Monday, July 11, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 2: 1600's - 1800's


What’s going on?  War.  Enlightenment.  War.  Religion.  Religious wars.  Beheading.  More war.  This is the century that boasted such notorious scum as Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, and the beginning of French high fashion with Louis XIV.

Yes, yes, you like my shoes?
I love my sexy red heels.
What were they wearing?  As far as fashion is concerned, the 17th century was a particularly dandy time, especially if you were French and middle class.  French fashion became all the rage and, for the first time in history, the middle class had the resources available to copy the fashions of the nobility, which meant two things:  1) there was a constant race to get the best of the best and outdo your neighbor, and 2) with the exception of the working and lower classes, clothes were no longer a distinguishing marker of socioeconomic status. 

The rigidity of fashion from the previous century tamed, and clothing became a bit looser and easier to wear, though ostentation was still quite evident and, as some historians have noted, feminized.  The middle of the century ushered in the age of men’s petticoat breeches, pants often as wide as skirts, flounced from underneath with petticoats, and decorated with ribbons.  French fashion was quite frivolous – frilly laces and bows, collars made from actual flowers, satins, silks, and other expensive, hard to get materials, and an apparent disregard for money.  Yes, during the 17th century, men’s fashion was fashion as we know it today – extreme, valued, and available to those who could afford it.

Women’s fashion during this century took almost half the century to evolve.  Gowns and stays remained quite rigid until about 1650, when gowns became lighter and softer, though the tight bodices continued throughout the century. 

Charles I and his pimpin'
cane and riding boots.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Thanks to Charles I of England, whose childhood bouts with rickets required that he wear boots for support, boots became all the fashion rage with men.  But when petticoat breeches came into style, men found that they needed shoes that showed off rather than hid their calves.  Louis XIV had a particular obsession with a red heel and white stockings, and these elegant shoes became the mode. 

Women's Red Heel from 1600s
By about 1660, women were so fed up with their fashion being behind men’s that they began to take matters into their own hands…and feet.  Taking into account Louis XIV’s affinity for the red heel, women began crafting similar but different version of that fashion.  They raised the heel to a daring height of six inches and, instead of using rosettes and ribbons as decoration as the men were, they added intricate beading and lace.  Also during this time, small feet for women were en vogue, so, naturally, women decided the best course of action would be to bind their feet with their own hair and lace their shoes so tightly that they sometimes fainted.


Marie Antoinette a la rose
What’s going on?  American colonies gain their independence, and Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, become the king and queens of pop culture.  Europe, for the time being, was content to sit back and relax.  France was the center of Europe’s hiatus from conquering, and encouraged the middle and upper classes to instead go play and frolic and flirt. 

Marie Antoinette's hair,
accompanied by Marie Antoinette.
What were they wearing?  Perhaps the best description for fashion in the 1700s is this:  Rococo and a bottle of…champagne.  Characterized by grace, opulence, and lightness, Rococo style was a combination of the Italian baroque (barocco) and the French rocaille (shell), hence the 18th century’s focus on curves and decoration.  Although the frivolity of fashion recessed slightly during the end of the preceding century, Louis and Marie brought it back in epic proportions.  Marie Antoinette is known for her flippant statement, “Let them eat cake!” regarding the plight of the working and lower classes, who were none so amused with the absolute lack of regard this power couple had for France’s revenue.  Women during this century kicked fashion into high gear – and high fashion.  Wide dresses were widened, tall hair was made taller, high heels were higher; the more extreme the better.  Men, too, prescribed to this ideology, wearing long, full coats set about with ruffles and lace, form-fitting breeches, and any amount of bedazzling jewelry.  Additionally, both sexes of this time never went anywhere of import without their piece de resistance accessory:  the 17th century wig.  Women’s hair grew so out of control in this time that it took Louis and Marie’s beheading to bring it back to manageable proportions.  Women went so far as to construct maritime and garden scenes in their hair, or sometimes even decorated it with live birds in birdcages.  Perhaps the height hair was simply trying to stay in proportion with the width of the dress, which grew to an astounding six feet during this century.  Practically speaking, this meant that women couldn’t sit in chairs with arms or walk two-by-two down a corridor.  Although history cites the French Revolution as the lower classes rebelling against excessiveness in a time when so many were financially needy, perhaps the description could be broadened to the lower classes becoming so outraged with absolutely ridiculous levels to which the upper echelons were taking fashion.  It is a fact that, after the French Revolution, fashion calmed considerably.   

18th-century silk, embroidered shoes.
What were they wearing on their feet?  Popularly referred to in America as “pilgrim’s shoes,” men in the 17th century sported black, medium-heeled, pointed shoes with a big square buckle.  Be careful not to mistake this seemingly tamer take on men’s shoes for any sort of toning down, however; far from it.  Black was once again the new black, and these spiffy shoes supported the other, dandier accessories:  snuffboxes, handkerchiefs, and muffs.  Women’s shoes, on the other hand, continued to grow in opulence.  Lavished high heels with buckles and braids, made from silk and painted leather graced the feet of the upper and middle classes.  This is arguably the original shoe fetish century, with Marie Antoinette herself boasting 500 pairs.


What’s going on?  What isn’t going on is more the question.  In Europe, the 19th century gives us Napoleon Bonaparte, the little, conquering man, Europe’s scramble for Africa and the colonization of a continent, King Leopold’s Congo, the madness of George III of England, and the ushering in of the Victorian era.  In America, there’s the gold rush, the Civil War, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s a rich and fodderful century. 

"Portrait of a Woman," Janos Donat, 1810
What were they wearing?  For a small time, women got a temporary reprieve from the restricting corsets they had been wearing for the past two centuries.  Dresses with an almost ethereal and romantic quality were in style, until about the 1850s when those in power decided that it was once again time to make women slim via unbreathable fashions.  Once again waists were cinched and skirts were wide, many thanks to the Victorian era’s infamous prudence, which undoubtedly noted too much sexual potential in the arm-bearing, loose-fitting Empire Style of the early part of the century.

After the French Revolution, men’s clothing took a turn for the boring.  No more opulence or bedazzling, no.  Instead, men wore neutral colors in simple fabrics.  But, with a nod to the past century’s luxury, men donned top hats and carried canes as accessories.  The 1800’s marked a stalemate in men’s fashion and the ushering in of a new trend, in which men’s fashion rarely changed.  True, at the very end of the 1800’s fashion introduced the tailcoat as eveningwear, but other than that, things stayed remarkably one note. 

Victorian women compare waist sizes and gawk at the sad girl who forgot to lace her corset tighter.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Shoes followed suit as far as women’s style was concerned at the beginning of the 19th century; no more heels, no more binding feet with hair, no more forcing toes into points.  Enter the age of the slipper, made from soft materials and offered in soft, pastel colors, reflecting Europe’s obsession with the ballet.  But once Victorian fashion took control, slippers only made an appearance as a dress slipper, which meant only people with money had cause to wear it. Because Victorian fashion wasn’t actually as concerned with fashion so much as it was concerned with Puritanical existence, shoes were no longer of any importance.  Women’s shoes were now only made in three styles:  the aforementioned dress slipper, the clog, and the boot, a hard, tight-fitting leather monstrosity, apparently suitable for everyday use but a bitch to break in. 

Those are smart shoes, boy.  They'll last you into the 21st century.

As with men’s fashion in this century, men’s shoes, too, hit a stalemate.  They were black and practical with very little changing as far as styles and popularity.  What we now think of today as a men’s dress shoe began in the 19th century and, one may note, hasn’t had many alterations. 

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