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

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.

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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.

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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! :)

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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?

Flower Pots and Romanticism: The 10 Second Poke Bonnet

Hats!

“Portrait of a Woman Seated Beneath a Tree” by Merry Joseph Blondel, 1830

I love hats! The right hat can complete an outfit in a way no other accessory can. For women in particular, hats, caps, bonnets, and veils were indispensable until about 1980 (in the USA, that is. Many countries still wear hats much more frequently). Today, hats have became more ceremonial– like wearing a lux hat to the horse races— or a quirky fashion choice.

If you are costuming historically, an excellent hat or similar topper is one of the most useful, striking additions to a wardrobe, especially at outdoor events. Besides looking pretty, hats with brims provide precious shade to keep ivory complexions from darkening and smooth decolletage from becoming dappled in the harsh sun! No respectable woman went out during the day without some sort of covering on her head for both protection and modesty. Besides their practical applications, hats look fantastic and even the simplest hat can take an outfit to the next level.

Detail from “Voila les Anglais!” Illustration, March 1817

Lately, the romantic period between 1820 and 1840 has been piquing my interest. The highlight of these two lost decades has got to be the wild hairdos like these…

…which required equally large hats to fit around them:

Bonnet, circa 1830

Bonnet, circa 1815-1820

Bonnet, circa 1830

Hat, circa 1825

But the hat that inspired me that most is this early 1830s beauty:

Bonnet, circa 1830-1832

When I was at the local thrift shop, I ventured back into the craft supply section where a selection of florist baskets caught my eye. One particular type– called a hat basket, of course– looks just like a inverted hat. No doubt you’ve seen one before, or even own a few. They often come wrapped around poinsettia plants at Christmas and are lined with plastic.

The straw flowerpot cover I found caught my eye because it’s bottom/top was intricately woven, much like this 1820s straw bonnet:

Bonnet, circa 1820-30

In the same dusty corner was a bag full of fabric scraps, including over 8 yards of gorgeous antique silk ribbon! The total cost for the woven cover and ribbon? Only $1.15 (and that’s after tax).

So I went home and put on one of my many eBay dresses (which reminds me of this dress from the Tasha Tudor collection) and did my hair in a very simplistic mock-up of an 1820s hairstyle:

The key element of a Romantic-period hairstyle is height, so I mounded my hair on top of my head as best as my meager hair talents would allow.

No amount of curling would get my front bangs to poof correctly, otherwise a period-appropriate hairstyle would have little curly swags at the front rather than smooth wings (a later 1840s-50s style). However, I was going to cover it with the hat anyhow, so no one was going to see it anyway (she said coyly, attempting to justify herself).

That  horror over and done, the next steps proceeded with relative ease. In fact, all this was done in under 20 seconds sans mirror and in 15mph wind.

Materials:
1 woven flower pot cover

2-3 yards of wide ribbon

Step one:
Take woven flower pot cover and place it over your bun and snugly around your head.

Step 2:
Put the ribbon over the crown (top) of the basket and tie the ribbon in a bow under your chin.

DONE!

Really. That’s it.
It’s an instant poke bonnet, just add your face!

I had some leftover paper flowers from the 1850s headdress project, so I tucked a nosegay under ribbon for a little extra pizzazz.

Poke bonnets got their name from the need to tuck or poke the hair back up inside of them to properly frame the face. They were popular for much of the 19th century until about 1870 when the fashion began to die out except if you lived out in the country where bonnets offered protection from the harsh sun and wind.

“Hey, Minnie! I’ve doing a photoshoot of my flower pot hat. Do you have any props I can use?”
“Well….I have this giant ball of wool yarn…”

So now that you’ve used up the straw flower pot cover, what can you do with the leftover naked flower pot? The answer is: MAKE MORE HATS!

Silk Poke Bonnet, circa 1835-1845

The 19th century not your cup of tea? Try this 18th century hat tutorial at the Thread-Headed Snippet which is equally cheap and has much more entertaining commentary than I could muster:

“So you want a hat but you have the will power of a sloth and the self-respect of a Kardashian…”

HAPPY HATTING!

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!