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1910s Century Shoes

11 Mar 2023
Periods of upheaval are often a catalyst for profound social change, which in turn is a catalyst for dramatic change in fashion. This is certainly true of the 1910s.

In the early part of the decade, fashion was fairly sedate, but in 1914, World War I broke out. The world changed, and by the end of the decade, so did fashion.

World War I was definitely the most dramatic event of the Teens, but a number of other important things happened during this period, as well. Events like the women's suffrage movement, the roots of Prohibition, and the Great Influenza epidemic of 1918 fundamentally changed American society. The RMS Titanic sank on her maiden voyage in 1912. Frank Lloyd Wright's Arts & Crafts movement began to take hold, and silent films featuring stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford were adored.

Dresses took on a whole new dimension. Gone was the corseted waist and in its place was the hobble skirt that mimicked "harem" skirts of the Middle East. Paul Poiret, a popular designer of the time, is credited with this fashion movement heavily influenced by Eastern design and colors.

Some skirts were so narrow that it was nearly impossible to move. For fear of splitting the skirt, women sometimes wore a length of cord to keep their legs from moving apart too much. It is not clear why they thought this was a good idea, but it's interesting that this movement occurred alongside the suffrage movement.

Shoes and hosiery also became more exotic and colorful, most notably when Poiret commissioned the Perugia shoemakers to create a line of Eastern-style jeweled slippers.

The Great War (1914 to 1918) changed people's lives in dramatic ways. Men went off to fight in Europe and women were left at home to run the factories. As women's independence increased, so too did their levels of activity and their desire for practical shoes.

Shoes and clothing were collected as part of the war effort and people were encouraged to be less frivolous. Clothing became more utilitarian, taking on a tailored, mannish appearance. Hemlines began to inch up as wartime shortages made fabric scarce. Even the nicest theaters declared eveningwear "optional but unnecessary." Lace-up boots came back into fashion, valued now for their practicality. Men's and women's shoes still tended to look similar.

A variety of materials were used in shoe construction, including leathers mixed with colored canvas or gabardine to form two-toned "spectators." Some leathers were reversed to form suede and were used with a kid or patent finish. Both day and evening pumps were often decorated with removable buckles in cut steel, silver filigree, diamanté, or marcasite.

Fashion took a dramatic turn when the war ended. As interests changed, so did clothing. Sportswear was increasing in popularity and such fashions were soon incorporated into everyday dress. U.S. Rubber developed the first sneaker, called Keds, in 1917. The word "sneaker" was coined quite literally because the rubber sole made the shoe stealthy — all other shoes, with the exception of moccasins, made noise when you walked.

Converse started producing its All Star line the same year, and shoe fashion would never be quite the same...

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