Tuesday, January 3, 2012


by Wanda Luce

How essential to every lady's wardrobe are the shoes!  While today we romp about in every sort of convention for the foot, in early 1800s England, the choices were vastly more limited.  Slippers were ill-suited to extensive walking but served well for the pampered lifestyle of the haut ton, the gentry, or the wealthy cits.  I am sure even some country peasants owned at least one pair, however humble.

Call me a muffin head if you like, but I was quite shocked to discover that the slippers were often fashioned of colored leather. I guess, somehow I doubted their ability to make such beautifully colored leather in that era.  As a Regency-era author, I am ashamed to admit I did not know this.  I suppose, I assumed the slippers were made of any number of available fabrics like sturdy cottons or satins. 

Those points look quite dangerous, if you ask me, but I can assure you that they rounded out in the later Regency.  Such extreme points on ladies' shoes have enjoyed a hearty revival at various points in time, but they never seem to last for long.

While some slippers were made of leather, the black and yellow shoe in the picture dates from the late 1790s and is composed of silk set off with black trim. 

Soon, the high-heeled pumps of the 18th century disappeared, as did the stripes and embellished patterns seen at the turn of the century.  Regency-era shoes were crafted in a variety of colors and often came with ribbon ties.  These flat, delicate shoes were little more than ballet slippers and were mainly worn in the evenings or indoors. 

By mid-Regency, women enjoyed the greater utility of half-boots, and by 1810, fashionable women wore these flat-soled half-boots for almost every occasion.  Although certainly more durable than slippers, they were often made of kid (goat) leather, nankeen, or a denim-like fabric and were not impervious to soaking up water and mud.  The thin, pliable kid could be dyed or embroidered but did not stand up well to rough treatment.  I like the little hint of femininity granted by the toe rosette.

Emma was not inclined to give herself much trouble for his entertainment, and after hard labour of mind, [Lord Osborne] produced the remark of its being a very fine day, and followed it up with the question of:  ”Have you been walking this morning?”
“No my lord, we thought it too dirty.” (Unpleasant, stormy.)“You should wear half boots.” After another pause: “Nothing sets off a neat ankle more than a half boot; nankeen galoshed with black looks very well. Do not you like half boots?”

“Yes; but unless they are so stout as to injure their beauty, they are not fit for country walking.” – Jane Austen, The Watsons

Although still a minority in women’s footwear at the beginning of the 19th century, ankle boots would become the dominant style of daytime footwear by the 1830s.  Let it here be noted, however, that most of the women in Europe rarely owned more than one pair of shoes.  I cannot but think that their half-boots were far sturdier than those of the upper classes.
Well, though hardly a complicated subject for which a few excellent pictures might have sufficed, I think it to have been worthy of this short examination.   Certainly, though the history of shoes is not a momentous topic, our feet and those of our ancestors have carried us and them into our successes and follies alike.

How different the world's history would have been if none of us had been born with feet!  How much of good and bad alike might never have occured without shoes on these feet.  Thus, how valuable to mankind has been the shoe and no less so in early 1800s England.

I hope you have found my article a little diverting and that you have gained, even if only just a little, more knowledge of our ancestors' foot-trappings.  One can be quite certain my heroines were all properly shod in the shoes of the day.
Hope you give my website a quick look:  www.wandaluce.blogspot.com
Cheerio, until next month! 


  1. That fourth picture reminds me of what Princess Diana wore that revolutionized shoes from the clunky heeled fashions of the late 60s and the 70s. At that time, they reminded me of ballet slippers and I thought they were oh so feminine! I was grateful for the change.

  2. Like you, I am amazed at the intricacy of color and design to these slippers. I learned a little as I thought those half boots were available sooner than they were.

    Thanks for the the post!

  3. I was intrigued by the grey kid half-boots in Heyer's books. Not the most practical, but then neither are Manolo Blahniks.

  4. Until the mid 1850s shoes did not come with a specified right or left shoe. I think it's 1858 when the concept is first introduced, but it could be a few years earlier--can't recall. And this is true of both men's and women's shoes. So, in this, getting a new pair of shoes or slippers required a certain breaking in--much like a dancer does with a new pair of ballet shoes.

    What's curious here though too is that for a man's riding boots, they would have fitted the calf--so they would have the length and width right--but not the shape of the foot.

    The lower classes--and that means at least 50% of the population would have worn a kind of clog--uppers of leather, often tied, (there's a picture of a military shoe in my blog on Reenactments)with a heavy wooden sole and heel.

    There's also a great deal of walking going on in this era--this is the period of rapture about The Scenic. And so you have lots of middle-class and upper class people walking and travelling to take in the wonders of nature. (As in Elizabeth Bennet's trip to Derbyshire.) So there's a growing market for walking boots which can stand up to the mud this country so freely produces...

  5. I believe I would hate these shoes as much as I hate shoes today...lol.

  6. Coloured leather was certainly available in the medieval period; the production and dyeing of such fine leather was not the province of the tanner but the tawer or whitawer who also cured fine furs [such as for lining gloves or the fur-lined overshoes one wore to balls in the Regency]. The process is both faster and less smelly than the tanner's art, involving the use of alum [most alum of the period coming from the alum works near Whitby]. Such fine leather takes dye much as cloth does.
    These are beautiful pictures and I too was surprised how late half boots came in - a fascinating post, thank you.

  7. I've always wondered about this. Thanks Wanda for sharing your knowledge! I'm soooo glad we don't wear shoes like that. Just looking at them hurts my feet. You know, when I watch Pride & Prejudice, and see how much Elizabeth walked...it makes me wonder why anyone would want to walk that much in those type of shoes.


  8. Interesting how the ballet slipper seems to have kept alive much of the design of the early 18th century shoe. At least until the steel toe-shoe appeared, fairly recently -- and of course the conservatives don't like it.

  9. Keep up this great blog and keep great information coming for new people like me.


  10. I wear half-boots and find them very handy. Thanks for an informative blog--I'm writing a Regency set book and was looking for this info.

  11. By mid-Regency, women enjoyed the greater utility of half-boots, and by 1810, fashionable women wore these flat-soled half-boots for almost ... iwomensboots.blogspot.com


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