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1930s Century Shoes

11 Mar 2023
It's human nature to wish for things we don't have, and the 1930s were a time of enormous wishing. The harsh reality of day-to-day life during the Depression was juxtaposed with the silver-screen elegance of the movies and by those wealthy enough to afford lavish lifestyles.

Sex appeal jumped bravely from the screen and glamour came into mainstream consciousness.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing economic depression turned the country into a nation of "haves" and "have-nots." Hitler was coming to power in Europe, interest in communism was on the rise, and cynicism about the future was common.

Regardless, just about anyone could afford to go to the new talking movies, and stars such as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, and the Marx Brothers provided a respite from the dreariness.

Fashion was cool and sleek, heavily influenced by Madeleine Vionnet's invention of the bias cut. Fabrics for eveningwear were luxurious, draped beautifully, and looked perfectly luminous—onscreen and off. If you could afford furs, then by all means, you wore furs. Most, however, lived with very tight budgets.

Clothing needed to wear well and serve a variety of purposes. Daywear reached to mid calf; eveningwear brushed the floor again. Women were even known to don slacks and other casual wear.

Designers began to experiment with shoe fashion. Platform shoes made their first 20th century appearance in the late 1930s. Created by designers such as Salvatore Ferragamo and André Perugia, these platforms were created from wood, cork and other materials, due to a shortage of leather and a war ban on rubber.

Shoes were also cut higher in the vamp, making them look "chubbier." Sandals were increasingly popular, reflected in strappy evening shoes with open toes revealing sheer, silk hose. Men were beginning to wear more spectator loafers and fewer boots. Women, seeking sensible, low-heeled footwear, mimicked the look.

The Art Deco movement heavily influenced shoe styles early in the decade, but by the late 1930s a surrealist movement had taken hold. Exotic, Middle-Eastern prints were also popular motifs, nourished by the public's penchant for costume dramas. The decade saw every color imaginable, including Elsa Schiaparelli's "shocking pink."

Somber colors such as maroon, black, brown, and navy were also frequently used, and a precursor of things to come.

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