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Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Shopping For Vintage Shoes – Then and Now

May 15th, 2024 by violette

Women love beautiful shoes and shoe shopping used to be a lot different than it is now! Back in the day a lady would visit a specialty shoe shop, be shown the latest styles by a professional fitter, and leave with a pair of two of handmade shoes that were actually works of art. This elegant lady was seeking a pair of black pumps. Let’s look at some of the beautiful examples this quirky salesman might have offered her!

We have the advantage of decades of shoes to choose from!

This is a pair of black suede handmade pumps trimmed with a tasteful crescent of tiny rhinestones from Arthur Schulein, featuring a round toe and a very stable 4″ heels in size 8 and a half AAA. Leather lined with leather soles of course. Beautifully shaped, beautifully detailed and incredibly comfortable. c1940.

This pair of shoes was purchased by someone in the 40s and she wore them quite a bit. I acquired them about 10 years ago and I, too have worn them quite a bit. They have held up really well from 1944 – 2024 and are still going strong after 80 years of use! This illustrates the fact that It pays to buy well made shoes and take good care of them! Quality footwear holds up well.

These ladies are shopping for rubber galoshes that fit over shoes such as the pumps shown above and were worn over your nice leather shoes when you went outside in inclement weather in order to protect your expensive footwear from mud and rain. Note the heal to accommodate high heeled shoes. The actual definition of the word galoshes is a type of rubber boot worn over shoes. These were such a great idea – I wonder why they stopped making them? They used to be made in a huge selection of colors and styles. They used real fur on the ones that have fur trim as well. And they were lined in wool. They really kept your feet warm and dry and protected your fine leather shoes.

I’ve never owned a pair of these old style galoshes but they are on my wish list. I’ve only ever seen them available in very small sizes. Size like 3.5, 4, 5, 5.5 and 6! If you ever see them in your size grab them! I think they may have stopped making them because rubber was needed during WWII and allocated for the war effort. Many products became unavailable when the materials needed to produce them were limited due to their use in the war effort. Rubber was definitely one of these.

This is how high heeled shoes were stored in the back room of a c1930s shoe store in New York City! It looks like a great way to store many shoes so they can also be seen. I could use this type of shoe storage in my home! I don’t have this many but I would love to have my shoes accessible and neatly displayed! The same concept was employed in the display wall of shoes in this store in the 1960s.

Note how well dressed everyone is: the customers are all done up to go shoe shopping and the shoe sales men are wearing suits and ties in all these photos. You did not got out in those days unless you were properly put together! The ladies in the Naturalizer ad above were shopping in the late 1950s.

This glamorous woman was shopping in the early 1960s. She might have come home with something like this beautiful handmade black suede pump by D’Antonio. The suede is so dense and soft that if feels like velvet! The vamp is decorated with a stylized modern swath of double satin ribbon. The look is long and thin and marketed as sophisticated and European. It is elegant, therefore, highly desirable.

By now the sculpted heels and rounded toes of the 1940s and early 50s had given way to the extreme lines of the skinny elongated super pointed toes and stiletto heels of the 60s. The well made shoes of the past two decades did not wear out, but fashion dictated a change in shoe shapes so the designers and manufacturers could sell new styles.

This new look was extreme adding up to 2″ in length to the extremely pointed toes of a shoe while compressing the toes to fit into the new ultra-narrow style The woman’s weight was shifted further forward onto the balls of her feet while her toes were squeezed together to force them into this newly fashionable shoe shape that teetered on a tiny heel so thin and precarious it could easily get stuck between two tiles on a floor or a crack in a sidewalk. This truly was a version of foot binding. If you wore the shoes for too long a period your feet would ache and your bunion joints would hurt even after taking the shoes off. It was not healthy. But, it was fashionable. So the shoes sold and women forced themselves to wear them, because, after all, it was the latest fashion.

Talented Italian shoemakers like D’Antonio did their best to make these styles comfortable, creating innovations like the patent pending Caressa padded insoles and building thin tight snugly fitted heels so the shoes would stay on and hopefully prevent women from tuning their ankles, falling and incurring serious injuries. Making these super skinny shoes longer increased what I call the inner shoe real estate ( space inside the shoe) thus allowing the reshaped foot to shift into the available space. Since women insisted on wearing the latest fashion their feet accommodated to the new demands and reshaped themselves accordingly. Thus many women who lived and worked in these shoes developed painful bunions later in life. I witnessed this in my mother and my aunts. It is best practice to only wear these shoes for brief periods – like an evening out – not day in and day out.

If you only wore such shoes occasionally you would usually experience pain briefly ( for 2 days or so) afterward. But, if you wore them for prolonged periods like to work in an office, or on a retail job where you had to be on your feet all day you were asking for trouble. Slowly, but surely, your would develop bunions because the shoes shifted too much pressure and weight onto your big toe bunion joints. This was not good! Styles had to change again.

On popular television shows such as Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, The Loretta Young Show and I Love Lucy the stars are regularly shown wearing heels like ( and a string of pearls) this while at home keeping house and doing chores like vacuuming and cooking dinner. Can you imagine cleaning house, caring for babies and doing the dishes while wearing shoes like this? I actually remember my mother frying bacon in high heels like this while holding a baby on one arm and wearing a flammable nylon negligee – why? Because my father liked it. I remember him telling her he loved seeing her in those shoes and that negligee while making breakfast. Did he offer to take the baby? No! Most definitely not! But this is a subject for a different post. My mother was must-tasking to the max!

In the late 60s and early 70s styles became much more modified – they evolved into offering more options – such as lower heels, wider heels, open toes, evening sandals, wedged heels, ballet flats, round and square toes, softer fabrics: You could still buy and wear pointed toe shoes for occasional use but you did not have to wear them all the time if you wanted to be dressed in the height of fashion. There were lots of shapes to choose from so you could find something you liked that was more comfortable and a healthier option. It was good for your feet to change shapes of shoes and heel heights. Feet reacted to this as if they were getting to do exercises in lots of different positions rather than being forced into one unnatural shape. They started to get wider because they were not being crushed into submission! Feet were healthier and happier this way. There were still pretty options. And more shoes sold because you could actually have more kinds. So you needed many more pairs. It all worked out.

About this time an Italian company called Garolini came along. They made beautiful shoes like the ones shown on a much more comfortable last that was both elegant and soft. The materials used were softer leathers and fabrics that would easily mold to the natural shape of the human foot. And the shapes of the shoes were also softer, a little rounder, more feminine actually, than the forced ultra narrow stiletto shoes of the 1960s. These shoes were a lot more comfortable to wear. And they were really lovely. They made dressy styles and casual styles, heels and flats, sandals and closed toe pumps.

They had beautiful modern lines and were more comfortable than the shoes of the 60s. Other companies followed their lead – the benefits of Garolini were flexible soles that bent with your feet when you walked, soft fabric or leather uppers that eased into shape around your feet rather than forcing your feet into their shape, wider soles at the balls of the feet – thus, instead of forcing your feet to conform to a too thin shape they allowed it to spread open a little bit as your metatarsal bones actually do when you stand barefoot.

This beautiful pair of size 8 B black silk satin evening pumps from Garolini is trimmed in thin strips of silver leather and sparkling Swarovski rhinestones – they have leather soles and a graceful 3″ heel. They are beautiful and comfortable.

All the shoes I have shown you in this post are in my personal collection. I can wear all of them and do so. I have actually conducted my research in person! I do this with everything I write about.

I love vintage shoes and sometimes modern ones if they are well made. I love beautiful shoes in general!

I actually carry a large variety of them in my vintage clothing shops in a large variety of styles and sizes. Of course the supply is always changing and is unpredictable because I never know what I am going to be able to find. I look for beautifully designed and well made shoes still in good condition. In general vintage shoes are well made and available at better prices than many newly made shoes. When I recently visited Nordstrom flagship store in Seattle, WA, and their Bellevue, WA store I had to look at what was available in the Shoe Salon. Modern shoes of comparable quality to those presented in this post were very expensive. They ran between $1200 and $3,000 per pair. This is not an exaggeration at all. I saw a pair I liked on sale for $1500 at 50% off. I did not buy them! I’m much happier with my vintage pieces which I have acquired at more affordable prices.

If you need a pair of distinctive shoes to wear with a particular outfit I urge you to look for a lovely and unusual pair of vintage beauties. I will be posting more shoes regularly. I also encourage you to ask me if you do not see what you are looking for posted yet as I have a lot of items in process of being listed. I may have what you need – just may not have it listed yet. I can always look through my stock to see if I can meet your needs. When it comes to shoes Desire and need are often the same thing!

Also – do not be discouraged by sizing: For example – I measure 7.5B. but the 3 pairs of shoes shown in this post actually fit me and are all sized labeled differently: The 1940s Arthur Schulein pair is 8.5AAA, the 1960s D’Antonio pair is 7.5B, and the 1970s Garolini pair is 8M. They all fit quite comfortably. You can usually go up a half or full size higher than your modern shoes in vintage sizes and get an acceptable fit.

If a pair is a tad loose you can often add an insole to acquire a snugger fit. If it is too wide in the heel and heel gripping pad will ofter correct that issue. Such items are usually available at Nordstrom or reputable shoe repair shops. I do not recommend wearing any shoes that are too tight unless it be for a few minutes in a period fashion photograph.

All shoe makers used different lasts and they were often sized a bit differently. This is still true today. Also, it is not true that everyone has much smaller feet in the old days. What is fact is that many of the old shoes that have survived were small sample sizes used for displays and fashion photographs of salesmen samples. They were selling tools. These got tucked away by the shoe stores and held onto or stored in style archives. Most of the shoes in “normal sizes” were sold to customers and worn until they wore out. Or passed down to daughters and granddaughters and eventually worn out. I went “shopping” through my relatives closets and reclaimed many articles of clothing and pretty shoes as a teenager and young adult. It made sense, the clothes were free and fit me as I had inherited the same sizes as my mother and aunts. I am still wearing some of them today. I am sad if they wear out due to being old or used too much. I love the old things and what they have lived through. Just last month I found that an old handbag I really liked had finally dried out too much and was on its last legs. It had died and I was sad! I mourned a bit. It had finally, actually, bitten the dust. If had to be retired. Alas… Stuff does not last forever, so you should get it out and enjoy it while you can! I encourage that!

I will now add a few pictures of shoes from my vintage store to further inspire and tantalize you. I am not posting the sizes available. You will have to visit my shops to see them and find options in your size.

This pair is by Stephane Kelian of Paris currently available. Made in the 90s but inspired by the 1940s.

This pair is from Rebel in the 1980s beautifully emulating the 1940s and is currently available.

This darling pair of Petite Debs from the 1960s is currently available.

This classic pair of red suede pumps is by Charles Jourdan in the 1980s and is available.

This pair of Oomphies sparkly brocade house slippers from the 1960s is currently available.

This gorgeous pair of Xavier Danaud 1970s NOS Spectator Pumps is available.

And finally, I found this old ad, not for shoes – for whiskey! But I thought it was quite appropriate as a finale to a hard day of shoe shopping and shoe selling and waiting on a certain type of demanding customers! Most of the time dealing with customers is pleasant and fun, but sometimes ………..

Many more styles and sizes are available in my stores – please visit my online shops to check out what is currently in stock. You will probably also enjoy reading my historic descriptions on items I am selling.

Rare and beautiful historic clothing, shoes and accessories are for sale in my online shops. If you see something on this blog that you are interested in buying, but do not find it for sale in my shops message me on Etsy or Ebay and I will get back to you about availability. I check messages daily and can always prepare a special listing for you if you do not find it already listed in the shops.

Ebay: ladyviolettedecourcy

Etsy: LadyVioletteBoutique

Poshmark: cocoviolette

FashionConservatory: Lady Violette Boutique


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