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A Little History of Victorian/Edwardian Cloth-Top Button Boots

Manhattan Edwardian Side-Button Boots are back with a vengeance this fall, in *six* new colorways. Built on the same last and heel as the uber-popular Tavistock all-leather boots, we’re glad to have the lighter cloth-top Manhattans back in rotation, a perfect choice for spring, summer, and fall attire. So to celebrate, here’s a little history of cloth-top button boots…


Cloth-topped boots, sometimes called “galoshes,” developed from early leather-and-fabric gaiter styles. You’re all familiar with the early and mid-Victorian foxed booties with bits of leather on the toes and sometimes heels – this practicality continued into the late Victorian period with the heel and toe foxing eventually meeting so the whole bottom of the boot was leather.

Part of this was also fashion. Women’s cloth-topped boots came along a little after men’s, as the popularity of women’s tailor-made, menswear-inspired clothing grew. In addition, women were participating in more sports and often wore spats for activities such as cycling. Sporting fashion carried over into daywear, with boots like these combining the shoe + spat look.

Cloth-top boots became widely fashionable in the 1890s and reached the height of their popularity between 1910 and 1914 (Rexford, 2000). Tone-on-tone colors such as black, tan, and white were popular as well as two-tone versions such as black/gray, brown/tan, and black/white.

Cloth-top button boots c. 1910-14, originally from Vintage a la Mode on Etsy (original listing no longer available)
Edwardian cloth-top button boots with stacked heels and straight fly – originally from Simplicity is Bliss on Etsy (original listing no longer available)
Edwardian cloth-top button boots with stacked French heels – originally from A Perfect Patina on Etsy (original listing no longer available)

By the late 19-teens, button boots in general were falling out of fashion, with the very last persisting to the early 1920s. (I noticed in the “Everyday Fashions” Sears Catalog books that the illustrated models are still wearing what appear to be either two-tone button boots or spats over shoes until 1921, but not afterwards except for a rubber rainboot overshoe with side buttons in 1922.)

Advertisement from 1917 – the bottom right boot is cloth and leather, but the other buttoning two-tones are leather tops and bottoms, also a very common style contemporary to the cloth/leather combo. This image is from Vintage Buttercup on Etsy

As always, our Manhattan boots are based on original examples. An original black-on-black pair stood for the patterning of our reproductions.

Original cloth-top side-buttoning boot from the American Duchess Archive – c. 1900 – 1915

The Manhattans share a last with Tavistock and will fit the same. The heel is the same shape and height – 2 inches – but is covered with leather in a faux stacked design. The soles of Manhattan are real leather with a double thickness under the ball of the foot, and a welt top stitch. You can fit the ankle and leg by moving the buttons, either taking them in or letting them out: there is a 1.5 / 3.8 cm inch overlap on the button fly to allow this.

We’re offering six colors this time. We’ve made black/black, tan/brown, and a darker grey/black before. New to the mix are the black/oxblood, black/ivory, and the wildcard, the French blue/ivory, which is indeed a historical color combo!

Historical precedence for the French blue / ivory color combo, even though these delightful boots are all-leather.

The Manhattans are available to pre-order October 7 – 21, 2022 both on the USA site and our European/UK siteAmericanDuchess.com


References:

Rexford, Nancy E. Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2000. Print.

Blum, Stella. Everyday Fashion of the Twenties. N.p.: Dover Publications, 1981. Print.

Olian, JoAnne. Everyday Fashions, 1909-1920: As Pictured in Sears Catalogs. New York: Dover, 1995. Print.

15 Comments

  • ProfessorBats

    April 12, 2016 at 8:25 PM

    Wohoo! I am very excited about these, and will save up. I always find myself wishing your shoes came in narrow sizes, and that has held me back from buying a pair. I know, totally unreasonable to expect multiple widths, and I am grateful you even make these at all! But it doesn't change the fact that I have hard to fit super narrow feet :-/ Anyhow, boots are easier, because at least they can be made to fit at the ankle. These look scrumptious ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply
  • Michelle

    April 14, 2016 at 8:52 AM

    I don't know how many times I've looked at the pictures of the Manhattans, but I only just noticed that the brown/tan colorway has black buttons. Lol, took me long enough! Any particular reason for that?

    These boots are extremely tempting, I have a pair of Tavistocks that I love wearing, now I just need to justify buying another pair of button boots. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      April 14, 2016 at 6:59 PM

      Hi Michelle – The buttons on the brown/tan boots are a very dark brown.

      There's always a good reason for more button boots ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  • Meg

    April 15, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    Hi, Lauren. These boots are beautiful! I've been pining and saving up for Tavistocks for what seems like forever, but I've just fallen in love with these ๐Ÿ™‚ Will they be shipping out in time for Costume College?

    Reply
  • Chicken

    April 21, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    I keep eyeing these lovely boots (both pair). Is there a historical/practical/design reason the black boots have a brown outsole on the bottom? It appears that all the black extant pairs shown have black outsoles. I just prefer that look…but I'm sure you can dye it (shoe polish even?).

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      April 21, 2016 at 7:44 PM

      Hi Jennifer – This is one of those manufacturing compromises. It would add cost to the black boots to have the edges blacked or purchase specific soles. We wanted to control cost and keep both boot the same price, so both have the same soling on them.

      It's super easy to black the edges of the soles – this was part of the regular shoe polishing routine in the past. There's a product called "heel and sole dressing" that is specifically for this. You can also do it with paint. It's common to see just the edges and a little of the underside blacked, and the rest of the sole left natural.

      Reply
    • Chicken

      April 21, 2016 at 8:46 PM

      Thanks for the insight! Glad it's period correct and easy enough to dye/paint them. Now I have to decide which pair I want first ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
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