V347: Shoes of the 1860s-1880s

I’m still plugging away on my 2012 “Vintage 365” project, ha! I want to share my new costume-related New Years Resolution with you, but I can’t until I’m done with last year’s.

Today I want to look at shoes of the 1860s through the 1880s.  This is an interesting period in women’s footwear because it marks the return-in-force of the high heel, and is another stretch of time in which women’s shoes didn’t really change all that much.

We’re looking at just slippers today, dainty little pumps worn for both day and evening:

The Met: Shoes, 1860-79, leather
The Met: Slippers, Evening, 1855-65, silk
ebay, 1880 (via)

You will see the majority of slippers from this period in white, because we have a disproportionate number of wedding shoes in museum collections.  Wedding slippers were made of satin, and also a very fine, lightweight kid leather or doeskin leather.

1860-70 from Shoe Icons.
1870-80 silk evening pump with beaded embroidery, from Shoe Icons
The Met: Shoes, 1867, leather, silver, cotton

Shoes of this period were quite colorful, however, when they weren’t wedding shoes.  Unlike footwear of the previous decades, shoes began to play a more important role in fashion as skirts slimmed from large hoops to bustles, like to reveal at least the toes of a lady’s shoes, if not a glimpse of the whole foot.  Sequins, embroideries, mock-Georgian buckles and ribbons, and bow ties were all popular to wear on the toes of one’s shoes.

Met: shoes, 1870s
The Met: Shoes (Pumps), 1860s, French, leather
The Met: Slippers, 1885 – you can see the heel shape begin to transition between the earlier, shorter, kidney or opera heel shape into the French heel shape that would reign from the 1890s to the 1920s.

From the late 1850s to the 1880s, most slippers featured the same hallmarks.  These were:

  • A square toe
  • A short kidney or French heel, sometimes knock-on
  • Side seams
  • Almost always decoration of some type on the toe
The closer to the 1890s we get, the higher the heels, and pointier the toes.
The Met: Slippers, Evening L. Perchellet  (French) Date: 1890–99 – compare these to the examples above – we still have side seams and decorations on the toes,  but the heel and toe shapes are completely different.
So remember, my beauties, if it has a square toe and a short heel, it most likely dates from the late 1850s to the 1880s!


  • Edelweiss Patterns

    January 5, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    So cute! I love all these shoes, but I think the second pair of slippers from the top are the prettiest. The ruby red slippers are gorgeous too, though.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Happy sewing,
    Katrina @ Edelweiss Patterns

  • Rachel

    January 5, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    Fantastic! What an evening treat – to read about and see those beautiful shoes from my FAVORITE era! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Michelle Hamilton

    January 6, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    Love these shoes, I am a Civil War re-enactor and would love to see you produce a pair of 1860s pumps, hopefully in size 10.5.

    I am missing my daily dose of duchess–have not be getting the email blog updates!

  • AuntieNan

    January 6, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    The slippers are all lovely — actually, I adore ANYTHING that sports a French heel! But these are so obviously indoor shoes. I can't see any of them lasting a week on muddy lanes, cobblestones, or even paved sidewalks. What did they wear in the way of practicality, on a railway journey, say, or going to town?
    Thanks for these I mages and the list of shared charactistics. So thoughtful of you!

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 6, 2013 at 9:21 PM

      Hi AuntieNan – they wore boots! Side lacing, front lacing, and side-buttoning. They also wore spatterdashes/gaiters over low-top shoes in more robust materials. This is not to say that ladies did not wear low-top slippers/pumps out walking, etc. American women were notorious for wearing highly impractical and delicate footwear out of doors, because it was feminine and becoming, in the views of the past. English women didn't have this silliness – they wore sturdy, practical boots.

    • Scene in the Past

      January 7, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      They had overshoes or "rubbers," too! Actually very similar in shape to modern mens' rubber overshoes. But yes, American women were talked about for wearing their fine, thin shoes in all weather. Overshoes were ugly! 😉


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