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Everything you ever wanted to know about shoes, but were afraid to ask...

Discussion in 'All About Shoes 2004 Jonathan' started by Jonathan, Oct 31, 2004.

  1. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Well, hopefully I can answer all your questions about shoes...

    My name is Jonathan Walford and I have been a collector of vintage and antique fashions and footwear since 1978 (I started collecting when I was a fetus)

    My lifetime goal was to become the curator of a fashion related museum in Canada, and in 1988 I reached that goal when I became the curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Canada doesn't exactly have a lot of opportunities in the fashion and textile related museum field. I am not fluent in French, I don't have a PHD, and I have no interest in living in the prairies, so the Bata Shoe Museum was really my only choice.

    The Bata Shoe Museum opened to the public in a temporary facility in 1991, and then moved to its new purpose built facility and opened in grand style in May 1995 (which happened to co-incide on the same weekend as the 50th anniversary of the ending of World War II in Europe, so our media coverage was not as good as it should have been)

    The collection at Bata is unsurpassed. The Bata Family have been in the shoe making business since 1894. They started in Czechoslovakia and in 1939 sort of accidentally moved headquarters to Canada. The son of the founder, Tomas Bata, who was also the CEO of the company happened to be in Canada on a business trip when war broke out, so he made Canada his world headquarters. Believe it or not, he is still alive!

    His wife, Sonja Bata began collecting shoes on her trips around the world in the 1950s, and in 1979 decided to set up a foundation to create the world's first shoe museum.

    The collection in 1995 had just topped 10,000 artifacts ranging from Pharoah's sandals of ancient Egypt to Vivienne Westwood platform shoes, and from Inuit sealskin boots to sub-Saharan nomadic sandals. The collection really was superb.

    After 11 years I left the Bata Shoe museum (as great as the collection was, Sonja must have been related to Leona Helmsley as she was not an easy woman to work for). You can take the boy out of the shoe museum, but its hard to get the shoe museum out of the boy.

    I am writing what I hope to be the ultimate tome on the history of fashion footwear, the text is about 3/4 complete as we speak.

    So, hopefully, I can help anyone with questions about shoes, shoe making, shoe history etc.

    I encourage anyone new to the VFG to read the shoe history on the VFG, which you can access from the home page. That gives a basic overview of shoe history...
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
  2. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    This is a week-long workshop, so I will be in and out all the time answering any questions that may be posted to this thread.

    I am trying to get my storm windows up today though, and carve a pumpkin... so I am off for a bit, but will be back to check in.

  3. Jonathan, I have a question. What makes a high heel a "stiletto?" Is it the height of the heel, the way it is made, or what? I guess what I am asking is "What is a stiletto?" Also, what are the characteristics of the vintage ones from the 50s and 60s?
  4. alonesolo

    alonesolo Guest

    Okay I have two things Who started the term spring o lator and why did they have those springie like things in them?

    Now here is a pair of boots that I have up for auction now. You gave me the info on them back in the spring which I kept and used in the auction giving you full credit of course. But thought maybe someone may just be interested as they are different and I could really see a rockabilly guy wearing these to keep up with his fashion at work.

    Wool felt sides ( do have rayon in them ) Felt inbetween the layers of the sole.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/136.jpg>
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/137.jpg>
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/140.jpg>
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/141.jpg>

    Yeah I know you were expecting more of fancy heels and such sorry! I will try this week to find you some.

    Oh and another question. Where did the term Court shoes come from. Of course it may be a plain as the nose on my face. Like court reporters wore them or something along those lines.
  5. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    A stiletto is actually a weapon, a short metal dagger to be accurate. High heels have been around since the 17th century, and very high, thin heels, since the early 18th century, when they were called Italian heels. In the late 18th century, high thin heels were once again in fashion, and also in the late 1920s - early 1930s, when there were called 'Spanish' heels. But none of these heels were so thin as to require a metal rod to run the length of the heel to keep it from breaking. In 1954 a very thin and high heel did come on the market that required just that. This metal rod used to strengthen the heel resempled the stiletto weapon, and the name was borrowed by shoe manufacturer's to identify the type of heel construction.

    As for the characteristics of the stiletto heel. I will do a post later on with illustrations to show the various types of stiletto heels and how to date them.
  6. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Spring-o-laters are mules with an elastic webbing running along the sole from the ball to the heel, so when they are worn, the elastic webbing is stretched, holding the mules to the feet.
    The history I have of the spring-o-later is from the American designer Beth Levine, herself.
    In the early 1950s an orthopedic sole was shown at a shoe trade fair that used this principle. It was originally intended for people with foot problems. However, Beth Levine saw this invention and thought it would work really well on a mule. The problem with mules, and they have always been like this, is that they tend to fall off the foot. Anyone who wears mules certainly knows the possibility of running for the bus in a pair is completely out of the question.
    Mules were originally intended for calm indoor wearing, like slippers and found great favour from the late Roman period to the 17th century. Since that time to the 1950s mules found some favour in continental Europe, but had little success in North America.
    Beth Levine exhibited her elastic web strung mules at the very next shoe fair by running across the lobby in her prototypes -- to the amazement of the other shoe designers.

    I believe it was 1954 that they were first commercially marketed, and they were hits at first. Eventually there turned out to be some problems with them. The heat from the foot sometimes melted the glue holding the elastic webbing and the webbing would pull out. When not worn, the webbing tended to pull on the sole, creating upturned toes, and some found the style uncomfortable, with the elastic webbing pulling the strap tightly down on the foot. By the early 1960s the fad was on its way out.

    The patent for the style was held by the original designer of the idea for orthopedic uses. I don't think Beth Levine made a dime off the idea, other than from the profit she made from the pairs her husband produced under their label Herbert Levine Shoes.
  7. So I understand this correctly, spring-o-later is not about being the "silhouette" type but is about that elastic feature. so you can have a 50s heeled mule or similar and its not a sping-o-later unless it was made by the Levine company and has the elastic.

    does anyone have a pic to show what the elastic looks like, or is it in between the layers of the sole? sorry for my extreme ignorance, but have never seen a pair in person...only mules. (and if i have seen some it would probably be obvious) i just really don't know.
  8. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Yes, that is correct, that term refers to the 'spring' in the elastic webbing, not the silhouette.
    Here's a photograph of a spring-o-later pair of mules, You can see one of the problems I mentioned, as the toes have been pulled up over the years from the force of the elastic webbing.
    I believe the name 'spring-o-later' was actually another manufacturer's name for the style. Herbert Levine didn't call them that, but I don't know who originally did but it has become a generic name for the style.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/s2.jpg>
  9. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Now, here is the story of the stiletto in the 1950s and 1960s.
    The stiletto was actually introduced as early as 1954 but it was not the predominant heel shape until 1957 when it was paired up with the pointed toe.
    Here is an example of a stiletto heeled shoe from about 1955 or 1956 when the round toe is still fashionable, but the heel is technically a stiletto as there is a steel rod set in the centre of the heel:
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/0.jpg>

    Here is a more typical stiletto heeled shoe of 1957. Although thin, it is still a little sturdier than the truly skinny stiletto heel.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/1.jpg>

    Here is an example of the really skinny stiletto heel. What dates this into the 1950s is that pointed, slightly rounded or turned down toe. This was typical of 1957-1959.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/2.jpg>

    The next two examples are c. 1959/60/61. It is difficult to really place an identical year, as there are cross overs, left-overs and different manufacturers and designers picked up on different toe and heel shapes, but here we see a slightly shallower pointed toe, and the truly skinny stiletto heel, which came in about 1959 and lasted until about 1961.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/3.jpg>
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/4.jpg>

    This next pair is a useful touchstone, as it is made by Kerrybrooke and I found the identical pair advertised in the spring 1961 Simpson Sears catalogue (This is the Canadian subsidiary of Sears Roebuck).
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/5.jpg>

    Here is an EXTREME pair from about 1961 - 1963 with VERY high heels.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/7.jpg>

    ANd this is a more typical example of the early 1960s, probably dating between about 1961 and 1963. The heel is very tapered down to the top lift and the toe quite shallow and pointed.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/6.jpg>

    Now, there are some variations on the stiletto heel, such as this pair which date from about 1963/64, where the heel is almost hourglass shaped, but also quite low. The toe is getting quite blunt at the tip now.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/8.jpg>

    And here is the end of the stiletto heel. This pair dates from about 1965 and the stiletto is becoming quite thick again, and low.
    <img src=/shoeworkshop/9.jpg>
  10. artizania

    artizania Alumni +

    The stiletto run-down is great, thanks! But didn't it get popular again later (70s/80s?) - and how do you tell the difference between the later version and those you show above?
  11. Those last 2 pairs, the pink and the yellow, would those be considered a 'kitten' heel? Is a kitten heel still considered a stiletto? What height is considered kitten and, is the term Kitten Heel a new term or has it been around as long as stilettos have?

    Thanks Shoe-Guru!

  12. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    I have heard the term 'kitten' as well as 'sabrina' used to describe this lower stiletto heel that flares at the toplift. In the shoe business heels are referred to by their construction method, rather than shape, Officially, there is no name for this type of heel, other than stiletto, however, different manufacturers come up with different names to promote and market their product. It isn't wrong to call it a kitten heel, but it is still a stiletto heel. Think of the stiletto as an apple, calling the heel a kitten heel is like calling it a red delicious. Many apples get renamed over the years as they are remarketed or slightly tweaked, but when it comes down to it, it will always be an apple.

    There are no strict rules for height definitions, although the human foot, when lifted off the ground naturally creates about a 1 - 1 1/2 inch lift in the heel, so generally, anything less than 1 1/2 inches is considered a 'heel' and anything above 1 1/2 inches is considered a high heel, as it artificially lifts the heel higher than the natural drop of the foot.

    I will come back later with a history of the 70s/80s stiletto
  13. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    I forgot to mention the felt boots...
    These are typical of cold weather snow boots. Felt has excellent insulation properties and boots made of felt have a long tradition of being worn in Russia, where they are called valenki. Although not waterproof, in very cold areas, the felt insulates the heat from the foot from the cold of the snow and the snow doesn't melt, so there are no problems with them getting wet.
    This pair you illustrated has a seperate sole and protective additions to obviously aid in keeping dampness from permeating the felt.
  14. crinolinegirl

    crinolinegirl Alumni

    Hi Jonthan

    Perhaps you can shed some light on somethng that I have been wondering about since I started collecting.. :)

    Before I started collecting costume and shoes, I used to look at those old repro catalogues (like the 1901 Eaton's catalog, the 1887 Bloomingdales catalog, etc) and see the lady's shoe size range being size 1-7 or 2-8. As a modern US/Canadian 10, I used to think that they were just prejudiced against large size feet back then. :)

    BUT now since collecting shoes for a few years now, moving to the UK and seeing the shoe sizing system here and finding my shoe size is now a 7 or 8 (depending on the brand and how they run sizewise), I was wondering if North America used to use the British shoe size system in the Victorian and Edwardian era and when did the US and Canada change over to the modern numbering?

    Alot of my 19th and early 20th century shoes that fit me which have a number size stamped in them are stamped as being a "7", the ones marked as "8" tend to be a bit roomy on me.
    LOL, to sum it up, my antique shoes marked 7, fit like modern UK 8's (US 10) and the antique 8's fit more like modern UK 9's (US 11).
    So does that mean that the old sizes did indeed run largish which would explain the size 1-7 seen in antique catalogs?

    Is the myth of the tiny footed Victorian woman, really a myth perpetuated by modern people not realizing that they used to use the smalled numbered UK sizing system?

    Just something I have been wondering years about! :)

  15. bigchief

    bigchief Alumni

    For further stiletto studies, this book is about to be published (it's not out yet) ~

    <img src="/shoeworkshop/STILETTO.jpg" width=366 height=500>

  16. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Trade Member

    Dear Shoe-a-holic,

    Please help me. When my friends all get out their "Victorian " boots, I keep getting confused about combinations of pointed toe, round toes, Cuban heel, Louis heel and shaped tops. They think I am clueless and insist that all lace-up and button boots are equally ancient. Help!
    For example - these two pair of boots:



    Barefoot and Bootless in KY
  17. ellenm

    ellenm Registered Guest

    Thank you, Jonathan, for sharing your expertise with us. I'm learning a lot.

    Would you date these felt slippers as 50s?


  18. Lei....thanks for asking about that..because i have been thinking about sizing too. I need some enlightening!

    I know full well that some manufacturers run small or large (or perhaps some makers don't make a "well balanced" shoe requiring you to go up or down on your normal size??????) but i have wondered about shoe sizing. The thing i was wondering has a more modern slant...the last 20 years.

    You can go to a more specialized shoe store that has orthopedic shoes and can still buy AA AAAA, C widths, etc. But you go to anywhere else, and most stores, an 8 or a 9 is medium width with no other choices. Sometimes, especially at higher end, you get N (narrow) and W (wide) but not all the time.

    My greataunt had said back in the day one foot was a little over 1/4 size longer than the other and instead of being pinched in one foot or too loose in the other, she was fitted with two different shoes. And if you had a really good salesperson, he/she would probably sell you two whole different pairs and you would just wear one from each. Hence the old fashioned stores selling mismates..and even a Saks that closed in wisconsin when i was in 6th grade did that...my mom and i went to the clearance sale and that's when i learned about mismates and the saleswoman told me all about it because i was nosey. it wasn't about just about factory screwups or selling the mates to amputees. (though they did donate some leftovers to programs for amputees)

    So is this an "old wives tale" or did this really go on?

    Is it a matter of cash as far as lmiting the sizes???.....do they look at the sizes that are the biggest sellers and they stopped making or stocking all those wides, narrows, etc...or do they "average them out" and reassess the sizing just like they readjust clothing sizing scales over the years and we really aren't all those sizes any longer.

    No wonder people have such orthopedic problems. I think if they wore the right size in the beginning, one wouldn't need to go to the orthopedic store.

    I truly am beginning to think that shoe sizing is an art and not just a scientific calculation...
  19. Okay, Jonathan, are these stilettos? And what would the date be?

    <img src=/shoeworkshop/goldrisque.jpg><br><br><img src=/shoeworkshop/goldrisque2.jpg><br><br><img src=/shoeworkshop/goldrisque3.jpg><br><br>
  20. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    OH Boy... the history of shoe sizing it very complicated... I will start in the 14th century:

    By the 14th fourteenth century shoemakers were already making footwear for speculative sale, essentially “ready to wear.” This was aided by the adoption of standardized measurement. In England in 1324, measurements for distance were standardized under King Edward II. Consistent in size, three barleycorns laid end-to-end equaled one inch and the foot-long “ruler” became the foot measurement of King Edward, the ruler of England.

    The other standard of measurement was the hand, used since biblical times, and used to this day for measuring the height of horses. A hand equals 4 1/3 inches or 13 barleycorns. When a standardized measurement for shoe sizing was revamped in the late 17th seventeenth century, children’s sizes were deemed to be less than the measurement of a hand and adult sizes were those over a hand. Adult sizes began with the deduction of 4 1/3 inches, so an adult woman’s size 4 shoe means it is made for a foot 8 1/3 inches long.

    Under Louis XIV the Paris Point system was standardized as 2/3 centimeter, and became the standard for most of Europe, but Germany, which continued to follow the English measuring system, probably because of the connection between the German King George of England at the time.

    Shoe widths were not introduced into shoemaking until the 1880s by American manufacturers. The last is the wooden mold upon which a heeled shoe is made and the construction of lasts was very expensive and time consuming, but Metzlinger, a mulatto Czech American had created a machine that could size wooden lasts inexpensively, and so the era of widths began.

    In the 1920s another revamping of the shoe size system came about in the U.S. Primarily because of the post WW1 economy when many European shoe manufacturers were forced out of business and the supremecy of the American ready-to-wear shoe market that was filling shoe stores with stock in Europe as well as America. Americans went ahead and resized their shoes in order to increase the size range. It was an arbitrary decision which is not uncommon in the fashion industry. Ready-to-wear clothing has been resized several times since the 1920s.

    So that explains the difference between pre 1920s footwear and AMerican and British footwear sizing. The British sizing system hasn't changed since the 17th century, the Paris Point system has also never changed since the 17th century, but the American system changed in the 1920s.

    Width is another matter and arbitrarily decided upon depending on the manufacturer, also depth is another consideration one has to keep in mind.
    Shoes are THE most difficult item of clothing to manufacture from a scientific point of view because the foot is a weird shape, with lots of variations in size, and is also flexible.

    For example, I actually wear a 11 1/2 EEE in the ball and a B width in the heel, but end up buying 13D's because 11 1/2 EEE with a B width heel are just not made. I can't wear Italian made 13D's or loafers because Italian shoes tend to be shallow, as are loafers and I have a high instep. So when you are trying on shoes you have to keep in mind that the foot is 3 dimensional and requires length, width, and depth in order to fit correctly. None of this would be a problem if I had shoes made to order, but I can't afford that (since a pair of hand made lasts to my size feet would be at least $500.00 to begin with, and most hand shoemakers tend to shy away from styles I like, producing standard black and brown laced oxfords)

    Lei, you mentioned that you wear a size 7, or 8 depending on the maker. I bet that you have a wide ball as well, so some 7's are fine, but some too narrow, so you have to go to an 8. You probably are a size 7, but maybe a D or more width. This is where the problem exists as there is just no all-encompassing system of shoe sizing that will guarantee a perfect fit for every foot out there.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that antique shoes are generally less stiff. They use kid leather, thin suedes and cotton lined textiles. Shoes made since the 1920s have tended to be more structured and unforgiving in fit with heavier leathers, thicker suedes and most textile shoes are really textile covered leather shoes. This makes a huge difference in fit, so you may think that the older shoes are larger, but they are most likely just more comfortable, and also probably already broken in. Leather stretches with wear and the thinner the leather, the quicker the stretching.

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