humorpop culture
The History of Shoes: Goody Twos And Otherwise
by Marjorie Dorfman

page 2

two tone golf shoeThe 1920s were a tumultuous period in American history. Flappers, prohibition, suffrage and early female liberation from Victorian restrictions ran amuck and collided with everything else. Nothing was as before and like the old Cole Porter song, Anything Goes, anything went. The shoe became as risqué an accessory as the women of the era.

The 1930s brought a time of widespread wishing for ways out of the Great Depression. Jiminy Cricket’s ideology reigned supreme, though stars to wish upon did not shine as often or as brightly as they would in later years. This longing and deprivation was harshly juxtaposed to the world of sex, wealth and glamour that flashed so boldly across the silver screen and into the mainstream consciousness. Escape came in the celluloid antics of the Marx Brothers, the light, dancing feet of Fred Astaire, and the sultry sensuality of Greta Garbo when she didn’t "vant to be alone" and daringly bra-less Jean Harlow. It was an age of experiment for shoe designers who introduced the platform shoe in the late 1930s. Created by Salvatore Ferragamo and André Perugia, these were made from wood, cork and other materials.

square high heel Many shoes of the period were cut higher, making them look "chubbier". Evening footwear retained a "sandal" character, revealing open toes and sheer, silk hose. Men wore mostly spectator loafers. The late 1930s saw an end to Art Deco and its replacement by a surrealist movement in which shocking colors and everything exotic became the rage. All would change in just a few years when the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the advent of World War II made America think of everything but shoes.

By 1940, the average woman owned five pairs of shoes. They became less important in the face of war and fascism. Even Hollywood did its part, creating films that boosted morale and the war effort. Designers were forced to be very clever and inventive, as materials, particularly leather and rubber were slated for military use only. Every imaginable material was tried, but the use of reptile skins and mesh proved to be the most successful. Cork and wood were also used regularly, particularly in the making of the popular "Wedgies." Women everywhere proved to be equally creative when it came to shoe trimmings, using household items such as cellophane and pipe cleaners to decorate their shoes for special occasions.

During the war everything was recycled. US rationing rules limited the height of shoe heels to one inch and allowed for only six color choices. Stockings were not available and many magazines of the day offered tips on how to paint legs with back seams using make-up. This was not so much fun and the practice soon gave way to not-so-sexy but much easier ankle socks. The next change in shoe design would occur with the advent of Christian Dior, who in 1947 introduced a new look in dress and footwear design, which reflected a return to classic femininity.

The post-war optimism of the 1950s brought a surge of consumerism and a return of embellishments to both clothing and footwear. Now shoes were made in many shapes and from many materials. The pump was the basic shoe, but toes were often cut into enticing Vs and the heels were molded into a myriad of forms. No color was considered a "no-no" and now the American woman had a pair of shoes to match every outfit she owned. Along with the unforgettable "poodle skirts" and ponytails, saddle shoes (bucks), penny loafers and colored sneakers were all the rage with teenagers. (Who could ever forget Pat Boone’s famous white bucks? Maybe Pat Boone, but surely no one who lived through this era.) Sandals, ballet slippers and other casual footwear were very fashionable, especially after Audrey Hepburn wore them in Sabrina and other memorable films of the period.

platform shoesFashion turned inside out and fell on its head during the topsy-turvy 1960s. The gentility and class of Jackie Kennedy’s Chanel suits soon gave way to a cultural and social revolution, marked by many innovations including outrageous self-expression. Experimental fashion became the cat’s meow; two primary examples being geometric prints and the famous mini-skirt of Mary Quant. Shoes became a part of it all, created in every size, shape texture, color and style imaginable. Platforms, go-go boots, (especially famous after Nancy Sinatra’s hit, "These Boots Were Made For Walking"), crazy sandals and new materials such as vinyl and plastic, were heavily in demand. This age of experimentation was a decade where, at least as far as shoes were concerned, the clunkier and the uglier the better. With the advent of the 1970s, sailed a new fashion wave, which would make the 60s look tame and innocuous in retrospect.

The new epoch brought the concept of dressing to the level of shock. Punk movements took even that idea for a wild and impetuous ride. Celebrities could afford and paraded around town with the outrageous platform shoes that were the creative brainchildren of the most popular designers of the day. These shoes often reached outrageous heights of seven and even eight inches; little mountains, covered with rhinestones, sequins and other adornments. Cultural icons, like Wonder Woman, created a lust for interesting boots (made all the more so by the long, lovely legs of actress, Linda Carter). These were often worn with short skirts or very hot pants and were often embellished with jewels or all kinds of psychedelic, neon designs. They were never plain or boring, whatever else they were.

In 1972, the Nike brand of sneakers made its debut and running became a popular American pastime. The athletic craze would never die. In the very late 1970s, a man named John Travolta and a film named Saturday Night Fever catapulted the disco movement into the consciousness of mainstream America. With it came a demand for strappy platform heels for women and platform loafers for men. This movement didn’t last, but its effects were so extensive that it became a symbol of the decade.

ballet shoes The 1980s brought the aerobics craze and the emerging "Yuppie" mystique. Power dressing with designer brands became the focus of many department stores. The high heel gave way to athletic shoes, and quotes such as "it’s harder to climb the ladder of success in high heels" were taken seriously. Also flats and low-heeled shoes in muted colors and classic styles were popular. Moccasins and espadrilles were re-invented in louder and bolder colors. Molded plastic jellies in many colors were a huge fad, and even men’s shoes were not safe from the monstrous concoctions of designs (and designers) running amuck.

The 1990s represented an amalgam of all the styles that went before it, with at best nothing new and nothing more than fleeting. Diversity was the keyword, both in fashion and shoes. Every imaginable style for every conceivable occasion flooded the market. The daily activities of people were reflected in their footwear, which included boots, sneakers, pumps, sneaker-pumps, mules, sandals and flats. Styles were heavy, light, clunky, dainty, ethereal and mean. Athletic shoes gained a foothold as strong as ripped jeans and plaid shirts. Ugly platform shoes made an uncomfortable stand, but ended up like General George Armstrong Custer at the last one he ever had.

sneakersThe twenty-first century may tell a different shoe story, but it’s a bit too early to tell. Certainly technology will wield its power and perhaps the men and women of the future will wear spectacular footwear never before imagined. The world of design is a vast frontier limited only by the imaginations of designers. Will the pedestal shoe return to haunt picnic lovers everywhere? And the long-toed walking shoe, the Crackov, will that again be available in the neighborhood shoe store? If it’s true that with fashion everything is thrown into a barrel and turned around again after many years, anything is possible. As you shop with credit card in hand, do not consider removing your little toe for the sake of fashion. Maybe suggest that Goody Two Shoes do it if you can find her, for she needs to do the wrong thing once in a while. Above all else, remember that only you can prevent forest fires and that:

If the shoe fits…wear it!

Did you know . . .

Get the fit that flatters you!


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Culture is one thing and varnish another
R.W. Emerson, Journals, 1868

In the room, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock

Here'a a book not to be missed:


by Caroline Cox


A highly charged symbol, the stiletto suggests a multitude of contradictions - it can be elegant, vulgar, submissive, aggressive, subversive, conventional. The stiletto is phallic but supremely female, it makes the wearer at once vulnerable and in control. Six decades have seen the stiletto in vogue around the world. This exciting new book by an international fashion authority presents the story of the stiletto for the first time, illustrated with new and vintage photography to explore the stiletto’s long relationship with sex, power femininity, fashion, and fetishism.

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