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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?