A Little History of Esme 1930s Wedges

Lovers of the avant-garde, surrealism in fashion, and wedge heels, rejoice: Esme, one of our newest styles from our Promenade Collection, is a dreamy striated smooth leather-and-suede wedge that is distinctly 1930s in style and silhouette. We are absolutely in love with these gorgeous and unique shoes, and we are so excited to be releasing Esme out into the world!

Some of you may be wondering, where oh where did the inspiration for this shoe come from? Today, we’re going to go over a bit of the history of wedge heels, and some of the inspirational styles behind Esme.

Shoes with blocky, wedge-like heels have existed in various iterations and forms across all sorts of different cultures and civilizations. Ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Etruscans all used a form of wedge or platform shoe at some point in their respective fashion histories, and of course, chopines were worn during the Renaissance.

The wedge as we know it now, though, became popular in the first half of the 20th century. Wedges first started to appear as a footwear option for beachwear, cruising, and summery outdoor ensembles. In the early 1930s, wedges faced some initial criticism for being a bit too functional in appearance. Isn’t that so often the case with fashionable items? They face initial criticism, then become wildly popular. In any case, by the mid-late 1930s, wedges had arrived as a bonda-fide fashionable shoe.

The above article from the January 1, 1930 edition of Vogue details fashionable Ferragamo wedges. The bottom image on the second page shoes a striated wedge, like Esme!

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, daring trends in colors, silhouettes, and unique materials (like we saw in 1930s surrealist fashion, for example) tend to coincide with time periods in history that experienced an elevated level of socio-economic strife. In the mid-1930s, the undisputed King of the Wedge, one Salvatore Ferragamo, found his footwear designs impacted by global politics. As Italy faced strict materials embargos after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Ferragamo no longer had access to the German steel he needed for his signature heel shanks, which supported the arch of the shoe. From this limitation, innovation was bred. Ferragamo created a wedge heel made from cork- the same material used in chopines hundreds of years prior- and the resulting heel was comfortable and lightweight, but solid enough to support the foot. Thus, the modern wedge was born!

The above article from the May 15, 1938 edition of Vogue highlights wedges again: the wedge has entered!

These intriguing, super-architectural Perugia for I. Miller wedges are from the early 1930s. They live at the Shoe Icons Museum.

When perusing historical examples of wedges, there is no shortage of color, interesting textures, and innovative shapes. This creativity is part of what makes 1930s wedges so distinct. When we were designing Esme, we studied lots of extant wedges.

Two pairs of similar late 1930s striated wedges that we used for reference when developing Esme.

These blue and white striated wedges are from the mid-1940s. From the Shoe Icons Museum.

These stunning gold-and-black Ferragamo wedges are from the early 1930s. They also live at the Shoe Icons Museum.

Mid-to-late 1930s Ferragamo wedges, from the collection at the Met Museum.
Green striated Ferragamo wedges c. 1940, sold at Saks Fifth Ave., from the collection at the Met Museum.

Wedges continued to trend through the 1940s. During World War II, the sale of leather shoes was banned in occupied France; alternative materials like wood and cork became the de facto substitute for shoe soles. The ever-fashionable women of France found a way to express themselves stylistically with these new ration-allowed styles, and many made purposeful statements of opposition to the occupation through their footwear. Wedges remained popular across the Atlantic as well, and the American fashion press often highlighted the attributes of the shoes seen on women in France.

These incredible patchwork Ferragamo wedges are from c. 1945- from the collection at the V&A Museum.

When designing Esme, we wanted to capture the creative innovation of these wedges from history. Our new wedge heel is sturdy and comfortable, and expertly shaped so that it appears elegant and streamlined around the sole. The suede and leather striae are carefully placed to uphold that surrealist, optical illusion of a sky-high heel. The perforated suede uppers lace up beautifully over the instep, and like the originals, they have a perfect peep-toe up front.

As part of our Promenade Collection, Esme 1930s Wedges are on sale for 15% off each pair from March 1-10 in our US and UK/EU stores. Ordering during our pre-order period is not just smart for saving money, but is also the best way to ensure you get your correct size and preferred color, as colors and sizes are capped after the pre-order sale ends! The Promenade Collection is scheduled for delivery in July of 2024.


  • Sarah

    March 7, 2024 at 6:24 AM

    Love the historical examples. One issue I have with wedges is the narrowness of the heel which is so easy to turn an ankle in. For a practical shoe it is only good on hard surfaces or the beach where stones and such aren’t an issue. It seems Ferragamo was a leader in this style. Italians have always been the shoe style innovators.

  • Carmella

    March 29, 2024 at 3:03 AM

    Thank you for the history lesson. I have always loved the wedge shoe because of the support of the wedge. In addition, the heels that have more of a curve and thicker heel to support the feet have been such an elegant and sleek look on feet.

    Thank you, for such wonderful shoes.

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