Women's fashions during the midto late nineteenth century tended to emphasize modesty and covered the entire body with long flowing skirts and large puffed sleeves. Despite the modest nature of fashions, high-button shoes that became a fashion necessity for the women of the mid- to late 1800s demonstrated a bit of flirtatious fun. Button shoes and boots were made of leather or a combination of leather and fabric. They rose to the ankle or higher and fastened at the side with a long row of tiny buttons, sometimes made of semi-precious materials like white pearls. Because the long, wide skirts of the day hid a woman's shape completely, a lady's shoe might be the only visible part of the lower half of her body.
Buttoned shoes were closed with the aid of a special tool called a buttonhook, which was a long handle with a small hook at the end. Often beautifully crafted of fine materials, the buttonhook was as important to a lady's dressing routine as hairpins and a comb. Once the shoes were on the feet, the hook was threaded through each small buttonhole, then hooked around the button and pulled back out, buttoning the shoe.
These high-buttoned shoes and boots concealed the feet completely with proper Victorian modesty, but they fit tightly, revealing the delicate shape of the foot to any who might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it beneath swishing skirts.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present . Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.