Women’s footwear in the 1900s reflects the century’s political, social, and economic changes. During this era, the two world wars led to a shortage in materials, resulting in rationing the supply of various materials, such as rubber, leather, silk, etc., to prioritize the availability for military use. Heels were replaced with wooden and cork soles shoes. It would not be wrong to say that women of that time knew how to look classy and fashionable despite not having enough resources.
A Short History of Women’s Shoes in the 1900s
During the start of the century, women were not allowed to expose their ankles. During the day, they used to wear pointy-toe shoes as narrow fastidious feet were in fashion those days.
The shoes were never the focal point of women’s wardrobe. They were meant to function, and fashion was not the main priority. For centuries, shoes and boots were designed to protect the wearer’s feet while looking reasonably attractive. Moreover, dark-colored laced-up and buckled shoes were worn by women of the 1900 century with floor-length skirts.
In 1899, Humphrey O’Sullivan invented the first rubber heel for shoes. After that, many factories in America invented machinery to maximize the production speed of shoes and easily sew the upper of shoes to its thick soles. Within no time, the United States became the world’s leading country in shoe production.
Since then, people have had to choose from a wide variety of shoes, ranging from heavy boots to dressy leather boots and comfortable athletic shoes to casual sandals.
The Industrial Revolutionary Change in Women’s Footwear
During the last half of the 19th century, darker times passed, and the fashion industry bloomed again. Advanced manufacturing processes lead to several innovations and alterations in the fashion industry.
As a result of the industrial revolution, shoes were available at cheaper rates with great comfort for the first time. The high comfort was mainly because of the invention of shoes specifically designed to fit right and left feet. Until this innovation, shoes were made with straight soles to be worn on either foot. Only the upper class could afford custom shoes to match their feet size and width.
The Historical Timeline of Women’s Shoes
1. Edwardian Boots (1910)
Lace-up or tall button-up boots were favored by Edwardian women, just like Victorian women.
These Edwardian boots were generally made from black or deep brown leather. On the other hand, some Edwardian boots were available with the inserts of canvas or pretty embroidered fabrics into the shaft. Until the end of the Edwardian era, boot style included two tones of black and white or black and ivory.
The shorter pull-on boots, an early style of Chelsea boot, became available in the market compared to the fussy design of tall boots. The pull-on boots had one or two elastic panels on their sides and featured pull tabs on the front and back. Unlike lace or button boots, the featured pull-on tabs made it easier to slip the boots on and off. These were considered as home or garden boots.
2. Oxford Shoes (1910)
Besides boots, another favored footwear style during 1910 was Oxford Shoes. They featured a heel of moderate height, and the shoe laced up the vamp. A low heel Oxford shoe with or without laces was viewed as a working lady’s footwear as it is considered the easiest to clean and the most comfortable group of shoes.
Oxford shoes went well with an informal skirt or suit and blouse.
3. Slippers and Pumps (1910)
These shoes were the best for dinner, dancing, and weddings. The most popular style was Mary Jane. This style featured a single strap across the vamp with a fastening button made up of pearl, plastic, bone, mother of pearl, metal, or crystal. Some of the slippers had multiple straps or a single large button on the flap. Heavy beadings were available for evening wear.
Another iconic style of the 1910s was the Colonial slipper. It was named this because its large tongue and buckle were similar to the 18th-century shoe style.
Classic Pump was a simple yet fancy shoe, usually worn for standing occasions. Slip-in pumps were made without a strap or lacing. It had a fancy decoration like a buckle, pom-pom, shoe clip, or other glimmery items on the top, specially made to transform it from day to nightwear.
4. The 1920s Shoes for Women
During and after World War I, the hemlines rose towards the knee. As the world blossomed into a more liberal place, women’s fashion became bolder. The gap between the boot top and the skirt increased. Shorter skirts with bare legs made women’s shoes more important and highly visible. Women started wearing Mary Janes – a T-strapped shoe with a heel and buckle. Some Mary Janes were decorated with embellishments like buckles, bows, and sequins to make them fancy.
For the first time in 1920, the evening footwear was designed in multi-colors, other than black, brown, white, and tan.
5. The 1930s Shoes for Women
A boom in the footwear fashion industry took place in the 1930s, with spectator pumps, oxfords, and brogues coming into trend. During the 1930s, the sandals, worn in ancient times, returned to vogue. The shoes continued evolving, and the flapper style phase was over. More girly fashion came into existence, so women began wearing peep-toe shoes – featuring a mini opening at the front showing the tiniest bit of a woman’s toenails.
It was the same decade when the house of Ferragamo, an Italian shoemaker, began designing shoes. The most popular style of the Ferragamo brand included platform shoes or wedge heels.
Also, in the 30s, higher Spanish heels in Oxford design became popular. The trending designs were mostly with improved silk or leather tanning – colorful options, while some were the combination of two tones.
6. The 1940s and 1950s Shoes for Women
During World War II, the shoe industry was very restricted. However, once the war ended, women felt a sense of freedom as fashion became less restricting. Women started decorating their shoes with trinkets and bright colors. Generally, the basic shoe style remained similar to ancient decades but with elaborate design.
The standard shoe design during the 1940s was wedge heels. The well-built, thicker heels made walking easier. The slingbacks with the exposed heels were considered sexy in 1940, but they were very uncomfortable. The casual substitute for Oxford and slingbacks were slip-in heel pumps.
On the other hand, the most popular shoe style of the late 50s was high heels and the revival of the Italian heel or stiletto. As the stiletto heels became popular, the designers were anxious to produce the skinniest article.
The decade of 1950s includes stilettos and ballroom shoes for ladies and dress-up and saddle shoes for teeny dancers. The shoes then became a way of expressing yourself.
7. The 1960s and 1970s Shoes for Women
In the 1960s, multiple styles came into view that represented different political views. It was the decade of self-expression and self-exploring. Women stopped wearing stockings as a wardrobe essential, and skirt lengths snuck up to thighs.
Go-go boots, low heels short white boots, became popular because of Nancy Sinatra’s song, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. Cossack-type boots and Go-Go boots were worn with mini-skirts for dancing. The young women favored pumps and trainers for daily wear and pointed flat shoes with low heels for the evening and party wear.
The high heels were out of fashion as women became aware of the comfort needed for healthy feet. Tall stiletto heels caused damage to women’s feet by pushing the foot forward, pressing into the pointy toes, thus causing bunions (Hallux Valgus) and hammertoes. The accidents of women breaking their ankles damaged the popularity of high heels.
Drastic changes occurred in the 1970s when the Feminist movement and the Civil Rights movement started. As a result, fashion was extreme. The 1970s saw the comeback of wedge heels and platform-type shoes. But fashion did not include only a few particular styles. Women wore all kinds of shoes, designed by new advances in comfort as well as other marketing campaigns.
The fashion sense of the 60s and 70s was all about the music, after all. Therefore, the disco culture originated in 1970, and the super high-heels returned.
The Launch of Nike became the latest trend of the late 1970s. Another brand with the name Running shoes entered the market.
8. The 80s and 90s Women’s Shoes
1980s fashion is linked with the then-popular television series Dynasty. The fashion included bright-colored shoes with bows and status symbols all over them. Classic look was popular in the 1980s. The surprise hit of the 80s was the Moon Boots.
In the 90s, women recognized that being comfortable and being on-trend did not need to be limited. So, fashion calmed down a bit in 1990. Casual Fridays at work and shoes with suits became popular because of the Dotcom bubble. Logos and brands were still popular, but women were seen wearing flat, comfortable shoes. Mostly the in-fashion shoes were from Hush Puppies, Gucci loafers, and Prada Sport boots.
Footwear had a lasting impact on the fashion industry in the 1900s. Its influences can be seen today as all the 90s styles are in trend again. You can easily get Balmoral type front lace-up boots, gladiator sandals, flip-flops, peep-toe pumps, wedges, stilettos, and Chuck Taylors with a variety of colors and designs in almost any shoe store.