! Flat-soled Mary Janes have been in style since ancient times, and when in doubt, black leather or velvet flatters any foot no matter what era it’s in! High heel styles remained pretty much the same after about 1840, so if you can find a Louis or chunky stacked heel between 1cm and 4cm tall with the right toe-box shape, you’re set!
Note: The vamp of the shoe is the part that goes over the top of your toes and foot. The toe box is the part surrounding your toes, usually in a rounded, pointed, or square shape. To learn more about shoes and to understand what a toe box, vamp, etc. are, take a gander at this handy diagram:
1500-1650 – Leather and velvet chopines or decorated flats
1650-1790 – Louis heels, high vamps, buckles, fancy mules
1790-1830 – Pointed flats, flat/low-heeled ankle boots
1830-1870 – Low-heels, square toed, button ankle boots and pumps
1870-1900 – Medium-heels, high-top boots, high-vamp heels
1900-1910 – Medium-heeled boots, low-vamp heels
1650 – 1790
Tips and Tricks:
Dancing and formal shoes can be decorated with a myriad of shoe clips and rosettes to make them fancier. It’s a good way to dress up a basic black shoe, especially if you match the rosette or clip to your dress!
Stockings are just as important as the shoes you are wearing. Patterned knee or thigh-high stockings in opaque colors enhance any footwear!
For further information, check out Shoes! The History of the Heel from 1500-1910