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Flapper shoes: The footwear that declared cultural war on Victorian apparel

Alex A
cphoffman42 CC By2.0
cphoffman42 CC By2.0

The Roaring Twenties was a period in history that broke the prim and proper Victorian society and, prompted by postwar enthusiasm, brought new vigor and exuberance to Western society.

The former social ideals of plain living, religion, and hard work were discarded, and people, especially young women, embraced individuality and personal choice.

This new generation of women, called “flappers,” challenged and overturned the traditional female societal roles. The term “flapper” was originally used to describe baby birds on the verge of leaving the nest. Presumably, the flappers and their gawky attempts at flying were associated with women’s delicate adolescent period. In the 1920s, the term described young females with irreverent behavior and appearance, defiant of any social or sexual norms, especially in the way they dressed. Flappers’ look suggested questionable morals, but at the same time it represented a new social order.

A pretty flapper style shoe in a Roaring Twenties shoe exhibit.  Author:  In pastel  CC BY2.0
A pretty flapper style shoe in a Roaring Twenties shoe exhibit.  Author:  In pastel  CC BY2.0

These women danced suggestively, smoked cigarettes, drove fast cars, openly flirted with men, and spent long nights in jazz clubs. In accordance with their free-spirited personas, as well as the rise of American jazz and dancing at that time, their clothing style was comfy and boyish, but well-defined and utterly extravagant. As the hemline went up, even rising above the knee, women’s legs became more exposed than ever. They were willing to express the joy of freedom to move or dance freely in new, complementary shoes.

Shoes were chosen and matched not only to the specific clothing style but the season too. During the 1920s, women went mad for shoes. They asked for special dancing shoes, sporting shoes, walking shoes, indoor house shoes, and even swimming shoes. The excessive demand for shoes forced dressmakers to become shoe designers and begin the massive production of affordable shoes for women of different social scales.

The rhinestones are each individually claw-set, rather than simply glued onto the backing. Author: CC BY2.0
The rhinestones are each individually claw-set, rather than simply glued onto the backing. Author: CC BY2.0

Inspired by French fashion, new high-heeled shoes came into vogue. The heels were 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) high. The most popular shoe models were the “Mary Jane” model, the “T-strap” or “Strappy,” ”Pumps,” “Oxford,” “Galoshes,” and “Saddle” shoes worn in classic nude, black, gold, and silver shades. The toes of the shoes were rounded and later squared. They were made of different materials, depending on the type (indoor or outdoor). The outdoor shoes, which were mainly for walking or sports, were made of leather—calfskin, goat, alligator, or lizard. The most elegant footwear, mostly worn at parties, was made of satin, brocade, lambskin, or grosgrain, and was often jazzed up with tinsel, beads, or special embroidery.

The most common low-heel model were the Oxford shoes which were everyday walking footwear. They were usually made in two colors: brown and white, black and white, or brown and tan. However, most of the models had an ornamented trim or laced decorations.

“Strap Pumps,” known today as “Mary Janes,” were the trendiest model. They were commonly designed with double straps, often crossed in an x-shape or with simple, straight straps (single or multiple).

The most iconic shoe model was the “Sally Pump,” also known as “T-strap” or “T-bar” (British). The strap of this shoe came from the toe to the vamp, creating a T. The straps usually closed with tiny, sparkly buckles or with decorative buttons.

Some designers even tried to combine the T-strap, the ankle strap, and the multiple-strap. A single ankle strap was added to some of the Mary Janes and T-straps to secure them for dancing. Occasionally, straps were alternated with a ribbon that was looped through eyelets and tied in a bow.

The most elegant flappers with exquisite taste often chose shoe models that represented the Art Deco style of the 1920s in their design.

Read another story from us: Chopines: Renaissance platform shoes popularly worn in Venice by both courtesans and patrician women

These shoes were especially favored by the flappers for their glimmery gold details on finely polished leather.