If you own pair of latchet shoes, eventually you will own a pair of shoe buckles to close them. Shoe buckles were the standard way of fastening one’s footwear in the 18th century, despite tie shoes and slip-on shoes having been around for hundreds of years before. Why? Bling.
The Met: Shoe Buckles, late 18th c., metal/paste, British.
The upper classes adorned their shoes with bejeweled buckles made with precious stones. If you couldn’t afford precious stones, paste stones (we call them rhinestones today) were available, and if you couldn’t afford glass, wrought silver, gold, and brass could you have, and if you couldn’t even afford wrought buckles, you could have simple round or square metal buckles…..but wherever you were in life, buckles were on your shoes.
Here are some of my favorite buckles from the 18th century. I have a taste for glitz, so my selection here is biased:
The Met: Shoe Buckles, late 18th c. paste/metal, British.
Lady’s Shoe Buckle. Silver, steel, rhinestones. France. 1768-1774
Sterling pair, ornate curvaceous frame, 1.5″ x 2.5″, (1 buckle w/ higher curve & 1 broken prong) very good. MCNY
Red paste stones set in arched oval pinchbeck mount, single row of stones, 2 bows on each buckle, 1.75″ x 2″, (3 stones missing from 1 bow) excellent. MCNY
V&A Shoe buckle Place of origin: Europe (made) Date: ca. 1770 (made)
V&A; shoe buckle c.1780
There are literally hundreds of shoe buckles of various types held in collections such as the V&A and The Met, both great sources of inspiration for your costumes. There are a handful of reproductions on the market, some wrought, some simple, some glittery, and once you pierce those holes into your latchets, you’ll never want to go back. Repro buckles are such a cool way to add just that little bit of extra authenticity to your ensemble.