History's Mirror Project: Shoes


Women's shoes in the 1940s can be broadly categorised as Oxfords, Pumps and Sandals. Oxfords are characterized by shoelace eyelet tabs that are stitched underneath the vamp. They were sturdy shoes, variations of which were worn by both men and women for general-purpose, everyday wear. Military oxfords were especially popular and serviceable. Dress Oxfords were worn for dressier occasions. Heels were usually low and worn with white socks, making them ideal for everyday wear. Later in the decade, after the war, the heels began to grow taller and the shape more elegant.

The Mary Jane style shoe was a very popular women's style in the 1940s. Characterised by a single strap across the foot and chunky heel, they were comfortable and easy to manufacture in material other than leather which was not readily available during the war. The term "pumps" was used during the 1940s to describe women's heeled shoes with no strap across the front and either a closed toe or peep toe. This is a design of shoe still popular with women today, although the 1940s pumps tended to have a chunky block heel, usually at least inches in width and length. Also, the body of the shoe encompassed more of the foot than modern designs. The leather wrapped up to the top of the foot leaving just enough room to put on the shoe, so they were not entirely "slip on".

By the late 1940s when the war and the conservatism it had brought was over, shoe heels began getting higher, leather was more readily available and open toed shoes grew in popularity amongst women.

Sling-backs also grew in popularity in the late 1940s, but had been fashionable in the 1930s thanks to Salvatore Ferragamo, an Italian artisan who manufactured shoes from Florence and who was perhaps the most well known shoe designer of his generation. He is also credited with the introduction of the platform shoe to 19th century fashion during the 1930s, making the pair for Judy Garland in 1938.


Kitten heels became fashionable during the mid 1950s. Low (around 1.5 inches) and curved, they were comfortable but dainty and feminine and made popular by Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn also helped to popularise the ballet flat, but it was Brigitte Bardot who instigated the commercial production of the shoes after she wore a red pair of Repetto's ballets slippers in "Et Dieu...creea la femme". The ballet flat was often worn with white socks by teenage girls during the 1950s. The Modern Stiletto Heel was introduced by French designer Roger Vivier in the late 1950s. The name is derived from the word for dagger and the meaning emphasises the "long" and "thin" characteristics of the heel. The stiletto heel drew attention to the leg and the calf and was soon very popular in an era where femininity was fashionable. In 1958 Hush Puppies appeared in the USA and they introduced a new, more relaxed form of men's footwear which became popular as attitudes began to relax.


The classic Chelsea Boot emerged during the early 1960s. A flat, lace less ankle boot with elastic at the sides, it became part of the classic mod look of the 1960s. Dr Martens were launched in the UK in 1960 by Northamptonshire shoe company R Griggs. The originals were red with eight eyelets and in the early sixties they had a utilitarian use, popular with workers. Dr Martens have been adopted by subsequent generations of youth as footwear of choice and are as well-known by the term DM's. The Knee High Boot, often referred to as the Go-Go Boot is calf or knee length with a flat or low Cuban type heel. Brightly coloured plastic types epitomised the Space Age sixties and the style of British designer Mary Quant.

Shiny colours and plastics were also used for shoes of the 1960s in keeping with Space Aged fashion and the low Cuban type heel remained popular on these as well. The Square Toe also became fashionable during the 1960s such as Charles Jourdan shoes from 1965. Arguably the most well-known brand of Flip Flop around today is the Havaianas which was first produced in the early 1960s in Brazil due to their abundant supply of rubber. However, other countries produced their own versions. They were known as jandals in New Zealand and thongs in Australia. Whatever they were called Flip Flops became immensely popular during the 1960s and remain so to this day.


The Platform Heel is more synonymous with the 1970s than any other shoe. They were essential footwear for the Glam Rock movement and were popularised by the Biba fashion label during the 1970s having been introduced to shoe fashion four decades earlier by Salvatore Ferragamo. Although Clarks Shoes had been around for many years, their comfortable shoes became popular with the folksy set of the 1970s. The design influenced by the style of the Kalso Earth Shoe invented by Danish designer Anna Kalso in the early 70s. The waterproof Timberland Boot was launched in 1973 by the Abington Shoe Company and proved extremely popular and although originally designed for the American outdoors, thousands of urbanites across the world own a pair today.

The Waffle Trainer, so called because of its grid like sole was launched in 1974 by Blue Ribbon Sports and was developed by Bill Bowerman, one of Blue Ribbons founders. The trainer became incredibly popular and was a familiar sight by the time Blue Ribbon Sports became Nike in 1978. It was during the 1970s Kicker Boots were first developed in France. They were very popular in Europe throughout the 70s, but it was a trend that didn't reach the UK until into the 80s and really took off during the late 80s dance music scene.