V326: Elastic Goring in Victorian Footwear

Hello Lovelies! Today I’m going to tell you about the magical world of elastic, as used in Victorian footwear, one because it’s fascinating, but also because there have been some questions about the elastic gore on the new Tavistock button boots, and I want to discuss why I added it.

The Met, early 19th c. a pair of ladies’ Congress Gaiters

Did you know that elastic gores were first used on footwear in 1838?  Indeed, by the 1840s, the “Congress” boot was all the rage in America as well as England, and featured a large triangular or U-shaped, set-in piece of either elastic web, or “shirred goods,” the former being superior and preferred, on either side of the ankles, reaching to the tops of the boots.  Congress boots fit tightly and smoothly, were comfortable, and were easy to get on and off – exactly the reasons why this type of shoe is still made today.

The Met – 186s ladies’ Congress gaiters

Elastic gored boots persisted through the 1860s and 70s, shifting in fashion to informal daywear, even workwear, and by the 1880s they had fallen out of fashion, only to be revived in the 1890s, when elastic gussets were set into the high-shank, pointed-toe styles like Tavistock.  The Ladies’ Home Journal of January 1908 even shows a button boot with a large elastic gore set into the side (Rexford, 2000).

Tavistock’s black elastic web gusset, set on the inside of the leg.

Now about Tavistock’s elastic gore – why is it there?  I made the decision to add the elastic gore after polling you lovely ladies about calf widths, and finding that something would be needed to allow adjustment for fit.  Originally, button boots were either made to fit the wearer, or were store-bought, taken to a shoemaker, and the buttons moved to fit the wearer.  That can still be done with Tavistocks, but many ladies today do not like the idea of paying to “fix” shoes they already paid a lot of money for.

Our culture is very much used to perfection straight out of the box, with the majority of modern footwear being made completely of flawless man-made materials.  Many people having never polished shoes, had them resoled, stretched, or fitted by a shoemaker – that is, if there is even a shoe repair shop in your town.

Move the buttons or don’t – it’s up to you

So with the gusseting on Tavistock, it is a period-appropriate way to accommodate the different calf sizes of our lovely customers, without forcing them to spend even more having the buttons on their boots placed.  You may still wish to do this with your pair, but it is not essential.

Despite being a small designer brand with flexibility, American Duchess shoes are still mass-produced, even if that “mass” is only 200.  This means we have to work within the limitations of both what our factory can produce, and what our customers desire – sometimes it can be a difficult balancing act, but while we always try to reach as many of you as we can, there will always be some we cannot.

The Tavistocks have certainly been a labor of love, and I am so very pleased with how they have turned out.  They are at once an archaic design and a modern shoe, made to function as the originals did, but comfortably fit our 21st century feet in the way we expect.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

For more on this subject, check out Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930 by Nancy Rexford.


  • Becky

    December 7, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    I love not only that you thought to accommodate those of us with larger calves, but also thought through so thoroughly! I've had to put elastic into most of my modern tall boots through a custom leather shop so this is a great plus to have it already there!!


Leave a Reply