Monday, October 29, 2012

Regency Tidbits - Shoes

Shoes! We love them.  Some of us see shoes as the ultimate accessory and collect them with reckless abandon. Some of us would rather wear comfortable rather than fashionable shoes. a low sensible heel anyone?)  

There is, however, something alluring about a shoe.  There is no argument that they can make or break an outfit - or the budget.  Our feet are one of our most important limbs. We depend on them and therefore we should protect them, make them look good and give them a good massage every now and then. We are lucky that we live in a time where shoes are mass produced and available to all socio-economic groups. In the Regency period, this was not always the case.
Shoes were often made to measure. It took time to make them, they were expensive and they often did not last long. Because of this there are very few examples of regency shoes in museums and private collections. The ones that do survive show us that women and men have not really changed that much in terms of the humble shoe. Often a pattern, or outline, was taken of the person’s feet. The shoemaker would keep these and use them over and over to make shoes in that person’s size and shape.

Women’s shoes

Leading into the Regency period a woman’s shoe had quite a high heel and was highly decorated with fabric. It was quite a solid shoe. Later the heel disappeared to nearly nothing and or disappeared altogether.  Today, we have shoes that are similar to regency shoes in the Ballet flat.


1800 shoes from the Northampton Central Museum

English shoe, 1796-97, from the L.A. County Museum of Art.

In the Regency this shoe would have been for dancing. It gave little protection. No wonder our heroines are constantly worried about getting their toes crushed during a dance with a clumsy gentleman.
Shoe scene from the movie - Sense and Sensibility


When in the country, a Regency woman may have worn boots or half boots for her recreational jaunts around the wilderness of her country estate or that trip into the local village for ribbons and such. Similarly, the servants would have worn sturdier shoes to complete their duties.
1812-20 cotton jean half-boot from the V&A museum collection

Men’s Shoes
The boot and the shoe were both popular with the gentlemen of this time period. Again the heel that was so popular in the Georgian period was reduced in height.  In its place more of the type of shoe we see today.

Ever more popular during the Regency was the boot. The high-top, the Wellington and the Hessian boot were all good sturdy footwear. The mark of a well-groomed gentleman was to ensure that his boots were polished to perfection. A job his valet would have spent quite a bit of his time over. A good valet would take much pride in making sure his employer was well dressed and this included his footwear.

In the present, the types of shoes available to men and women is almost overwhelming. Sports shoes, slip on shoes (such as flip-flops), flats, heels and boots give us a great deal of choice and comfort levels. Still, there is something about the perfect shoe. One that does not pinch or give you blisters. One that you can wear all day and looks amazing.  I'll let you know if I ever find that perfect pair.

For more information on how shoes were actually made in this time see this link below.



Maggi Andersen said...

Such a fascinating subject, thanks Cassandra.

Katheryn Lane said...

Thank you for such an interesting post and great pictures. It's amazing that any shoes survived at all from the Regency period.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thanks for coming by Maggi.

Cassandra Samuels said...


It is amazing that shoes have survived. Considering the conditions they would have had to go through. Thank goodness for museums.

Allison Butler said...

Hi Cassandra,

Thanks for the wonderful post:) The pictures you've shared are fabulous. How lucky we are to have so much choice in the shoes we wear these days.

Best wishes:)

Anonymous said...

Cassandra, what an excellent topic.
I love the half boots. Understandable why there are not many early examples of shoes still around.

Alison Stuart said...

Fascinating post. Thanks, Cass. As an avowed shoe lover, I can't imagine wearing shoes that had no right or left distinction.