Early Victorian Slippers (to Get Excited About)

Women’s slippers, c. 1850 – LACMA

Today’s post is all about slippers worn c. 1820s – 1850s (so a little pre-Victorian).

Surprisingly ladies shoes remained fairly unchanged during this time. Shoes were not considered decoratively important because they just weren’t seen amidst all the fluffy petticoats, so we have tons of examples of quite sober footwear for a good thirty year period. Can you imagine wearing the same style shoes for thirty years?

They still manage to be kindof cute, by modern standards, although totally removed from what’s popular today. The square toes and super-flat heels aren’t in vogue for your jeans and t-shirt, but look absolutely perfect when paired with a gown of this period.

Slippers, 1800-1824, V and A

This is a particularly fascinating time for shoes, especially in America. American women opted for discomfort and impracticality in the name of fashion. Shoes were very tight and narrow to make the feet appear smaller, and were made of not much at all – thin materials and soles that would wear out literally in one evening for dancing slippers, and two weeks max for “outdoor” shoes. English and European women didn’t have any problem at all wearing “heavy” walking boots, but the Americans wanted to appear womanly, homely, and delicate.

Shoes were often made for everyone in the family by the lady of the house, who undertook this job once or twice per month. In “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker,” (1855), patterns are provided for both slippers and gaiters (short boots). These homemade shoes were constructed of any sturdy fabric available, and “foxed” with bits of scrap leather, to reinforce the heel and toe. We have examples of gaiter boots made of wool, silk, plush, and cotton, foxed with calf, kid, and even patent leathers.

Slippers, 1830-35, V and A

Dancing slippers were made of silk or very thin kid leather, lined with linen. These were straight lasted shoes with thin leather soles, round at the heel, square at the toe, and super-narrow through the “waist,” often only two inches or less (!), so that a lady’s foot would actually spill over the sides of the soling.

These slippers did not have toe boxes, creating a long flat silhouette ladies were compelled to cram their feet into. Some examples also lack heel stiffener, but to help keep the slippers on, interior loops were stitched in at the side seams, to thread ribbons through.

Slippers, 1830-65, Nordiska Museet

In studying this period of footwear, and trying to recreate the style, I had to balance all this impracticality with modern expectation. It’s been a particularly tricky journey, knowing that the original slippers were purposefully tight and thin, but having to create something wearable and much more durable. I think we’ve done it…

Our reproduction in black kidskin, lined in linen. Also coming in dyeable white sateen.

…though please don’t go stomping through fields in these!

We’ve called them “Bronte,” and they’ll be here in late Spring. Look for the pre-order here, on Facebook, or in your email.

If you’d like to see more shoes from this period, please visit my Pinterest boards:

9 Comments

  • Esther

    February 10, 2015 at 2:28 AM

    Ooooh excitement!! I love them!! I'll definitely be getting those!!
    I almost promise not to stomp through fields in them….
    Almost.
    🙂

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      February 10, 2015 at 7:34 AM

      Well you wouldn't be along – those wacky American women were doing just that in slippers like these, back in the 19th century, but while our version is much more durable than the originals were, I still don't recommend it for the sake of your feet!

      Reply
  • AuntieNan

    February 10, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    Wow! Lauren, this is fascinating! And when you consider how much colder our climate was here in the northeast back then, compared to parts of Europe and
    England, well the poor dears must've had permanently cold feet! I can just imagine what those tight toes would do to my poor ingrown toenails, but they are beautiful. Your reproductions are every bit as lovely and much more practical! (SERIOUSLY? The lady of the house made shoes for all those family members? I am impressed– where did she find the time?)

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      February 10, 2015 at 7:19 PM

      It was rather mad, and remarked upon at the time. There's an absolutely fascinating article in Nancy Rexford's "Shoes in America" book all about this. Can you just imagine making your family's shoes? Now of course, the shoes being made in-home weren't as complex or well-made as even our cheap modern shoes are today. The lady would have just one straight last for each size needed, and a few tools like a leather needle to stitch the soles on, but otherwise the shoes being made were simple and very basic. They also wore out super quick and were closer to house slippers than useful footwear, with no arch support or padding whatsoever!

      Reply
  • Little Mothball

    February 10, 2015 at 6:39 PM

    These look awesome! I want pairs in leather and sateen! I think I will stitch on ribbons to tie at the ankles. Thank you so much, Lauren!

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      February 10, 2015 at 7:16 PM

      No need to stitch them on, there are two interior lacing loops at the side seams so you can just thread the ribbons through there and change them out for whatever color you like. 🙂

      Reply
  • Amy

    February 11, 2015 at 3:00 AM

    Hooray!! :happy dance: Maybe I will be able to purchase a pair of these for my 1850's wedding later this year! 😀 Any idea of what colors/materials they will be made in?

    Reply

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