Eighteenth-Century Footwear

The display of wealth through fashionable clothes was also seen on the feet in the eighteenth century. Both men and women of wealth wore fancy shoes that signaled their status, a trend that died out by the end of the century.

Women wore high-heeled shoes made of colorful silk or delicate leather, sometimes decorated with gold and silver lace and braid. Although women wore heavily decorated silk dresses, their shoes were rarely made from matching material; to do so would be much too expensive. Some shoes were laced, but most had decorative buckles. The toes of women's shoes were pointed or slightly rounded. These elaborate women's shoes were replaced at the end of the century, however, with much simpler styles, including the especially popular slipper.

For much of the eighteenth century, men's ankles were much admired. Their dark leather shoes with shiny metal buckles highlighted their ankles beneath clinging light colored stockings. The buckles of men's shoes signaled the status of the wearer as well as the importance of the occasion. Buckles could be made simply of steel or brass or encrusted with jewels and engravings. Some men's shoes were colored for special occasions. By mid-century, however, men's ankles were often hidden beneath fashionable jockey boots.

During the eighteenth century shoes and boots were made on straight lasts, or forms that created the soles of shoes, called straights. Without a sole designed specifically for the left or the right foot, shoes were uncomfortable. People frequently switched shoes from one foot to another to reduce the pain. Nevertheless, both men and women were expected to walk smoothly. Children began practicing how to walk properly in shoes from an early age.


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

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

Jockey Boots

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