Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 6 September 2013

Bespoke Boots and Dress Pumps

It's been a marathon summer and we have really enjoyed taking our students through the process of hand sewing their shoes under our watchful eye. 

This week, refreshed from holiday - a splendid week in Dorset (both sunny and relaxing) - we're gearing up from some fantastic design projects. In fact, a visit to Portsmouth Naval Dockyard during my holiday helped my research for one - naval footwear from the Regency period. 

Like many designers, historic dress is a rich source of ideas for adaptation and reinterpretation. So it was interesting to learn how, during the Regency period, men's style became less elaborate and so too did their shoes. 

Men's pumps (dress shoes) gradually changed from low, simple slipper-styles to high throated shoes with curved heels, fastened over the instep with side pieces (called latchets) and either tied in an elaborate bow or pulled through a decorative buckle. 

These ornate slipper styles were in turn replaced by simpler styles in basic black with low heels. (Some men continued to wear ornate buckles into the early 19th century, but only for formal occasions). 

I've seen examples of these shoes in paintings before, but it was interesting to find a pair tucked away aboard HMS Victory!

When they weren't strutting their stuff in dress shoes, boots were the footwear of choice for men, with Hessian boots (from Hesse in Germany) the most popular style. They were standard issue footwear for military officers, made from calf and cut wider on the leg so that they could be pulled on.
They had a low, one inch heel and a semi-pointed toe that made them practical for mounted troops as they allowed easy use of stirrups. They reached to just below the knee and had a decorative tassel at the top of each shaft. (We're looking forward to recreating these uppers).

Hessian boots in turn inspired the first Wellington boots when the first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker to modify the style. His boots were made in soft calfskin leather, cut close to the leg and without the trim around the top edge.

They were hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening and remained popular amongst the fashionable and foppish well through the 1840s. 
(So celebrities influenced fashion back then too!)

The leg fit on both boots is going to be a challenge - soft enough leather to pull on, but not so soft that they bag or slide down - but one we are looking forward to if the client progresses the project. Fingers crossed!

That's our snapshot of footwear history for now, so until next week happy shoemaking!