Thursday, June 21, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 16

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on May 17th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 11

Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society presents a history of women's shoes


If you’ve ever looked a pair of women’s shoes and thought, “How could anyone wear that?” you’ve likely never seen the footwear women had hundreds of years ago.

Thanks to the Costume Council at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, visitors can get a look at the evolution of shoes from around the world. Kathleen Graves, who’s with the Costume Council, said the exhibit includes a look at historical shoes as well as modern day styles and how they draw their inspiration from the past.

Shoes from across the decades are on display at the Santa Ynez Valley Museum and Carriage House through July 31. The exhibit, If the Shoe Fits, examines the trends and societal norms that dictated what women wore on their feet.

Titled If the Shoe Fits, the exhibit explores the footwear of the Western world from the early 1800s through the present and also features shoes worn centuries ago from China, the Philippines, and more.

The exhibit chronicles the fashion and styles worn and includes historical explainers for key moments in the evolution of footwear. For example, before the 1870s, shoes had no right or left.

“It was very smart because if you were wearing out the side of a heel, you could just change over,” Graves explained. “And that way, they lasted longer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very comfortable.”

In the post-Revolutionary War era, dress lengths allowed for shoes to be visible below the hemline, making shoes a small part of one’s fashion statement. Indoor shoes resembling a ballet flat that wrapped around the foot were popular at the time.

As the era of the flapper girl faded, more sensible yet still fashionable footwear became popular with women of the 1930s. Espadrilles, flat canvas sandals, were also another popular shoe of the era.

“Many times women would make the tops themselves and have their harness maker make the bottoms,” Graves explained.

Long thin feet were desirable in that era and women of Western Europe would wrap their feet sideways to prevent them from spreading. If a woman wasn’t “carriage trade” (or wealthy) and had to walk everywhere or do regular chores, she would opt for a pair of boots she could loosen or tighten for certain situations. Shoes would be made out of material such as wool, fabric, leather, or denim material (the same kind used to make blue jeans).

In the 1860s, cage hoop skirts had a significant impact on shoe style. The cage hoop also heralded the introduction of women’s undergarments. Pantaloons were worn straight down to the ankle and boots were worn over them. Well-off women in the 1860s and 1870s spent a lot of time in their boudoir preparing to dress and often wore ornate slippers.

“But once she put on a corset, a woman could not bend at the waist anymore,” Graves said. “She could bend only from her hip joint. If you were a wealthy woman, you had a very low chair, with a back, called a slipper chair. That chair was so a woman could reach her shoes.”

Shoes from across the decades are on display at the Santa Ynez Valley Museum and Carriage House through July 31. The exhibit, If the Shoe Fits, examines the trends and societal norms that dictated what women wore on their feet.

One of the most fascinating shoes on exhibit is a pair of fur-lined carriage boots, which were shoes literally designed to be worn to keep a woman warm as she rides in a carriage.

“She wasn’t meant to walk in them,” Graves said. “She would put these on, get in her carriage, which was really cold and had no central heat. A brick in a box inside wouldn’t keep your feet warm for very long.” The carriage boots in the exhibit are wedges, which kept the shoe flat on the hot warming box and prevented cold air from seeping into the insole. Women wore carriage boots over their evening shoes, and slipped them off with an easy tie before heading into their destination.

Shoes at the close of the 19th century saw the influence of the suffragette movement, as women became more independent and sought to take on more tasks and responsibility for themselves.

“In the 1890s, the millennial woman was not going to be just decorative,” Graves said. “She was going to take that hill. Women were not just going to sit at home and let their husbands tell them what to do. They were going to go out and get educated, go rowing, bicycling, play tennis, and go to the beach. They were even going to go to work.”

Step into fashion history
The Costume Council presents If the Shoe Fits, a history of shoe fashions at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum and Carriage House through July 31. The museum is located at 3596 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 688-7889.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that shoe designers began considering arch support for women’s shoes. Along with the arch support, the revolutionary T-strap was introduced, which allowed women to dance to wild numbers such as the Charleston without losing a shoe.

If the Shoe Fits traces the evolution of shoe design through 2017, with a look at some current high-fashion designers such as Ralph Lauren, Betsey Johnson, and of course, Manolo Blahnik. Graves said ultimately the museum wanted to showcase the artistry behind the designs as well as the historical significance of each style of shoe.

“They were so intricate and so beautiful,” Graves said. “Such gorgeous materials, beadwork. It’s really quite amazing.”

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose left everything to her Manolo Blahniks in her will. Contact her at

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