The Book That Started It All: A Review of SHOES by Linda O’Keeffe

WordPress notified me that my stocking article was my 199th post! That makes this one the 200th post on the Pragmatic Costumer blog! It so happens that today is Friday and I had a bit of a flashback, so here’s a bit of a “Flashback Friday.” :)

I just recently published a post about the glorious array of historical stocking choices available in the modern world. When I was searching for the perfect image of shoes paired with gorgeous antique stockings, there was only one image I wanted– a picture of three prettily shod turn-of-the-century feet with equally beautiful stockings, which you may recognize:

I didn’t discover this image in one of my frequent internet research binges. In fact, I was quite afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it at all. If I knew the perfect image, but never found on the internet before, how did I know of it?


Right here, of course!

 When I was writing the piece, I was suddenly struck by the violent spasm of memory about this book:


Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers, and More by Linda O’Keeffe (1996)  is the book that started it all. I know that it existed on our bookshelf while I was in high school; however, I don’t recall when or how the book came into our house. I just know that it belonged to my mother who, while interested in the history and pictures, isn’t exactly someone I consider “obsessed” with footwear by any stretch of the imagination, despite what the back of the book might proclaim.


The book itself is simple. There are biographies of famous shoe makers and historical tidbits. There are some myths shared as though they were fact, but the book is 18 years old and books (and authors), though revered, are never infallible. The unusual shape is attractive, but stresses the spine. Mine’s held up fairly well despite all my abuses. It does flop a bit, though. If you are a shoe lover, history aficionado, or both, this book would be right at home in your library!

Even I cannot profess any love passionate love affair with shoes, but I can profess a love affair with this book. What first attracted me was the unusual size. Most books in our house were fairly stereotypical books. Their shapes were taller than it was was. This book is much wider than tall, plus it’s as thick as a cheap romance novel.


Sensual encounters with handsome men not included, though there are some pretty risque shoes in there…

Naturally, I was drawn to its oddness being quite an odd book myself. I was also drawn to the large, bright images, especially of art shoes. Before this book came along, I had never considered shoes to be artistic. Sure, I lived near Santa Fe, the “City Different” and had seen a fair lot of fanciful dressers, but shoes until that point were a merely a nuisance. I preferred to tromp around barefoot if I could, and when shoes were necessary, a single pair of boots or sneakers was about the extent of my tastes. But, I am an artist by nature. Even if i am not a snappy dresser, I appreciate objects that are beautiful and the fantastical array of shoes that extended beyond the simple concept of shoes I had developed made me supremely happy. I had no desire to wear most of them, but they were so beautiful on their own, splashed broadly over the chunky pages like candy confections and 3D modernist paintings.


Besides all the wild and wonderful modern shoes, there were pages and pages of antique shoes. My encounter with historical costume up until that point was fairly standard for a child. Pilgrims wore black dresses with wide, white paper collars cut out of paper plates in 1st grade, pioneers wore ill-fitting calicoes in colors and patterns I didn’t particularly care for, and colonial women somehow had white hair all the time. Everything else was a mystery. A lot of people my age did not have access to the internet when we were young to fill in the gaps, and when presented with what little costuming info we got, it all looked dull or hideous. The internet was still fairly young, so my only references were school textbooks (which, naturally, didn’t focus on fashion beyond satirical political cartoons of women wearing “ridiculous” clothing and stern-faced George Washington in his military uniform) and the books were had at home. I was very lucky that my parents are book and history lovers. I learned to love history quite early on, but fashion was still a realm I didn’t care for, nor really know existed. “Shoes” changed that. This is the book that introduced me to the glorious chopine– my one true shoe love and the bit of historical costume that sparked my interest in Elizabethan garb.


Who wears these things? Why? What do they wear with it? When the curriculum (and Mrs. Heffner) dropped Shakespeare into our laps full-force in high school, my questions slowly started to be answered. Suddenly, I was irrationally angry that Juliet was not wearing chopines in any stage productions (it would be years before I got to see one on a foot).

“Shoes” opened up the world in many ways, making all the historical events I had read about seem much more poignant. I learned about Chinese Lotus shoes that were tiny enough to be printed life-size in a book that fit in my palm and suddenly understood why outlawing them in 1912 was so important. The WWII era shoes made from recycled materials during wartime rationing drove home just how hard people struggled to maintain a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos. And then there were blush-inducing Victorian fetish shoes that unfolded like the centerfold of a men’s magazine:


When I moved for college, I did not take the book with me. It was still my mother’s, after all, and my sister was also particularly fond of it. So for four hard, long years, I didn’t have my beloved reference with me. That long break did prompt me to look online where I discovered even more lovely shoes that the book never mentioned. But now, the book is mine!

Linda O’Keeffe has released a newer version of this book under the same title. I haven’t looked at the newer one (Honestly, I felt like I was cheating on my “book boyfriend” just looking it up on Amazon), so I cannot attest to its quality. However, it looks as though the content is pretty much the same with a few new additions. These books are definitely not designed for folks looking to do in-depth research. It is designed as an art book that happens to have interesting factoids scattered throughout. It’s a great jumping-off point, though, and you might even be able to squeeze it into a Christmas stocking if you try hard enough!


If you can stand to part with it, that is.

FLATFORMS: The Safer Chopine

I love flirting with dangerous fashion!

They’re flats. They’re platforms. They’re flatforms and I just about died of giddiness when I found them! Everywhere I look for shoes, I find GIANT heels with platforms. Lovely as they are to look at, I can’t wear that type of shoe for very long comfortably (i.e. more than 5 minutes), but I enjoy the boost they give me. I have very flat, wide feet, so I live in ballet flats and “foot sacks:” leather tennis shoes without arch support and hardly a sole to their credit. Neither of these do much to improve my height. That is why when I found these, I almost knocked my chai tea off the desk:

This is Gee WaWa Women’s Daphne Two-Piece Flatform in Olive Suede. It’s plain, simple and fairly neutral. It doesn’t scream excitement or wild new trend, but it’s not just a new shoe trend, it’s a remake of this shoe trend:

In the 1970s, platforms were ridiculously huge, both in size and popularity. With platforms reaching heights even more lofty than today’s wedges and stilettos– upwards of 10 inches– of course everyone wondered: what could these wood and cork hooves be doing to my health?

Video: 1970s Platform Shoes

Having big chunks of dead weight on your feet may put you at a greater risk of a twisted ankle, but history is no stranger to dangerous fashions (like wasp waist corsets). Health risks all depend on how extreme you go. Just as the gentleman explains near the end of the 1970s platform shoe exposé, the severity of your platform depends not only on its height, but the heel to toe height difference. The platforms on modern flatforms vary in height, but my favorite green suede ones have a relatively small platform and almost no change in heel altitude, unlike most dress shoes. The physics of flatforms are much different than a heels, so you don’t walk like you are wearing heels. In fact you will walk like you are wearing:

Chopines! Yes! Flatforms, especially those green suede ones, remind me of Renaissance chopines. While the Italian chopines usually have a fairly steep incline, you can see that it is not arched like a modern heel. Spanish chopines are usually flatter:

Here is a side shot so you can see the difference in silhouette. The Spanish chopine is on the left and the Italian on the right:

That’s why I am so excited for this new footwear trend! A flatform shoe would much more closely mimic the actual feel and gait of a low chopine; ergo, I might be able to find a pair suitable enough to wear to Renaissance faire! It’s like solving two puzzles in one shoe: how do I gain height without a heel and where on earth can I find chopines? Solved!

I believe this discovery was well worth nearly toppling my morning cup of tea, don’t you? :)

Update: I just remembered this amazing Venetian leather shoe in the collections at the MFA! It looks almost identical to many of the modern flatforms, minus the back heel strap!

Sneak Peek at American Duchess’s Elizabethan Shoes

Shoes fit for a Duchess

Check this out! It’s so titillating to see a prototype of a shoe the Queen Elizabeth could have worn! American Duchess has plenty of great historical shoes currently for sale and in the prototype stage, but one of the most interesting shoes Lauren’s been working on is her Stratford shoe, an Elizabethan/Stuart shoe that aims to please reenactors who need shoes from about 1580-1630. It’s a wide swathe of time and a very demanding audience to please, so the shoe is being constantly revised, but oh, the suspense is killing me!

Once all the kinks and details are worked out, these exciting new shoes should accommodate even the most active, stringent reenactor’s needs! The hard part is working out how much historical accuracy should be sacrificed to meet with modern demands for comfort. After all, court fashions from any era aren’t exactly known for their practicality (and are known for rather the opposite), so trying to mold an antique aesthetic to modern principles is quite a challenge.

The shoes you just looked at belong to Queen Elizabeth and are encrusted with pearls and gems. The Stratford design is based off shoes like the ones in this portrait and you will be able to decorate them as much as you desire:

Vere Egerton, Mrs William Booth, attributed to Robert Peake

It’s beyond difficult to find extant examples of Renaissance and Baroque shoes–even in paintings– because 400 years ago, skirts were long and people literally wore their clothes to bits unless they were very rich (and the shoe would have had to survive for 400 years, too!). Here are some extant shoes from the Elizabeth and Stuart eras:

While period pieces may be hard to find even in art, one English artist routinely painted shoes into the portraits of his wealthy patrons. Robert Peake the Elder lived during the exact era the Startford shoes are recreating, 1551–1619. His portfolio is impressive, including multiple portraits of Queen Elizabeth and countless nobles, ladies and lords. Here are some of the shoes from his paintings. Curious about the rest of the outfits? Click on the images to view the full painting!

These aren’t by Robert Peake, but they show the transition from the low-heel and rounded Elizabethan toe to the crazy-squared toes and red heels of the Jacobean era:

What’s most brilliant about these portraits is that they reveal just how similar men’s and women’s shoes were during the Elizabethan period. So if you are a male reenactor and you have a small enough foot, you could certainly wear the new American Duchess Stratfords with ease (American Duchess currently makes up to a wide size 12 in ladies, which is about a 10 in men’s). The Stratford heel will be period-perfect and short, so they should be much easier to walk in than chopines…

…but I’m still dreaming of the day! :)

As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!

Also, you will definitely want to check out the historical heel website. In fact, I recommend bookmarking it!

The Secrets of a Chopine

An X-Ray of an Italian Chopine

Chopines are the epitome of the platform shoe and are somewhat mysterious. How do they get to be so huge? What are they made of? Now you can see! Thanks to the X-Ray, this chopine’s secrets are revealed: it is constructed out of two blocks of wood held together with long iron spikes. If you look closely at the bottom of the shoe, you will see another iron nail at the peak of what looks like a little tent. This is a hollow, made to help stabilize the shoe. When you turn over a peanut butter jar or a water bottle, you will see a similar concave bump. You see, if the bottom was solid, it would not only be heavier, but the shoe would wobble horribly if the bottom wasn’t perfectly level.

The trim of this shoe is probably gilded, since it glows bright white in the X-Ray (you can see that the fabric and leather are a ghostly grey) and is held on by smaller finishing nails or tacks.

Wondering what this shoe looks like on the outside? Here’s a very similar pair at the Bata Shoe Museum:

You can learn even more about Chopines, History’s Greatest Shoes (in my humble opinion!) in The History of the Heel or Recreating Shoes from 1500-1910. Itching to make your own? Check out Francis Classe’s Make Your Own Chopines tutorial!

Recreating Shoes from 1500-1910

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:

 Quick Guide

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


Make Your Own Tutorial by Francis Classe

Custom by WithNowhere2Go

Vintage by StarletsVintage


1650 – 1790

New by americanduchess

 Vintage by MetropolisNYCVintage

Vintage by kathrynebordeaux



Vintage by whitedovenycvintage

Vintage by threadechoes

Vintage by DearGoldenVintage



Period Antique by badgirlvintage

New by

Vintage by mystiquevintage



Period Antique by nickiefrye

Vintage by kenaione



Period Antique by charlesvintage

Vintage by ChicasVintage

Vintage by sandyscoollectibles

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

Shoes! History of the Heel from 1500-1910

The Cinderella Dilemma

Beginning in Roman times, but bursting into popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, platform “chopine” shoes were what the fashionable girls, especially in Spain, were wearing. These heavy chopines were made from stacking layers of cork or cotton and stitching them together with a fine silk, leather, or velvet cover. At the height of their popularity, they totted at an amazing 40cm (20 inches) or more! When they were taller than 14 or so centimeters, chopines were almost impossible to walk in and required canes or escorts to help the noblewoman walk. The horror stories of pregnant women falling and laws banning brides from falsifying their height at weddings led to a decrease in the chopine’s popularity. By the 1600s, wooden heels began to replace the chopin. Both men and women snapped up these new heels and the elevated shoe would remain popular for both sexes until the late 19th century.




18th Century Shoes were all about romance and opulence. Ladies’ shoes were delicate affairs made from silk and brocade. These whisper-thin slippers couldn’t survive much outdoor walking, so most came with matching “pattens,” which were an extra sturdy sole that tied onto the bottom of the shoe. Heeled shoes were all the rage, but since they were carved from wood and not very sturdy, most heels were between 1cm and 6cm high, though some overtly sexy fetish shoes with enormous heels have been found. The heel wasn’t located right under the heel, as most are today. They were waisted (or wasted) heels, called Louis heels after the French king, placed closer to the instep. Almost all footwear sported a trendy pointed toe and a myriad of gorgeous, ornate buckles. One of the most famous shoes from the 18th century is a delicate pink mule flying through the air in the paintings of Watteau and Fragonard.



Regency shoes (as discussed in this post as well) also had pointed toes, but instead of high heels, they were flatter, with only the smallest heel on walking boots to elevate the pedestrian out of the mud. Slippers were still the favored shoe and were fashioned of silk or cotton, often elaborately printed.




Early Victorian or Romantic shoes were still low-heeled, but all those delicate slippers wore out too easily to be economical and comfortable, so boots began to come into fashion for both men and women. Early Victorian boots were made like Regency walking boots, but in finer fabrics. Button-up boots became popular and the addition of a flexible gusset allowed for easier wearing.  Square toes replaced pointed as the preferred shape. By the American Civil War in the 1860s, heels were beginning to rise. Instead of placing the heel close to the insole, however, these new heels were located at the very back of the shoe (Dancing pumps, however, retained the inset waisted heel until the invention of the steel heel support in the 20th century) . Ironically, as shoes became more practical, ladies wished to have their feet look as thin as possible, a trend that began with Madame Pompadour in the 18th Century and would continue into the 20th Century. Some women would tape their feet smaller or even sacrifice a toe to fit into narrow boots. Narrow, tight shoes became as ridiculed as over-tightened corsets as the 19th century wore on.



In the 1880s, high-top laced boots became popular and remained so through the 1910s. Queen Victoria’s mourning for her husband created a fashion trend toward darker colors, but by the Gay Nineties, all manner of boots were made, some still study, practical leather for public walking, but many in bright silk brocades and embroidered with patterns, fluffed with ribbons, and decorated with beads. A slightly rounded-point toe and highly-fitted silhouette marks the late Victorian shoe, creating a dainty, lady-like look with a slight edge so popular with Neo-Victorian fashionistas today. Beginning in the 1870s, shoes gained a heavily sexuality of their own. A woman flashing her ankle from beneath her heavy skirts was as taboo as flashing her breasts. Super high heels became all the rage in the underground, tottering to massive heights in the fetish community, just as they do today.



The much-overlooked Edwardian shoe saw the lowering of the boot-tops back down to the ankle, and pumps became common for everyday. The Edwardians loved dainty, airy decoration as opposed to the heavy Victorian style which had reigned for nearly a century. Sturdier mass-production methods allowed heels to become slimmer. Since less fabric was needed to hold the shoe together, Mary-Jane styles with low-cut vamps and thin straps allowed patterned stockings to peep through. As the Edwardian period came to a close, skirts became less voluminous, so matching your shoes to your dress became a necessity.

All of the pictures in this article are linked to to sites detailing each section, so feel free to click and explore!

For more information about choosing the right shoes for your period costume, visit Recreating Shoes from 1500-1910