All About the New 16th c. “Tudor” Exclusives

It’s been *ages* in prototyping the new Tudor shoes, but they’re finally done! This has been an interesting project, one with many challenges.

The first was sorting out the design. After discussion with Francis Classe, historic cordwainer and the designer of our Stratford Elizabethan Shoes, we concluded that the original MFA examples are almost certainly 19th century theatrical creations.

Scarpine – labeled as French 1500 – 1550, MFA – noted in the description that these are styled in first half of 16th century fashion.
Another view with more description of the toe. These are constructed as turn shoes rather than welted shoes, which allowed the seamed square toe. This is not in line with original 16th century shoemaking methods. Also out of place – the side seam construction and the knock-on heel.

Pretty good ones! But still, knowing this, I decided we had to alter the design to fit more in line with original 16th century shoes. To the research, Batman!

We’re lucky to have several wonderful original examples of Tudor footwear, some brought up with The Mary Rose shipwreck, and some of my favorite examples found in the Thames. We also have portraits and artwork depicting shoes, and a few remaining examples from other parts of Europe.

The Met – 16th century, probably British
King Henry VIII wearing cow-mouthed slippers with slashing.
Mary Rose shoes – 1545. Just one pair of 500 (!) found on the shipwreck. This shape and construction is a direct reference for our Tudor recreations.
More examples from the Mary Rose – you can see here the variance in designs just in this sampling.

Here come more challenges. The iconic “cow mouth” toe shape is interesting, but ridiculously hard to reproduce. You might not think it looks so complex, but you can’t actually remove the last from the toe of the shoes without breaking the ends, which Francis discovered when he reproduced a pair of early 16th c. Kuhmaulschuh.

Shoes, 1520 – 1540, V&A – great example of cow-mouth slippers, unfortunately out of our reach.

So no cow mouths for us, but we could still go with the blunt toe shape found on plenty of the other extant examples, so this is the direction we took, along with changing some of the seam lines from the 19th c. MFA example to bring the final footwear closer to actual 16th c. shoes.

Explorations early in the design process, merging the 19th c. MFA shoes with extant design lines. We wanted to stay as close to the MFA shoes as possible, while making the design more historically accurate.

The next challenge was a modern one – how to create shoes with the right look, but that would hold up in an outdoor fair environment. Originally, delicate velvet shoes with satin puffs would have been worn primarily indoors. Outdoor use of such shoes would be accompanied by pattens (overshoes) that protected the slippers and elevated the wearer out of the muck.

Luca de Heere 16th c. depictions of common Tudor people – here you can see the lady and gentleman to the left wearing pattens over their slipper shoes.

We’re still working on recreating pattens (trying to explain these to any modern factory – I might as well be speaking Middle English), but in the meantime, modern fair-goers expect durability in their shoes.

Tudor Shoes by American Duchess

In response to this feedback, I chose no-wale cotton corduroy – AKA Fustian – for the uppers, a historically accurate piled fabric like velveteen, but much less fragile. A leather lining stabilizes the design, and catches in the satin puffs on the back, to create a closed shoe that will keep dirt, rocks, and pine needles out. This might not be as popular a choice in terms of looks – the cord is not as luminous as real velvet – but they’ll hold up a heck of a lot better at fair, and are loads easier to clean.

The Tudors are available to pre-order November 4 – 11. As an “Exclusive,” they’re made-to-order, so we won’t be offering these as a regular design.


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