Find of the Month: Romantic Silk Satin Wedding or Evening Boots!

December 2, 2012

November 2012

After putting together my Romantic Era fall costume, I was feeling a little let down by the lack of square-toe flat shoes, so I consoled myself by browsing the wonderful collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have a wonderful shoe collection that spans thousands of years, including this beautiful pair of satin wedding boots from the 1850s:

Silk Satin Wedding Boots, circa 1854

Silk Satin Wedding Boots, circa 1854

Not two days later, I was browsing Etsy when I found a pair of almost the exact same boots in Jennifer Osner’s fabulous antique textile shop, TextileArtLace!

Antique Wedding Boots from TextileArtLace on Etsy

Antique Wedding Boots from TextileArtLace on Etsy

She packaged them perfectly for their wild ride through the US Postal Service, so they arrived ready for some gentle restoration and conservation work, including relieving stressed and set-in creases, re-humidifying, and taming the splitting silk.

Wedding Boots Before and After Conservation

Before and After Basic Conservation Efforts

Golly, these boots are gems! I can’t help but smile every time I see them. :)

They were made between 1835 and 1855 as you can tell by their characteristic side lacing, flat sole, and narrow squared toe. Not all white boots from this era are wedding boots (white or black shoes were considered the most socially acceptable for day wear), but the minimal wear, fine materials, and delicate craftsmanship of this pair suggest they were worn only for special occasions. Slippers were preferred footwear for evening parties and balls, so it is very likely that these boots were worn to formal daytime events and may indeed be wedding or debutant boots.

134_3044Wedding Boots, circa 1835-1850

They are muslin lined with kid leather tongues and eyelet reinforcement strips. All the eyelets are hand stitched, as is the rest of the shoe. The stitches are gorgeous and impossibly fine–so much more fine than most modern machine sewing. My eyes and fingers hurt just looking at all those itty-bitty stitches! Laced through the eyelets on each shoe is a golden silk ribbon. I cannot tell if it is their original color or not as many old fabrics darken or fade from their original tones to this sort of tan.

Stitching Details

The outside layer is weighted silk satin and is beginning to shatter on both heels, which I have done my best to slow by de-stressing the silk and trimming loose fibers so that they cannot pull. The damage, however, is a slight boon. It has revealed construction features of the shoe that would have otherwise been hidden, in this case, thin kid leather heel supports added between the silk and the inner lining.


The outer soles are of hard leather. They are straight-lasted and are bonded to the boots with a strong adhesive, not by stitches. There are seven stitches into the leather on the outside of the left boot where the silk fabric had come loose soon after they were made, but that’s all.


When new, most straight-lasted shoes are hard to tell apart, but these boots have a very visible right vs. left thanks to the laced openings, which would have been worn on the inside of the ankle (just like modern boots that have a hidden zipper). What I love most about the soles is that you can see the actual footprint of the lady that wore them, right down to her toes! These boots are very, very narrow as were most shoes from the period, but interestingly, the soles don’t fill the whole footprint. Much like in ballet slippers, when the lady put weight down on her foot, it expanded over the edge of the sole and onto the side fabric, molding the shoes to the outline of her feet. The woman who wore these beautiful boots over 150 years ago had about US size 6 narrow feet! :)


The red lines approximate the outline of her foot by following the major wear spots. The toes actually extended a little farther out than the red lines indicate, but because of the slight up-bowing of the toe, the wear was focused on the ball of the foot.

In addition to leaving her mark on the soles, the lady who owned these shoes left an even more exciting mark on the kid leather tongues of both shoes: a signature!

Mysterious Signature

Both shoes are signed, but after so many years, the ink has faded and absorbed into the leather. This is a picture of the clearest of the two signatures. I can make out the last name “Turner,” but I can’t quite read the preceding type. Any guesses?

17 Responses to “Find of the Month: Romantic Silk Satin Wedding or Evening Boots!”

  1. Rhiarti Says:

    What an amazing find! First name looks like Alys to me?

  2. DMP Says:

    What a lovely pair of boots! Thank you so much for sharing that. After many years of reading copper plate handwriting on old census scrolls, my guess for her first name would be Abigil or Abigal, both are forms of Abigail. :-)

  3. Sharon Says:

    I make it out to be “Alys”. Lovely boots!

  4. Jenny Wren Says:

    “Alys Turner”, surely.

  5. Caroline Says:

    What a beautiful find! I think the inscription may read “Mifs Turner,” as in “Miss”. I know in the 18th century, an “s” inside a word, not at the end, was written like a cursive “f”. Im not sure if that practice made it into the 19th century, but that’s something to look into.


    • Sharon Says:

      Caroline, you might be right. The practice was “out”, but the shoemaker or whoever wrote the name could well have been an older person, who had learned to write in the late 18c, when the long-S was still in use.

      • Meg Wilcox Says:

        I’m late to the party, I know, but I think the name might be “Mgt”, a contraction of “Margaret”. We’re used to seeing odd contractions of mens’ names in the 19th century, (ie; “Chas” for Charles, or “Wm” for William.), but less used to seeing women’s names treated thus.

  6. Looks like “Miss” Turner to me. I don’t know about the 1830s, but in the late 1700s, when people wrote “s” twice in a row, the first one would be written like an “f”. It looks like “Mifs”, which could be “Miss”.

  7. missemilyw Says:

    Yes, I have to agree it says Miss Turner with a long S. Amusing in the regards to them being wedding boots yet she signed them MISS not MRS. The long S in some places stayed around for quite a while, but due to it I would guess these are at the early end of your time frame.

    • Sharon Says:

      I respectfully venture to suggest that the name was written in by the shoemaker, so he would know for whom he was masking that particular pair. If they were wedding shoes, then of course when she ordered them she was still “Miss Turner” and not yet “Mrs. Whoever”. And if the shoemaker wrote the name, that would explain the use of “Miss” rather than a first name.

  8. Wow! What a find! Can I say I am jealous? :-) I have been studying side lacing boots lately and wishing I had a pair in my possession. I shall have to haunt Etsy :-)

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I see an M. Then a roundish vowel, probably an a or an e. Then the mysterious slanted letter(s), which does look like an f. Or, possibly, a gh, or yh, or gl, or yl?? Then, I see a d.

    I would guess a diminutive of Margaret. Or possibly Magda, with the final a disappeared.

    But then the advocates for a Mifs are quite convincing, and I’m just going from my years of experience deciphering doctors’ handwriting.

  10. The Choll Says:

    The medial “s” is screaming “Miss” to me as well. I was convinced of that before began to make out the last name. What a beautiful find! Much jealousy and mad props for the restoration, Liz.

  11. John Dungan Says:

    The word is “Miss.” Up until shortly after this time a double S was always written that way. That is why the Declaration of Independence appears to start, “In Congrefs…” In German the double S is written like a giant B for the same reason. I read manuscripts a lot, and whoever offered “Miss” is certainly correct. You may have read recently that many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing. in a century, people may be trying in vain to read our notes! J Dungan MD.

  12. Vivian Perez Says:

    I am a freelance writer and I am writing an article for Romantic Homes magazine about vintage Victorian wedding boots. The editor needs a real vintage victorian wedding boots collector and good styled photos of a collection. Thank you.

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