For those of you following along with the American Duchess 18th c. shoes that are currently being developed, you may be wondering why I’ve decided to make them out of silk instead of leather. Here I shall try to answer everyone’s questions:
The majority of you voted for a fabric shoe.
In the 18th c. shoes survey I asked you all to take a little while ago, 64% of you requested a shoe made from fabric, while 30% wished for smooth leather. While the majority of the 64% wanted a light-colored fabric, I decided to accommodate everyone by making the shoe fabric dyable to any color, including black.
Fabric shoes are historically accurate.
I chose 100% silk for the uppers, and 100% leather for the interior and the sole, but my reasons for doing this are summed up in this passage from Seventeeth and Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail (Avril Hart and Susan North, V&A Publishing, as found on page 218):
“For most of the 18th century, leather was reserved for boots, while silk, wool and linen formed the principle fabrics for women’s footwear.”
It was not until the 1780s that leather began to be used for women’s shoes, and this was due to improved dye technologies that allowed ladies’ shoes to be more exciting colors than black. In all my research, looking through hundreds of museum images, I only found one single pair of 1750s-80s women’s shoes that were constructed of leather.
This, of course, only pertains to shoes of the upper middle class, the gentry, the aristocracy, and royalty. Working women likely had little use for pretty silk shoes.
Fabric shoes are most appropriate for fancy clothes.
Another reason for choosing a silk shoe over leather is that they are appropriate to wear with your fancy clothing. This ties in with the historical accuracy – women of the upper classes did not want to wear the same footwear as those of the working classes. While leather is practical, it’s not particularly pretty (at least not until the 1780s.) Just as you will note that wearing delicate silk shoes to your re-enactment camps is highly impractical, it is equally as inappropriate to wear your black leather working woman’s shoes with your silk robe a l’Anglaise, or the taffeta robe a la Francaise you spent a year sewing.
Giving you a choice in period footwear.
When the idea to make 18th c. shoes first dawned on me, I went on a quest to find any other companies that offered the kind of historically accurate, pretty, and versatile footwear that I myself wanted. I was tired and annoyed at having no other affordable choice besides black leather, and no affordable choice at all in fabric.
I find that in many eras of costume we can get away with wearing “sortof” shoes. Most of the time they’re not seen, right? Unfortunately for 18th c. dress, your shoes are almost always seen, particularly if wearing walking length skirts, and there are no “almost” shoes (believe me, I’ve looked!).
Shoes in the 18th c., for ladies of rank, were just as important as any other part of the costume. They were jewels to be loved and admired. They were meant to be seen. With all the other work put into a costume, getting the hats and gloves and petticoats and wigs and makeup perfect, why then be forced to wear basic, boring, inappropriate shoes?
I do also understand, however, that while most of you will love to have fabric shoes for special occasions, there is also a great need for well-designed and comfortable leather shoes as well. Depending on the success of the first release (silk), I WILL be then releasing the same design in leather, which will come with all the same ability to be customized as you like, but hard-wearing for stomping through fields and dirt roads. However, do not forgo the silk shoes and wait for the leather! If we do not sell enough pretty silk shoes, I will not be able to put the order through, and there will be no shoes for anybody!
As always, your comments, input, and suggestions are welcome. Because of your wonderful input, I have made changes to the design to make the shoes more historically accurate (no velcro anywhere!), and with the proper shaped Louie heel. Keep talking, and together we’ll make a truly beautiful line of shoes!