When you imagine the Victorian era, you probably imagine huge sunhats, enormous dresses, gloves, lace, jewels, and decadence. In fashion, when an era is simplistic, the era after it usually is extreme. The simplicity of the Regency era meant only that the Victorian Era would be grander than ever. However, a part of the outfit you’ve probably always overlooked is the shoes of Victorian women. What footwear did all the walking while Victorian ladies were trying to navigate tight hallways and narrow sidewalks in their dresses? The shoes of the Victorian era were just as lavish as the gowns, although their overall style changed throughout the whole era.
The early Victorians were much more comfortable than those of previous eras because shoes were finally being made for left and right feet specifically, and were no longer interchangeable. It became acceptable around 1850 for women to wear the same kinds of boots that men were wearing. Women’s boots would feature intricate embroidery, dying, and lace. They were made from rubber and leather, and also were heeled in a different way than men’s. With scalloped edges, patent leather, and dyed suede, these boots were hardly ones you would want to get muddy, and fashion boots still survive to this day as a lasting testimony to the Victorian Era.
Later in the Victorian Era, as dresses became more bustled and A-line, the shoes turned more into what we would today consider a heel or pump. These heels could be embellished with bows, gemstones, fabric flowers, buckles, tassels—basically, anything you could think of putting on a shoe, it probably happened. Shoes could be covered in silk, suede, or any other fabric, and the variety was as diverse as their owners.
Under the dresses, ladies wore stockings. Stockings had to be chosen carefully because if they were too tight they would wear out quickly and if they were too loose they would be uncomfortable. Stockings could be made of wool or merino for winter and silk and Lisle thread for summer. However, stockings were made at home many times, as homemade stockings were much higher quality than store-bought ones.
One important note is that during the Victorian era, shoes were still a luxury. If you had many shoes, you were considered a very wealthy person, and some could still not afford shoes at all. So, well-bred women would proudly promote their feet, as they wanted their foot to look as small and dainty as possible. Ladies magazines would instruct, “The foot is one of the chief points by which a woman’s social position is judged. If the feet are small, well-shod, and prettily used in walking, they add an additional charm to the appearance, and are an indication of high standing and … of gentle birth,” so it is crucial that women’s feet looked as presentable as the rest of their outfit.
To make sure that your Victorian dress has matching shoes to complete your ensemble, visit our shoes section here.