Resources / Centuries and Decades / 1800-1840s


Man's footwear

In the first half of the nineteenth centuries the influence of military spirit on all aspects of everyday life and a fashion, in particular, was very strong. It was the time of Napoleonic, Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars. The officers were the center of social life and a secular society. Boots, which half a century before were exclusively a prerogative of the military or only used for riding, again appeared in the center of public attention. They remained the basic man's footwear for the most part of the nineteenth century: the military and the civil, regardless of social status, were wearing the boots. Heavy and light, high and low, simple and intricate; black was the predominant, but other colors were not rare; most of the boots had high heels. Boots were named after the heroes of that time: Wellington and Napoleonic boots, as well as Suvorovskie, Hessian, Blucher boots will forever remain in the history of fashion.

The last for both shoes and boots and actually for all footwear of the nineteenth century was narrow and long, thus satisfying the desire of elegant men and women to show very small graceful leg, which from the time immemorial was a sign of noble origin. For the balls men wore dress-coats and the light boots, which allowed them to retain the spirit of a soldier and at the same time to gracefully waltz with noble ladies. Elegant man's footwear wore flats or low heel pumps from kidskin or patent black leather, with the soft leather sole, decorated with the ribbon bow or buckle at the vamp.

The new design in man's footwear, which in the 20-th century became popular in lady’s shoes, was d'Orsay – a pump with the cut out lateral parts. This type of pump - now classics in female footwear, was a creation of dandy Gabriel D'Orsay, who was a soul of the high society in Paris and London. His name was also given to other elements of suit.

The man, who left an even bigger trace in the history of fashion was the English dandy earl Brummel, refined in everything, from the pattern of thought to a handkerchief. Historians of footwear will also remember him for his extravagancy, like polishing footwear with a mixture of champagne and egg white.

White silk stockings were still obligatory element of an elegant suit, but new colors - grey, brown and black – were gradually introduced. There were woolen and cotton stockings for every day, and even striped ones for the most elegant.

Despite strong opposition to trousers in England, not only on the part of dandies, but also from other layers of the society, universities and clergy, long bridges were destined to remain. English prince regent George IV has issued the decree about carrying trousers as daily clothes. Trousers up to knees were kept as clothes for official ceremonies.

At home men wore oriental type satin or silk wraparound dressing gowns, which has replaced a more formal coat, and mules a la chinoise with narrow upturned toes. Low boots with elastic inserts on each side became a novelty in the footwear fashion in the middle of the century. In 1836 they were tailored for queen Victoria (1819-1901). Low boots were the invention of the personal shoemaker of queen J. Sparkes Hall, and in the fortieth the style went over to man's footwear. Elastic inserts on each side allowed to put them on easily, thus making this style popular among men and women for a long time.

Female footwear

Soft, graceful, fragile slippers were the basic footwear for the weaker sex in the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Greek or Roman sandals, as well as low boots with ribbon lacing, called coturns, often adorned female legs during empire style epoch.

Certainly, the most elegant woman of the beginning of a century was empress Josefine, the wife of Napoleon (1796 for 1809). The pomposity and grandiosity of the Napoleon court assumed huge expenditure for the wardrobe of the crowned spouse, and her shoes and boots were made especially for each dress.

The old story goes that once Josefine complained to the shoe master, about the holes, that have appeared on her shoes after just one day of use. The shoe master, in his turn, was horrified and reproachfully exclaimed: " But, Madam, you walked in these shoes! " Light female shoes were so thin and delicate, that wearing them it was only possible to flutter at the balls. Even for a trip in the carriage women put on special boots. Sometimes young ladies had to take two or three pairs of such ballet slippers, because the first several dances would worn the slippers out, making it necessary to change them to continue the ball. In Russia such shoes were known as "sterljadki" (herrings).

Walking shoes were made from more durable fabrics; leather inserts appeared on the vamp and in the heel of the shoe. Front lacing velvet booties with fur lining were worn over the shoes in cold weather. Brocade and satin booties were decorated with floral embroidery, which was characteristic of the beginning of the 19-th century. Elegant pumps and slippers were often made at home from velvet, satin or brocade in shades of pink, celestial-blue, lavenders, yellow, green, grey and yellowy-brown. They were often decorated with bows, sequins, embroidered with pearls and beads.

The influence of Queen Victoria on fashion was international. The Victorian epoch glorified bourgeois tastes: thrift and modesty became the dominant virtues. It was not accepted to call things by their proper names therefore female legs soon began to name "extremities" because "legs" - sounded indecently. Shoes ware carefully hid under the frills of petticoats and folds of the crinoline. Inaccessibility, contrary to expectations of the moralists, provoked even bigger sensuality, and the Victorian high boot tightly laced up or buttoned around the leg, peeping out from under the waving crinoline, will for a long time become a subject of erotic fantasies of the stronger sex.

Stockings were, basically of white color and made silk, for elegant clothes, frequently decorated with embroidery. Net stockings were frequently worn over the flesh-colored cashmere ones

Fashion trends in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The machine-made production was a remarkable achievement of the American industry in the second half of the nineteenth century, resulting in availability of huge quantity of relatively good footwear. Nevertheless, English footwear made to order with a fine dressed leather, remained the best. Just as English wool in clothes, these made to order shoes, became the standard of quality.

Introduction of front lacing half boots with the closed instep, which were named balmoral, was an important event in footwear fashion of the second half of the 19th century. This type of footwear was called after the name of the castle Balmoral, built by the spouse of Queen Victoria Prince Albert (1819-1861) approximately in 1853. The name of the castle - a royal residence in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, from now on became equivalent to anything new and elegant.

From the middle of century any boots with front lacing on the instep, started to be called Oxfords. Black or yellowy-brown leather boots were worn in winter, and oxfords - in summer. Later oxfords started to be worn in winter accompanied with leggings or gaiters. Black patent pump remained to the choice for the elegant evening dress.

At home men wore mules made of color Morocco leather, while ladies preferred mules of fabric or the softest leather. Throughout nearly the whole nineteenth century one last served to manufacture footwear on the right and left legs. Such soles were called straight.