Shoe Decoration

When shoes with fastenings replaced slip-on styles at the end of the sixteenth century, shoe decoration started to become important. These new shoe styles featured latchets, or straps, that crossed over the top of the foot near the ankle. Latchets had tiny holes into which ribbons were threaded and tied in a bow to hold the shoe snugly in place. With the emphasis on elegant ornamentation in the seventeenth century, shoe decoration became quite ornamental.

Throughout the last half of the seventeenth century, small buckles were used to fasten shoes. The buckles were either worn alone or were accompanied by large ribbon bows.

Shoe roses became especially popular. Shoe roses were ribbons twisted into a rosette or gathered into a large ruffled puff. These decorations were often made of gold or silver lace-edged ribbons and could be quite expensive. One noted English trend-setter, Richard Sackville, the third Earl of Dorset, who spent his fortune almost entirely on clothes, counted his shoe roses as separate, special items in his wardrobe and especially his shoe roses made of gold lace.

The idea that shoe ornamentation was unique jewelry for shoes carried throughout the century. When buckles first appeared as latchet fastenings in the mid-1600s, they were considered separate from the shoe. Like shoe roses, buckles could be worn with a number of different shoes. Buckles were most often made of silver. Throughout the last half of the seventeenth century, small buckles fastened shoes alone or were accompanied by large ribbon bows. By the eighteenth century, high-heeled shoes with ever larger, more highly decorated buckles had become the most common shoe for both men and women. This trend lasted until the French Revolution (1789–99), when people donated their expensive buckles to help fund the fighting or took off their buckles to hide their wealth and began wearing shoes with laces.

In addition to the added decorations, shoes' uppers and high heels were often made of or covered in expensive fabrics or dyed leather and beautified with embroidery or appliqued patterns. Brocade, an oriental silk fabric patterned with raised designs of silver and gold thread, was often used for the uppers of shoes. Velvet and kid, the soft leather from young goats, were also popular.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.

Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You? A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Company, 1996.

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