Designing Vintage Shoes: 1940s Style

Over the years, we have produced LOTS of vintage reproduction shoes (and more are in progress as we speak!). ‘Vintage’ technically means anything over 20 years old. That means that things from 2003 are technically vintage now- that’s a jump scare for sure! Antiques are technically 100 years old, at least. That means that things from the 1920s are now antique! Is time going faster??

Time keeps on slipping into the future!

Now when we think ‘vintage reproduction’, the silhouettes and ensembles that come to mind are quintessential 1930s-through-1950s era styles that read as classically ‘vintage’. That’s the sort of aesthetic we are often on the lookout for when reproducing vintage styles. Of course, those of us who are into fashion history know that there were lots of different fashions, trends, and style movements throughout the time that we now think of as ‘vintage’- it happened over several decades, after all! For those who like to dress in vintage style in modern day, though, it’s fun to be able to mix-and-match through the decades, and it helps to have shoes that work for various time periods. This is something we often keep in mind when designing our vintage reproduction shoes.


Marilyn Pumps in black, with their lovely, lovely Cuban heel.


It’s great to have styles that are quintessential to one time period or style movement- like Meme Pumps and Karolina Oxfords from our 1930s designs we made in collaboration with Karolina Zebrowska, for example. It’s also helpful to balance these iconic and specific styles with shoes that cover a broader time period. We find that our 1940s-based styles tend to fill this role quite well. Claire Oxfords, for example, are based off of 1940s oxfords, but they work well with outfits spanning the 1930s through the 1950s. This is one of the reasons why Claire is so popular!

An older iteration of Claire. These shoes are beloved!

One of the most important parts of a successful vintage reproduction design is getting the silhouette right. Vintage shoes (like most historic shoes) had balance in their design. Heels, vamps, and arches worked together in tandem to create those iconic vintage shapes that we recognize today. From the luxurious T-straps of the 1920s to the practical, chunkier styles of the 1940s, balance between the curves and lines is what gave even the simplest of vintage shoe designs their subtle sophistication. This is something we pay very close attention to in our modern design practice at American Duchess!


Take Marilyn, for example; this 1940s-style pump is quite simple in design. Marilyn’s curvaceous lines and sweetheart vamp are the standout features of this shoe, and they are what make it so subtly irresistible. In the 1940s, this shaping on the upper was quite popular, and could be found on shoes ranging from pumps to sling-backs to peep-toes. It’s important that the vamp goes up high enough to cover the foot a decent amount- no toe-cleavage here!


These 1940s alligator oxfords (that are for sale, by the way) are good examples.

These delicious original pumps from Classically Mod are another example of swoopy and curvaceous 1940s shoes. Will someone buy these for us?


American Duchess Marilyns in brown and oxblood…swoon!


Combining spectator motifs with pumps helped to create a popular shoe style that was a bit more casual. Spectator pumps popped up on sling-backs, peep-toes, and heels of varying heights.

These spectators from a 1940s Sears catalogue demonstrate the various ways this motif was incorporated into women’s shoes. Notice that once again, the vamp covers more of the foot than a modern pump would.


Classic American Duchess Peggy Spectator Pumps in coffee and cream- the perfect combination!


Then, of course, there are lace-up oxfords. This practical and comfortable style was made to work, and look smart. They were nearly ubiquitous in the 1940s, with most women owning at least one pair in a versatile color like black or brown. Decorative features were mostly made up of perforations, broguing, and reptile leathers. Heels were mostly chunkier Cuban heels with lower heights. Shapeliness was important here, too. Notice the heels in the advertisement below- though practical, they have a sophisticated curve.

These lace-up oxfords from the Sears catalogue emphasized that they were good for workwear.

This is our original extant shoe that we based Claire on. The brand of these is “Academy Girl”, and they are very, very small. Check out the subtle curve on the heel, the broguing, and the edge of the rounded toe. These are the features we paid close attention to when reproducing this style!


American Duchess Claire Oxfords- one of our top sellers for years now!


Designing vintage reproduction shoes is seriously so much fun. Looking through the old magazines and catalogues, doing research, finding extant examples to use…it’s the best! We have as much fun making them as you do wearing them.

You can peruse all of our vintage styles in the “Vintage” section of our website, both on AmericanDuchess.com and AmericanDuchess.eu.

3 Comments

  • Aimee

    June 12, 2023 at 5:02 PM

    PAX

    Wow! Thanks for taking the time to compile all this information!
    Those Peggy spectators are just stunning. I hope you come up with more spectator styles! I wonder if there were any flats besides oxfords between the 1930-50’s.

    When most people speak of “vintage”,they are typically referencing somewhere around that 1920s-50s time frame. It’s interesting to know even stuff from the early 2000’s is becoming vintage in a way!

    Reply
  • Robin Crockett

    June 15, 2023 at 12:23 PM

    Do you ever use old movies? Summertime with Katherine Hepburn focus a lot on her shoes. They are so lovely and an interesting design.

    Reply

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