Seeking Historical Faux Suede Shoes: Down a Historical Rabbit Hole

Our new Lido Sandals are a reproduction of a very interesting extant shoe in our collection. This 1940s/1950s peep-toe pump actually has a textile upper, as opposed to real suede uppers. This textile is an early version of what we would call ‘microsuede’ today. Considering we generally associate these sort of materials with the 1960s and beyond, this beautiful little shoe presented a bit of a mystery. Down the rabbit hole we go!

Our original extant shoe from the 1940s, and our reproduction in the form of Lido in black. Isn’t this so satisfying to look at?

Most of our shoes are all-leather (given some exceptions, like Penelope and Kedwardian), but we were actually quite excited to find and reproduce this faux suede slingback peep-toe. Suede is glorious for all it’s own reasons, but faux suede is so durable and easy to clean. A faux suede sandal means less worrying about your shoes when out-and-about, and more focusing on spring and summertime activities! So we knew that our Lidos were going to be historically accurate and easy to care for, but we wanted to find some more information about their background.

Imitation leathers actually have an older history than many of us might have initially thought. A German version of imitation leather made from paper pulp, called ‘Presstoff’, dates back to the late 19th century! Our UK friends might recognize the name ‘Rexine’, an early faux leather oilcloth that was invented in the UK and produced near Manchester. Rexine was made from cellulose nitrate (which is super flammable) and a combination of other ingredients. This material was used in bookbinding, upholstery coverings, vehicle interiors, and more since the 1920s. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, Rexine was also used for paw pads on teddy bears- aww!

This very cute little guy has Rexine paw pads. His name is Geoffry and he lives at the V&A Museum.

Tracking down information about faux suede shoes in the 1940s and 1950s was not as easy and straight-ahead as, say, reading a quick Wikipedia article. Cursory searches for other faux suede shoes this old did not turn up much- I suspect that there are other extant faux suede shoes floating around out there for sale that aren’t labeled as such. What were the origins of our darling faux suede peep-toe?

A search for ‘ration-free’ shoes brings up vintage advertisements from the 1940s for fabric and leather alternative shoes like the ones above- but none of these match our peep-toe, and they don’t have the specific information I’m looking for about faux suede.

Perusing through fashion trade journals from the 1940s turned up several references to faux suede, or ‘suedette’, and other imitation leathers. As one might expect, these materials were used by manufacturers during and immediately after World War 2, when the effects of wartime caused shortages in traditional leather shoemaking supplies.

This page from a 1946 edition of Women’s Wear Daily notes that Gilbert Freeman, Inc., reported a highly successful season selling suedette shoes. Not only was this fabric alternative easier to get ahold of than leather, it was also much less expensive and far more durable; important factors for shoe longevity post-WW2!

This edition of Women’s Wear Daily, also from 1946, is full of helpful information about suedette. First of all, in the report from Cleveland, the article mentions that before wartime made alternative material shoes a necessity, consumers were anxious about buying this “new” product. That tells us that some iterations of faux suede shoes were introduced to the market before World War 2 austerity, and that customers were initially a bit suspicious of them. By 1946, suedette shoes were one of the preferred options when leather shoes were scarce or unavailable. There are other helpful tidbits in here as well; for example, the same Cleveland report explains some advancements made in plastic shoemaking, and the New Haven report on the right has some interesting information about how shoe sellers are incorporating fabric and alternative leather shoes into their stock and business plans.

Again, an edition of Women’s Wear Daily from 1946 is coming through with information for us. There is even a picture of a suedette peep-toe sandal in there! The article to the right explains that more open-form shoes like platforms, wedges, and sandals are being made due to material shortages, even though most customers were wanting more closed-up options going into fall.

This edition of Women’s Wear Daily from 1947 reports on a new faux suede in development: Plasticsuede by Pine Hill Products. I wonder what searching for this material specifically would turn up in the archives?

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! This advertisement for Plasticsuede is from 1948, and it specifically mentions shoes.

Jackpot! This Plasticsuede advertisement is from 1949, and it specifically shoes a drawing of a shoe made using their faux suede material produced by a specific company, The Cosmos Shoe Co.

A quick search in the archives for Cosmos Shoe Co. brought up this short 1946 article from Women’s Wear Daily about the opening of the company in New York. It also reveals that Cosmos Co. was helmed by a woman, Mrs. Edith Forschner, who was able to escape from Europe just prior to World War 2. She had to leave behind her first shoe plant in what is now Czechia- it’s pretty amazing that by 1946, she was head of a new shoe company in New York. This is the amazing thing about doing research like this and falling down rabbit holes; often, you uncover really interesting and moving human stories. All from trying to find evidence of faux suede shoes!

Lido and her original extant counterpart

Our original shoe that Lido is based on is also from a New York-based shoe company. I wonder if they were also made using Plasticsuede brand suedette?

Really, we are obsessed with this shoe. So preeeetty

When I said we were going down a rabbit hole with this shoe, I really meant it! But now, after diving into all these periodical and trade journal archives, we have some satisfying answers about faux suede shoes in the 1940s and 1950s- and, we got some pretty interesting stories and historical context out of it, too.

Our Lido Sandals are available in six gorgeous colors (including a metallic smooth leather version) for $/€20 off each pair in our US and UK/EU stores through March 17 as part of our Jitterbug Collection pre-order. With their adjustable and secure ankle straps, soft toe and vamp, forgiving fit, and super comfortable 2.5″/5.7 cm Cuban heel (new to our heel collection!), you simply cannot go wrong with these stunning shoes.

Pre-Order is Open
March 3 – 17, 2023
$/€20 Discount Per Pair


  • Gillian Reese

    March 14, 2023 at 5:24 PM

    This shoe is just too cute! I loved learning it’s story, thanks for doing all that research. If you had gone with faux suede would it have kept you costs down like it did back then? I love so many of your shoes but can’t afford to buy nearly as many as I’d like. It would be nice to have a more financially accessable design. I have also noticed that when I introduce people to your company (because when they comment on my shoes I tell them about you ;-)) they balk at the prices. I’d love to be able to give people an introduction to your company without that hurdle. Hope you’re all doing well!

  • Melissa

    March 14, 2023 at 11:22 PM

    Ok, wow! This was fascinating! I loved reading the investigation and seeing all the primary texts about new materials. It reminds me of the work that Salvatore Ferragamo did during the Italian Autarchia period when Italian manufacturers couldn’t access their normal supplies due to sanctions because they were under the rule of the fascist dictator Mussolini.

    • American Duchess

      March 16, 2023 at 9:47 PM

      Thank you kindly! Yes, that is another fascinating aspect of footwear history from World War 2. Nothing could stop Ferragamo from being creative and making beautiful shoes! There are so many interesting stories like this.

  • Deborah Spencer

    March 18, 2023 at 4:17 PM

    Such cute shoes! I already own way too many from you, but I can never have enough! I loved reading about the faux suede that was used historically, but I would love to know more about what you chose to use for these reproductions. I actually have to avoid some plastics, synthetics, and chemicals due to health reasons, so I am very careful and wary of materials that are not natural. Thank you for sharing this insight into your design process. I would love to know more!

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