The Charm of Rococo:
Femininity and Footwear in the 18th Century

On display from June 2006 to April 3, 2008

Rococo signature imageFeaturing some of the Museum's most magnificent and lavish footwear, The Charm of Rococo transported visitors into a world of opulence in the age of Louis XV.

Emanating from the French court, the Rococo aesthetic infused a sensuous charm and delicate grace into fashion in the 18th century; it also defined femininity in new ways. Upper-class women's footwear reflected this trend through the use of exquisite silks, elegant heels and curvilinear rhinestone buckles that framed the foot with eye-catching sparkle.

The connections between femininity and footwear established in the 18th century continue to inform the cultural meanings of women's footwear today. The quality of artifacts in this exhibition showcased the exquisite craftsmanship and eclectic imagination of the era of Rococo.

Images from the Exhibition

Those who swoon for silks, beg for buckles and enthuse over embroidery will agree that today's shoe divas had nothing on the 18th century. The Charm of Rococo took visitors back to an elegant world where one's evening shoes, as well as one's wit, had to sparkle.

image of wedding shoe

Wedding shoes, English, c.1770s
Eighteenth century weddings, like those of today, were as grand as the bride's family wished. However, unlike today, the white wedding dress with matching shoes was not a bride's only choice. Many 18th-century wedding shoes feature brocaded floral designs in keeping with the fashion of the day. These English shoes were worn by a Mrs. Gardner, née Peale, on her wedding day.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of brocade shoes

Spitalfields silk shoes, French, c.1760
The American colonies were an eager market for English luxury goods in the 18th century and manufacturing centres, such as Spitalfields, flourished meeting this demand. Many of the fine textiles used to create women's footwear in the 18th century were dress remnants. The design of blue stripes and delicate floral sprigs on this pair of Spitalfields silk shoes reflect the full flowering of Rococo style.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto (BSM P03.15)
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of mules

Mules, French or Dutch, c. 1720-30
Mules made of luxurious fabrics and embellished with elaborate embroidery in precious metal or silk threads were clearly impractical for outdoor wear, thus emphasizing the wearer’s leisured lifestyle. They also suggested a kind of relaxed elegance and intimate dishabille. Eighteenth-century paintings often feature women wearing mules among close friends or in the privacy of their own boudoir.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of yellow silk shoes

Yellow silk shoes with buckles, French, c.1760s
Like pieces of jewellery, buckles were valued accessories worn on varying pairs of shoes to complement different outfits. The most expensive were made of sterling silver set with diamonds but most were embellished with glittering paste or rhinestones. The buckles on this pair of yellow silk shoes are typical of the preference for flowers and bows even on jewellery during the age of Rococo.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of pink silk shoes

Pink silk shoes, English, c.1735-1750
The addition of frills was a defining feature of Rococo fashions and many evening shoes were adorned with lace, ruching, and bows in addition to the glittering buckles that secured them to the foot. A common trimming for footwear was fine silver bobbin lace delicately crafted out of precious metal wire. The pink silk of these shoes is simply the background against which the lavish silver bobbin lace was meant to shimmer.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of red velvet shoe

Velvet shoes, Italian, c.1790
The late 1780s saw the beginnings of Neo-Classical restraint creeping into Rococo design. Encouraged to make more modest fashion statements, privileged women shifted away from the elegant Rococo brocades used earlier in the century and embraced a more subdued palette of plain silks, velvets and even leather. The luxury of this pair of shoes is conveyed by the richness of the velvet. The only adornment is a small bow at the throat.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of pink and black shoes

Embroidered black silk shoes, English, 1780-85
High heels reached their ascendancy in the 1770s and 80s. They also became more delicate in design and there was a preference for them to be set quite far back, directly under the heel. This style resulted in weakness under the instep. In order to compensate for this, many shoemakers employed wedge-like structures to help support the shank. This beautiful pair of embroidered black silk shoes with pink silk covered heels is a very good example of this. English, 1780-1785.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto (BSM P06.4)
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth


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Media Information

Defining Femininity through Magnificent Shoes: The Charm of Rococo Opens at the Bata Shoe Museum
June 27, 2006
(Adobe PDF file, 800Kb, 2 pages, prints onto letter-sized (8 1/2 x 11") paper.)

Curator's Picks
Items from the exhibition with detailed descriptions
(Adobe PDF file, 1.8 Mb, 2 pages, prints onto letter-sized (8 1/2 x 11") paper.)

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