18th c. Shoes: A Bit About Heels

From the Met – early 18th c.  These are men’s shoes, although it’s difficult to tell

Maddalena asks:
Is it true that the king used to wear red heels to distinguish from the other well-dressed noblemen?

To my knowledge, the red heels, at least in France, were worn by noblemen who had been accepted at court and were in favor with the king.  It was one of Louie’s ways of keeping tabs on everyone, and making it “public” knowledge who was in and who was out.  The Fashion Historian blog has a great article on this – read it here.

Then I began to wonder if the red heel rule extended to women.  In my research of women’s footwear I have never seen a red heel applied, until this image:

“The Spruce Sportsman” showing fashionable dress for the year 1777.  From Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

You can see on the tiny feet of the ladies pictured that the heels of their shoes are colored differently than the rest of the shoe, and the lady on the right wears red heels.  Now, this is a satirical print, and it’s entirely possible that the artist or the colorist (for they were likely two different people) took liberties.  Does anyone know if court ladies wore red heels?

*EDIT: Some of you will notice that this post formerly contained a bit about heel shapes of the 1770s, and how the new American Duchess 18th century shoes were going to feature this heel instead of the more iconic Louie heel.  However, due to a sudden negotiation on the price of custom heel molds, we WILL be going with the Louie heels for the first release of American Duchess shoes, NOT the 1770s shape.  More on that to come!*

I will leave you with some lovely photos of shoes from the 1770s and 80s:

V&A – 1770-85

Augusta Auctions, 1780

LACMA 1785

The Met – 1770-89

The Met – 1780s

The Met – late 18th c (probably 1770s)


  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    January 9, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    Aha, that's what I meant by a waisted heel – the Louis heel which comes in then flares out a little, like it's wearing a wee corset (so fanciful!)
    I know that Louis heels aren't the only historically accurate ones but they are SO very appealling. And it's what people associate with this period. In fact in the early 1990's when historically inspired gowns were far more fashionably mainstream than they are now (possibly due to Dangerous Liaisons the movie), we could buy or have made in our own fabric, bridal shoes very close to the style you are doing as a matter of course.
    So dear Duchess, please think hard about skirting the Louis heel as I really think that it will help you to sell all those 200 pairs lickety split!

  • Lauren Stowell

    January 10, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    Mrs C, you are absolutely right. I love Louie heels as well, and I do plan to have them molded for use in the next run and all the other styles from the Victorian up through the 1920s shoes. I agree, they are essential part of period footwear, especially the 18th century shoes. The reason I'm not able to do them this time is that to have the heel molded will cost a couple thousand dollars. I know, it seems silly that it should be so much, especially when we see this style of heel still being used today. There is always some give-and-take with manufacturing, and until I have some capital to put back into this budding business, I have to compromise. The next release of 18th c. shoes will have the louie heels, and will also very likely be in leather – the future Victorian slippers and boots will have them too, as will the 1920s pumps I'm dreaming about :-). I was very happy to see that the compromise on the current heel feel nicely in with 1770s styles, which will still create a beautiful and historically accurate shoe, even more historically accurate for Revolutionary War and French Revolution re-enactors than the earlier 1750 and 60s heel style.

    But never fear, I heed your advice, and so long as the first run of 200 does well, we will have louie heels in the future!

  • The BUTT'RY and BOOK'RY

    January 10, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    I am really looking forward to these shoes.
    I'm wondering,did anyone see the beautiful shoes featured in Early American Life Magazine Dec issue??
    What a great article!
    This magazine arrived the day after I wooed and wowed over the first post of the shoes. I am syked 😉
    PS this is a very enjoyable blog to visit!!!

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    January 10, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    Oh my goodness! I'm amazed that they don't have a louis heel in stock, but then again even on a global scale, fashion is our mistress. I completely understand waiting in the circs and I think your choice is an excellent compromise. And it does have such a deep cut-in, it has lots of curve in its contour, or is that contour in its curve? Anyway, I have refrained from thinking about ordering a pair simply because it is virtually impossible to get a good reading on what american size to buy – I've had several different conversions. When you get them in I may ask from some actual measurements and take it from there. I'm selling nine pairs of shoes at the mo as it is, all gorgeous but I have no wardrobe room and need the money – to reinvest in shoes mind you so will stash a few shekels aside 🙂

  • Olympe de la Tour D'Auvergne

    January 10, 2011 at 2:35 AM

    As far as I can tell during Louis XIV reign red heels were reserved for those accepted at court in France. There are many examples of shoes (and portraits), since before Louis XIV's reign, for men and women, outside of France bearing red heels during this time so the same stricture does not seem to have applied elsewhere. Louis XIV died in 1715 but examples exist from 1720 and on, however it seems that women increasingly chose to have their shoes, heels and all, match or compliment their gowns.

  • Lauren R

    January 10, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Mrs C, I have a secret surprise for you (and anyone else who reads the comments) – last night I was able to negotiate a very good deal on the custom molds for the french heels. This means the new shoes WILL have proper Louie heels after all, and the price will be about the same!

  • Sandra Brake

    January 11, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    Hysterical happiness re the Louis style with the waist. That's cheered me up and believe me with the floods we have here at the moment I need some cheering up. Any good vibes or prayers gratefully received here in Queensland. We are just one great big disaster area.

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