Footwear 194660

■ ▼ Men s shoes did not go through a great deal of change in the fifteen years following the end of World War II (1939—45). During the late 1940s, while Bold Look, or showy, fashions were in style, there was a brief preference for thicker-soled, heavier shoes to accompany the bolder cuts and colors in men's suits. By the 1950s, however, as suit styles became more conservative, men turned to lighter soled, traditionally cut dress shoe styles such as moccasins, wing tips, or bluchers, heavy, blunt-toed oxfords. For casual wear, men could turn to the newly popular Top-Sider, a comfortable moccasin-style shoe with a no-slip sole. Late in the 1950s Italian shoe styles became popular. These were longer and lighter in weight, with a low-cut upper. Finally, for children, young adults, and active adults, the tennis shoe or athletic shoe remained the shoe of choice.

Women's shoe styles, like women's fashion in general, were much more vibrant. The New Look fashions that took the world by storm in the late 1940s brought a renewed concern for style and elegance in shoes. The shoes that were chosen with New Look outfits had pointed toes and revealed more of the foot than earlier shoes. Over the years the heel in women's dress shoes grew slimmer and slimmer. In the early 1950s the stiletto heel, which came to a nearly needle-like point, saw this trend reach its peak. As hemlines in women's dresses rose late in the 1950s, heels actually became shorter and less pointed. The standard women's shoe was the pump, offered in an array of cuts and colors to mix and match with other outfits. Finally, the emergence of new technologies during this period allowed for the invention of plastic shoes in 1947. Within a few years plastic shoes were made in a variety of colors and styles.


Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

■ Plastic Shoes

M an-made materials invented in the 1940s created a new chapter in fashion history by replacing natural textiles, such as leather and cotton, in many fashionable garments. The new materials were advertised as "miracles" because of how easy they were to care for: no shrinking, no staining, and no need for ironing. Plastic shoes were among the most popular clothing items made from these new materials. They were shiny and vibrantly colored, or even clear. The newness of plastic combined with its easy care and waterproof qualities made plastic shoes a favorite form of footwear.

Plastic shoes were mainly formed as sandals. Early women's styles included sandals with wooden wedge-shaped soles and plastic straps. A popular style called the Peek-a-boo featured a wide plastic strap over the front of the foot with a small opening at the front to show some of the woman's toes. Children's styles were sandals made entirely of plastic and either fastened with buckles or snaps. Plastic shoes' brilliant colors triggered another fashion fad. As part of a trend toward coordinating outfits that was part of the American Look, women began painting their fingernails and toenails the same bright colors as their plastic shoes.

Even though plastic shoes do not breathe, or let air in to cool off or vent, leaving feet hot and sweaty, their popularity continues to the present day. By the 1980s both children and women wore soft plastic sandals called jellies. Taiwan exported 520 million pairs of plastic shoes in 1983, nearly enough for one out of every nine people on the planet. Plastic flip-flops and plastic shoes remained popular into the twenty-first century, with some designer sandals costing more than one hundred dollars a pair.


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

Stiletto Heel

Wo omen have worn high-heeled shoes for hundreds of years, but the heel has never been so tall and narrow as on the stiletto heels that became popular in the early 1950s. A stiletto heel, named after a thin Italian dagger, could be as tall as four or five inches, and it narrowed to a point as small as three-eighths of an inch in diameter. The shoes forced women to stand on their tiptoes, clench their calf muscles, and thrust their chest forward for balance. The dramatic stance that the heels forced women to adopt was said to make the wearer look sexy and glamorous.

Italian designer Roger Vivier (1913-1998) invented the stiletto to accompany clothes designed by French fashion designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) in the early 1950s. The stiletto, like other fashions of the time, was not at all practical. It highlighted women's femininity, but the shoe was also a hazard to women's bodies and to the surfaces they walked on. Podiatrists, or doctors who treat the feet, warned that the shoes caused harm to the tendon, bone deformities, and back pain. The pointy heels tore carpets and scarred solid flooring; by the late 1950s airlines and some buildings had actually banned the heels.

A pair of platform stiletto-heeled shoes. First developed in the 1950s, the stiletto was a menace to women's bodies and the surfaces on which they walked. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

Reproduction 1950s Clothing

Despite their dangers, stiletto heels remained popular throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s and staged a comeback in the 1990s. Popular 1950s actress Jayne Mansfield (1932-1967) claimed to have two hundred pairs of the heels, and actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-) received notoriety for the scene in the movie Butterfield 8 (1960) in which she digs her stiletto heel into a man's shoe. In the film Single White Female (1992) actress Jennifer Jason Leigh's (1962-) character took the danger of the stiletto a step further when she used the steel spike of her stiletto heel to kill a man. Stiletto heels remain to some a potent symbol of female power and sexuality.


Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

[See also Volume 4, 1919-29: High-Heeled Shoes]

Top-Siders, also known as boat shoes or deck shoes, are casual low-heeled shoes made out of leather or canvas with a special skid-resistant sole, usually made out of white rubber. The shoes became popular in the late 1940s, following the end of restrictions on the use of leather and rubber that were associated with World War II (1939-45). They were first popular with the "boating set," upper-class easterners who spent their leisure time sailing yachts that often had slippery decks and who needed the shoes' nonskid soles. The shoes were later associated with the preppy look of the 1950s, which was revived by designer Ralph Lauren (1939-) in the 1980s.

The upscale image associated with the Top-Sider was not what was intended by their inventor, Paul Sperry (1894-1982). A devoted sailor, Sperry one day noticed that his cocker spaniel, Prince, had much better traction on a slippery boat deck than he did. Examining the dog's paws, Sperry observed a crisscrossing web of cracks and splits. Sperry began experimenting by making razor cuts in the surface of a slab of gum rubber that he used as a shoe sole.

By 1935 he had created a herringbone (a weave that creates rows of parallel lines sloping in opposite directions) pattern of cuts that reduced slipping dramatically. He worked with the Converse Rubber Company, a tennis shoe manufacturer, to produce the soles and then mount them to a leather moccasin-style top to create the Sperry Top-Sider.

Sperry Top-Siders were soon widely imitated, with many manufacturers producing a variant boat shoe. In 2003 the original Sperry Top-Sider, called the Authentic Original, continued to be made exactly as the first version.


"Top-Sider Creation." Sperry Top-Sider: Where Performance Counts. http:// (accessed on August 27, 2003).

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