Posts Tagged ‘Regency shoes’

Ladies shoes, 1810

In a previous post, I discussed how ladies slippers and boots were so delicately made that they could not withstand much wear and tear. In fact, a lady would not venture to walk outside the house in rainy weather and would be confined inside, whether she was in the city or country. Jane Austen described a rainy day in Mansfield Park:

… to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plan of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty-four hours; the sound of a little bustle at the front door, and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule, was delightful. The value of an event on a wet day in the country, was most forcibly brought before her.”

1801, Two ladies in morning dresses, Nicholas Heideloff, Gallery of Fashion

In the country a lady would not soil her delicate kid slippers on grass or muddy lanes, but would walk along gravel paths in the shrubbery, as shown in the Heideloff image above. Elizabeth Bennet, who walked the three miles to Netherfield Park, muddying her petticoats in the process, would have worn sturdier shoes, such as those worn by the women in the watercolor below.

Studies of female figures with children, James Ward

Female fashionable attire in the eighteenth century was very ill fitted for country life, which is so largely spent out of doors. Indeed, it was not fitted for out door wear at all. No fashionable woman was properly shod in the first place, for the coloured shoes, which, as has been stated, all ladies wore, were not adapted for vigorous exercise, or damp weather, with their high heels and very open tops. Those were the kind of shoes worn for walking in London. Country life in shoes of that sort would mean endless expense. The wonder is that town bred women did not insist upon the shoemakers providing something more fitted for the dirty, uneven pathways. But, then, walking was not a daily exercise as it is now. Foot gear has undergone much reformation in the present century, in spite of the persistence of high heels…”

Knife Sharpener, W.H. Pyne. This traveling craftsman would have worn sturdy old boots like William Conway.

“… A notable itinerant trader of the middle of the eighteenth century, known to all Londoners, was William Conway of Bethnal Green, who made a living by selling and exchanging metal spoons. As he walked twenty five miles a day, Sundays excepted, his shoes were the most important articles of his attire, and these he made out of the uppers of old boots. A pair of shoes lasted him six weeks. He was an odd figure, with his long spindle legs encased in tight knee breeches, short coat, high hat, and bag slung over his shoulder.” – A history of English dress from the Saxon period to the present day, Volume 1, By Georgiana Hill , 1893, p 181

"Cash", Rowlandson, 1800. Note the dark leather slippers worn by the maid, and the sturdy buckled shoes by her elderly swain.

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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?”

Walking dress with blue half boots, 1818. La Belle Assemblee.

“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

Satin half boots, 1830. Image @Vintage Textile

Ladies shoes were quite delicate in Jane Austen’s day. They were made of satin or soft kid leather, and thin soles with short heels.  Kid leather was a soft and pliable leather made from young goat skin that was often used for slippers (and gloves as well). Shoes made from kid leather could be dyed or embroidered, but the thin flimsy material could barely withstand ordinary wear and tear, much less rough treatment.

Delicate pastel kid shoes with stencilled motif, 1800. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

During the mid-Regency, tied shoes went out of fashion as lace-up half-boots became popular for outdoor wear. Made of leather or nankeen (a durable natural cotton from China, with a distinct yellow color), these boots were more geared for long walks in the country than the delicate slippers they replaced. But the boots were deceptive, for the leather was quite thin by today’s standards and tore and scuffed easily or were quickly ruined by the elements. As a general rule, thick leather shoes with sturdy wooden soles were worn by laborers. The ruling classes, it was felt, needed no such rough and tumble items.

1795-1815 leather boots. Image @Metropolitan Museum Collection.

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. This early pair of fashionable boots shoes shows the importance of angular lines, repeated throughout designs and evident from what ever position the boots are viewed. The museum also possesses a similar boot with a small “Italian” heel (2009.300.1487), demonstrating the overlap in styles. The original shoelaces, unlike those now in the boots, would have most likely matched the dark teal color of the leather. – Met Mus collection database

1795-1810, blue European boots. Image @Metropolitan Museum Collection

Boots began to become fashionable for women in the last quarter of the 18th century, but their use was limited primarily to riding and driving. Few pairs survive, and the peculiar wrap-around leg on this example is specific to this period and extremely rare. Although not well-fitted enough to provide a particularly secure fastening to the foot, the wrapped leg may have been intended to provide superior protection from dust and moisture than the standard laced closure. Colored footwear was a favored means of complimenting plain white dresses in the early 19th century, and the dark teal blue color seen here seems to have been particularly favored.- Boots

1812-1820 ladies boots. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early years of the 19th century boots gradually became acceptable for women. By 1804, half-boots with front lacing and ribbon trimmings, like this pair, had started to appear in fashion illustrations for ‘walking’ or ‘morning’ dress. Hardwearing cottons – the striped uppers are made of cotton jean – became increasingly available and were used as alternatives to leather. Heroines in novels by Jane Austen (1775-1817) are often described wearing footwear of this kind. V&A

Nankeen half boots, 1795-1810. Image @Virginia Review

Toughening Nankeen for rough wear and tear: To Wash- Put a handful of salt into a vessel with a gallon of cold water immerse the nankeenm and let it remain for twenty four hours; then wash it in hot lye without soapm and hang up to dry without wringing it, Nankeen washed in this manner will keep its colour for a long time – The Dictionary of Daily Wants, 1866

1830. Sturdier damask gaiter boots. Image @Vintage Textile

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She lost her pattens in the muck
& Roger in his mind
Considered her misfortune luck
To show her he was kind
He over hitops fetched it out
& cleaned it for her foot…
From the Middle Period Poems of John Clare (1820s)

It is commonly acknowledged that country roads in the day of Jane Austen became muddy and rutted in heavy rains, and therefore nearly impassable. In cities and towns, streets required constant sweeping of horse dung and dirt by street sweepers. Ladies wearing long white gowns and soft satin or kid slippers were constantly dodging dirt, protecting their hems from wet grass, and finding ways to walk on roads and cobblestones whose condition were poor at best.

Diana Sperling's watercolor of a walk to a neighbor's house in mud

Diana Sperling painted her delightful watercolor sketches between 1812 and 1823. In two of the paintings, she shows precisely how difficult it was for ladies (and gents) to walk over poorly maintained roads – or no roads at all! One imagines that Jane Austen and her family, who were country gentry like the Sperlings, encountered similar difficulties when walking.

Charles Sperling conveys a lady over wet grass, by Diana Sperling.

In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, one can see Marianne in particular holding up her skirts and daintily traipsing over a London street as the party walks from their carriage to the Dashwood’s ball in London. I found this scene particularly interesting, for this is one of the few films that depict how difficult it was for ladies to keep their garments clean as they walked down London’s streets. Regency women must have collectively heaved a sigh of relief when hemlines became fashionably short.


Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) holds up her skirt, shawl, and reticule as she walks gingerly towards the ball.



In Rolinda Sharples' Clifton Assembly Room (1817), one can see the lady on the lower right changing her slippers in the cloak room.

The problem of keeping one’s feet and skirts clean was solved by wearing pattens, although this practice was rapidly fading in the early 19th century.


Lady wearing pattens in snow. Image @City of London

In A Memoir of Jane Austen, her James Edward Austen Leigh wrote about his aunts Cassandra and Jane:

The other peculiarity was that when the roads were dirty the sisters took long walks in pattens. This defence against wet and dirt is now seldom seen. The few that remain are banished from good society and employed only in menial work…

As an illustration of the purposes which a patten was intended to serve, I add the following epigram written by Jane Austen’s uncle Mr Leigh Perrot, on reading in a newspaper of the marriage of Captain Foote to Miss Patten

Through the rough paths of life,

with a patten your guard,

May you safely and pleasantly jog,

May the knot never slip,

nor the ring press too hard,

Nor the Foot find the Patten a clog.

18th century fragment, iron shoe patten

A patten was an oval shoe iron that was riveted to a piece of wood and then strapped to the underside of a shoe. This unwieldy and loud contraption served to raise the shoe out of the mud or a dirty street.  Even a clean street would sully the hems of delicate white muslin gowns, and thus ladies would commonly wear pattens. However, these contraptions were loud. As Jane Austen described in Persuasion:

“When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint..”

Early 19th century pattens

Pattens had been banned from churches for some time. As early as 1390, the Diocese of York forbade clergy from wearing pattens and clogs in both church and in processions, considering them to be indecorous: “contra honestatem ecclesiae”*. An 18th century notice in St Margaret Pattens, the Guild Church of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers, requested that ladies remove their pattens on entering; other English churches had similar signs, and in one case, provided a board with pegs for ladies to hang them on. One surmises that churches banned the use of pattens because of their loud clatter on stone floors.

Early 19th century pattens. Image @Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Constance Hill, who with her sister followed in the footsteps of Jane Austen a century after Jane’s death, described the noise of these raised iron clogs:

It is true that in bad weather ladies could walk for a short distance in pattens, which were foot-clogs supported upon an iron ring that raised the wearer a couple of inches from the ground. But these were clumsy contrivances. The rings made a clinking noise on any hard surface, and there is a notice in the vestibule of an old church in Bath, stating that “it is requested by the church-wardens that no persons walk in this church with pattens on.” – Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends

Pattens were clumsy platforms that raised the shoe a few inches from the ground. The most common patten after the 17th century was made from a  flat metal ring which made contact with the ground. The ring was then attached to a metal plate nailed into the wooden sole. By the 18th and 19th centuries, men’s shoes had thicker soles and the wealthier gentlemen tended to wear riding boots, and thus pattens were worn only by women and working-class men in outdoor occupations.  Soon, pattens were abandoned by ladies as well, and only the lower classes wore them as they went about their duties.

Pattens worn by a maid, 1773

There were three main types of pattens: one with a wooden ‘platform’ sole raised from the ground by either with wooden wedges or iron stands. The second variant had a flat wooden sole often hinged. The third type had a flat sole made from stacked layers of leather.*

18th century silk shoes protected by pattens. Image @Wall Street Journal

One can imagine the sad state of paths and roads the world over, which necessitated the use of such clumsy footwear in England, America, Turkey, and China, to name a few countries.

Late 19th century Chinese porcelain patten shoes

Images of pattens over the centuries:

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Bootmaker, 1845


He wore green trousers and a red jacket and his hat was leather with a narrow brim and a purple band all around the crown. He was sitting on a wooden stool, hammering away at a pair of boots that he was making, with the tools of his trade all laid out beside him: the lap-stone, the stirrup, the whet-board, the pincers and the nippers. As he worked he sang a little song to himself, to go with the rhythm of the hammering:

A Gentle Craft that hath the Art,
To steal soon into a Lady’s Heart.
Here you may see what Guile can do,
The Crown doth stoop to th’ Maker of a Shoe.

The Other End of the Rainbow, David Gardiner


16th Century Shoemaker Shop


In the Middle Ages, tradesmen formed guilds that protected their trades. Those who worked with fine leather were known as Cordwainers,  named after the very finest leather that was imported from Cordoba, Spain. In later years, those who processed leather formed their own guild, but  shoemakers retained the name of Cordwainer. Cobblers were distinct from Cordwainers, for they only repaired shoes, but over the years, this distinction began to weaken.  – Cordwainers: History.


18th Century Shoe Shop


At the time, the shoemaking trade consisted of division according to the type of shoes made: men’s, women’s, and shoes for workers, such as night-soil men and slaughterhouse men. There were different operations performed by different persons: cutting leathers, sewing uppers, and joining heel and sole. And there were production sites, such as shop masters and cellar, garret and stall masters. Shoe masters employed many people in large operations that hired many workers (there were only 600 or 700 of these), but over 30,000 individuals worked as journeymen, countryworkers, apprentices and cheap garret masters.*


Shoe Seller, 1840


By the 18th century, most boot and shoemakers barely made a subsistence wage. The majority of individuals who made shoes worked for very low wages, about 9s or 10 s a week. Many could barely afford their own lodging, and if they did, the accommodations were mean and poor.  The wages, while low for men, were even lower for women – who worked in shoe closing and shoe binding – and for children.*


Blind bootlace seller, Mayhew


The life of a shoemaker was a hard scrabble life, for their trade depended on leather, the purchase of which required money or credit. Some shoemakers were known to stretch their goods by reducing the thickness of the leather used for heels and soles. Others, desperate to feed their families, would steal food or clothing and be jailed or, worse, hung after they were caught.*  -*London Hanged: crime and civil society in the eighteenth century, Peter Linebaugh


19th century shoe cobbler


Yet the shoemaking business was not totally abysmal:


Shoes over the 18th Century**


Shoemaking flourished in the 18th century, and boot- and shoe-makers were the most numerous of all Salisbury craftsmen throughout the 19th century and until the First World War. It was said that in the later 19th century ‘in hundreds of houses the shoe-binders, the closers and finishers were busy week in week out’. The business with the longest history is Moore Brothers, whose origins can be found in William Moore, boot and shoemaker in 1822 and 1830, and Henry Rowe, established in Catherine Street in 1842, who had moved by 1867 to Silver Street. By 1875 these premises were occupied by Rowe, Moore and Moore, a firm which subsequently became James and William Moore Brothers. The firm moved to its present premises in the New Canal at the end of the 19th century.  – Salisbury Economic History Since 1621


Yellow silk shoes with buckles, French, c. 1760's. @Bata Shoe Museum


Early in the Georgian era the fashion for high heels (as much as 3″) made it difficult for cobblers to make “paired lasts” for left and right shoes. The “last” of the shoe is footprint of the shoe, which can be straight or without a left or right side. Many of the 18th and 19th century shoes and boots were produced on straight lasts. As the person wore the shoes, they “molded” to the foot, creating a left side and right side over time. –  The Bootmaker


1810-1820 woven straw shoes


After the French Revolution, shoe heels began to disappear, symbolizing that everyone was born on the same level. Delicate silk uppers began to be replaced by more affordable, sturdier leathers.


1891 silk shoe made with straight lasts***.


But the shoes continued to be made with straight lasts, a technique that continued into the 20th century.


Vintage shoe lasts


As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there being no difference between the right and the left shoe. Breaking in a new pair of shoes was not easy. There were but two widths to a size; a basic last was used to produce what was known as a “slim” shoe. When it was necessary to make a “fat” or “stout” shoe the shoemaker placed over the cone of the last a pad of leather to create the additional foot room needed. – Fashion Through Time, History of Your Shoes


Shoemaker's shop, 1849


Tools used by bootmakers and cobblers included: awls for punching holes in leather; hot burnishers that rubbed soles and heels to a shine; sole knives that shaped soles; stretching pliers which stretched the leather upppers; marking wheels to mark where the needle should go throught the sole, and size sticks to measure the foot. “By 1750 shoemakers were making shoes in different sizes for anyone who wanted to buy them. Before that they only made shoes on special order.” – Tradesmen/shoemaker.



Pattens went out of fashion in the early 19th century. Jane Austen recalled their noise on cobblestones in Bath. It was common for women to trip while wearing this awkward device.


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Slippers 1800

Slippers 1800

The Bata Shoe Museum’s website features a podcast about beautifully preserved dancing shoes from 1700. Last year, Regency Ramble offered a comprehensive post about shoes worn in the Regency Period. Additional information sits on Cathy Decker’s Regency Footwear Page that features a variety of links and images.

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