What Makes a Historically Accurate Regency Shoe?

The Met:  1790-1810.

Before I got into making historical shoes for costumers and reenactors, I spent a lot of time looking for modern shoes that would “make do.”  I did things like tie bows around my mary janes, to try to make them look like 18th century shoes with latchets; I wore sequined slippers made in India with my Elizabethan gowns; I sported round-toed, metallic pleather, rubber-soled flats from Target with a Regency gown.

None of these things really worked.  I’m not super sticky about authenticity, but even these shortcuts were too shortcutty for me.

Now a days, when I’m looking at historical styles to recreate for the American Duchess line, I look for the things that make a historical shoe historical.  These are the hallmarks of a certain time period, the things that I will not compromise when it comes to prototyping and producing our shoes.

For instance, let’s look at early Regency shoes, about 1790 into 1810.  This is a perfect example because many people think of these shoes as modern-looking, as something that can be found at Payless, or Walmart, or Target.

…but they can’t, and here’s why…

Modern shoes exhibit some but not all of the hallmarks of a 1790s shoe, which are:

1) Pointed Toe
2) Small, Curved Heel
3) Side Seam
4) Natural Materials (Leather or Silk Upper, Leather Sole)

It’s easy to find shoes that have one or even two of these things, but not all of them together.  You may get the pointed toe, but have a spikey, too-high heel; or you may get the kitten heel, but have a rounded toe; and you will never find a side seam, and don’t even bother looking for a leather upper AND a leather sole together.

This modern shoe is pretty darn close, yet still so far…

These hallmarks are exactly the things included in the upcoming Pemberlies, though, and I’ve been absolutely dying to show you guys prototype photos, but I’m waiting for the sample to arrive here to make sure it’s perfect.  They’ve got the pointed toe, the side seam, and I’ve gone with a slightly thicker heel, but still curved, for easier walking on dirt paths and across grass.  You’re going to love them!

*All modern shoes shown here were found on Zappos.com


  • Kleidung um 1800

    October 17, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    This was a wonderful read!
    Thank you very much for sharing. I can't wait to finally see the prototype.
    Another reason why modern shoes do not look period is that the soles seem to be/are shaped (when you pull off the heel, I guess they still have an arch), while the originals are flat (if you pull off the heel they lie flat on the floor) – isn't it?!


  • Lauren R

    October 17, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Sabine, it's true that modern shoes are constructed with support through the arch of the foot. I do not know if you remove the heel of the 1790s slipper if they will be flat like ballet flats.

    The Pemberlies are still modern shoes, constructed in a modern way, but we used these hallmarks – the pointed toe, small heel, side seam, and leather upper and sole – to get as close to the look as we could. They're still not straight-lasted, so I hope you are not disappoint about this aspect of them. I think you will like them very much, though, especially when you see all the wonderful decoration that can be done to them! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    October 17, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    Thank you SO MUCH for this insightful article. I am going to link over on the FB sites of Victorian Revival and CostumingInSeattle.

    All the best from Seattle, WA!

  • Sandi

    October 18, 2011 at 12:32 AM

    Thank you for sharing this, Lauren. I love these shoes, and have been looking all over the place for some modern 'look-alikes'…to no avail (obviously!) Am looking forward to seeing your prototypes. X

  • ColeV

    October 18, 2011 at 3:28 AM

    I so much appreciate what you're doing with bringing accuracy to an area where there have been so few options! And it's so true, you can "get by" with modern shoes (or even some modern "repros"), but it's never quite right.
    Oh, and in the case of the heeled Regency shoes, the last would still have a slight angle to it. If you took off the heel, there would be a slight upturn to the toe after the ball of the foot. There is usually a small upturn to just the tip of the toe as well (something else you don't see in modern). There are some extants that appear very straight, but the joint of the foot doesn't appear to touch the ground which would be impossible when wearing. If those shoes had ever been worn, they would have warped the sole to the right angle, pulling and wrinkling the uppers. The arch is straighter than modern though, sometimes due to the heels extending under the foot until the break. And I just wrote a really long section on shoe anatomy……oops.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    October 18, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    Very interesting! Another difference seems to be that whatever the back and sides of a shoe upper is called are quite high and unshaped, whereas so many court shoes have them cut quite low and scooped. Especially at the moment!

  • Lauren R

    October 19, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    Thank you guys so much. I'm glad you liked this article!

    ColeV – please please always feel free to educate us with your shoe-making knowledge. You've actually done the period cordwaining, so your insight is tremendously valuable to me.

    Aeflinn, those flat boots really are very hard to find. I can't make promises, but I will say that the whole point of the American Duchess footwear line is to provide historical footwear that can't be found anywhere else, so it's a possibility for the future 🙂

  • Angela

    October 19, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    Thank you Lauren this was a good way to break it down so that we understand how to look at historical clothing and accessories. Of course we want to be able to do events and look at period as possible but many of us can't afford custom shoes so this is a great way to evaluate 'modern' shoes so we get as period a look as possible. So THANK YOU Lauren for doing the leg work for us!!!!!! 🙂

  • Myrtha Meadows

    October 20, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    It's interesting to see how much modern shoes resembles the old ones. I used to dance ballet, and one thing I loved (and hated) about point shoes is that they have changed so little since the day they were invented. It felt a bit like stepping back in time every time I put them on, doing dance movements that has existed for hundreds of years, to the music from the same eras…

  • Lauren R

    October 25, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    Pointed toes seem to go in and out of fashion quite a lot. They're actually quite a difficult shoe to make – the uppers on the Pemberlies are completely hand-sewn because of how the leather must be worked over that pointed toe.

  • The Dreamstress

    October 25, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    I agree that you won't find Regency plausible at Zappos, but I do own three pairs of modern shoes that are perfectly Regency plausible in every way, except for the side seams. They have leather uppers, leather soles, one is perfectly flat, the other two have very low, but still quite curved, heels, and pointed toes.

    But I still can't wait for the Pemberlies to come out!

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