The 19th Century

In the 19th century, fashion became available to a much larger section of society. The stylish elite had to keep up to date with the ever-changing silhouette.

By 1830, the square toe had come into fashion and would remain stylish for the next fifty years. During the 1850s boots became modest essentials underneath immense wire-frame supported skirts, which tended to swing when walking, exposing the ankle and foot. Heels were slow to return to women's footwear, but by the 1870s, were a standard addition.

The 19th century was an era of technological improvements. Synthetic dyes were developed, which gave new colours to the world of fashion, and sewing machines eased the amount of handwork required for sewing footwear and applying decoration. While American predominance in manufacturing developments made footwear cheaper, the first of the great shoe designers, François Pinet, began to create masterpieces of workmanship and decoration.

For conservation reasons, and in order to show more variety over time, only a selection of footwear from the permanent collection is displayed in our exhibitions at any one time. This means there's always something new to see.

image of 19th century footwear