Monday, July 18, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 3: 1900-1910


Clifford Barrymore Cartoon
of Teddy Roosevelt with his
freed bear.

What’s going on?  The 1900s saw the development of many a clever invention, including the Model T Ford, the vacuum, Einstein’s theory of relativity, crayons, popsicles, the FBI, baseball, and the health corset.  Yes, it was a golden age for thought!  Unless you were in Russia where free thought (among a montage of other things) was rather frowned upon outside the aristocracy, hence the Russian Revolution.

What were they wearing?  I’m sure you’re curious about the aforementioned health corset.  Well, health professionals – who, it is worth mentioning, are predominantly men – finally got wise to the idea that tight-lace corseting may be damaging to internal organs that spent hours up hours, day after day cinched in a corset and eventually would move to accommodate the changing shape of the body.  But, these health professionals did as health professionals still do and bended to the ways of fashion.  Doctors encouraged women to wear a health or s-curve corset, which actively forced the hips back and the bust forward as a way of making the waist appear smaller.  While this corset did cinch the waist, it was not tight-laced, the lacing being replaced with the ever easy to use hook and eye clips.  But, even if this corset did take some of the pressure off of women’s internal organs, any positive effects were counterbalanced by the horrendous things the health corset did to women’s posture.  Additionally, the health corset created a horrible case of uni-boob, though this is considerably less health adverse. On top of these newfangled health corsets, women wore long, heavy trumpet skirts, big, feathered, hats, and, oh, yeah, the high-necked lacy collars came back! 

You look dazzling, my dear.
Oh, no, wait.  That's me!
Ladies, I’m sure you’ve had the tooth-and-nail experience of trying to get your man in a tux.  “It’s itchy,” he says.  “I can’t breathe with a tie,” he whines, and retreats to his go-to torn pair of sweats.  Well, if you’re the kind of gal who likes a man in a tux, the 1900s might be for you (so consider that next time you time travel).  Just as hard as it can be for you to get your man into a tux, the women of this era likely struggled equally as hard to get theirs out of one.  Tuxedos were worn for all occasions and during all seasons, because, honey, coming off the heels of America’s Industrial Revolution, class was in.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Well, as previously mentioned, men’s shoes didn’t change much.  However, brown and grey were added to the color repertoire. 

I'll take the ones with kitten heels.
Women, too, had little option for footwear because people were still stuck in the Victorian mindset that any flesh that could be seen was sinful, so women covered up their legs with floor-length skirts.  Thus, their shoes were fairly plain and similar to the ones from the late 1800s.  The wealthy, however, had an upgrade in dress shoes.  Silky slippers were out and pointy-toed, heeled shoes custom made to match an evening gown were all the rage.


What’s going on?  Well, there was this little thing known as World War I (aka the war to end all wars) that had a firm hand in determining the fate of the…world in many aspects, including stylistically.  Because men were off fighting the good fight – more simply put, smacking down the Germans – middle and upper class women had to step out of their normal housewife and mother positions and get their butts to work!  Of course, working class women had been doing this long before the upper echelons had, yet nobody paid gave this fact much note because, well to put it bluntly, because they were poor.  (We’ll see this theme repeated in about thirty years.)

What were they wearing?  Men between the ages of 18 and 45 pretty much got to wear their service uniforms.  For those younger or older, or those who were sent home or managed to buy their ways out of the war, the dandy look was extremely fashionable.  Wide pants, high collars, bow ties, and bowler hats, straw, or boater hats (depending on the level of elegance), and either a three button cut away frock or a double-breasted straight lined jacket signified one’s status as a dandy and thusly a gentleman. 

Women, many of whom were sent into the workforce for the first time, could, for the first time since the Middle Ages, buy a dress that didn’t require a corset!  Ah, a sweet, full breath of air!  In actuality, the corsets were more or less moved to around the knees in a popular fashion called the hobble skirt that boasted such tightness around that women often couldn’t walk (not that they would want to with their tiny shoes).  But, nevertheless, in the absence of corsets fastened around their waists, women could sit, digest, and carry children without damage to their internal organs or fetuses.  Additionally, fabric became lighter, the colors became brighter, and, generally speaking, the dresses were looser.  It was 
 also during this time that fashion finally had a woman designer – the infamous Gabrielle Chanel opened up shop in response to the majority of male shop owners/designers being sent off to wear.  Even in her early days, Chanel’s fashions were practical but expensive, and a big hit with wealthier clients.  Also a big hit with the wealthy was fur; everybody wanted fur.  Fur: don’t leave home without it. 

 From left to right: "Portrait of a Woman with Fur Coat;" women lounging in Chanel chemise gowns, from Le Petit de la Mode;
Harem pants and an umbrella, for that exotic Eastern look when you get caught in the rain!

It is during this era that we begin to see a large shift in fashion trends: men are confined to one or two styles while women have a large number of options.  They could choose from Chanel’s chemise dresses, sheaths, sacks, tunics, and Harem trousers, just to name a few.   This trend continues throughout the rest of the century.

"Four Little Dudes" with eight little spats.
What were they wearing on their feet?  For men, patent leather shoes – you know, the same-old, same-old – were still popular, but only for formal events.  Spats were the rage for the regular day-to-day, and, in 1917, sneakers (Keds) made their debut. Women, on the other hand, had by necessity finally stopped obsessing over small, corseted waists as a sign of wealth and good breeding, so appropriately focused their attention to making their feet tiny.  As a sign of wealth and good breeding.  The habit of wearing shoes one size too small was a popular custom amongst both men and women, but women would go to such lengths as to cut their pinky toes to make their feet as narrow as possible.  For women, boots were still popular for day-to-day activities, and “Louis” heels – short-heeled, embellished shoes inspired by Louis XVI – were all the rage by night.

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