The Victoria & Albert Museum
With the exception of boots meant for outdoor use, very little leather was used in the making of shoes, especially women’s shoes, until the 1790s. Shoes, most often, were constructed of silks in the Eighteenth Century, and they were designed more for fashion than they were for comfort and practicality. So, not much has changed in the creation of women’s shoes in the last two hundred years. Well, except for the shape. Let’s take a look at this pair which is typical of the 1730s. Made in 1735, this pair shoes the predominate fashion of turned-up toes and curved heels. Of course, such delicate slippers were intended only for indoor use. These shoes were very rarely seen, in fact—usually hidden beneath layers of gown and petticoats. Dancing, in fact, was one of the few opportunities for a lady to show off her shoes.
Only the sole of the shoe is leather with the upper part constructed entirely of silk. The shoe maker took great care in matching the floral pattern to ensure that it fitted correctly over the toe of the shoe. The straps would have been held closed by a show buckle which would have been made of cut and polished steel to simulate diamonds or set with pastes. Sometimes, real stones were used on expensive buckles.
This pair was made in Spitalfields, England by an unknown maker.