Image Credit: © J. LeClerc / The Advertising Archives

The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits

NOW CLOSED

Born in the age of post-war exuberance, nurtured by the dynamism of the machine and seduced by the lure of the exotic, the Roaring 20s infused modern society and fashion with an energetic modernity. As hemlines rose, shoes became increasingly important for stylish women and many of the decade's exceptional shoes illustrate the electrifying synergy between fashion and design.

The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits focuses on the wardrobe and widening horizons of the "New Woman" and looks at how the myriad influences of the period such as cinema, jazz clubs, and world travel influenced the shape of fashionable footwear.

The Roaring Twenties: Heel, Hemlines and High Spirits is accompanied by the full series of programming. Click here for details.

Button boots, made by Lady Luxury
American, 1914-17

At the dawn of the twentieth century, women’s dress became central to the discussion of women’s suffrage. Some critics denigrated women’s rights activists for their slovenly dress and unattractive footwear, while other anti-suffragists took the opposite tack, arguing that the suffragettes’ acquiescence to fashion, such as the wearing of “French heels” was a sure sign of their lack of reason. Many suffragettes attempted to strike a balance between these two extremes by wearing moderately high-heeled footwear. These button boots illustrate this tension. The menswear detailing borrows a sense of authority from the male wardrobe while the high sinuous heels and dainty pointed toes declare the femininity of the wearer
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: 2010 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Swimming shoes, made by Philips
English, late 1920s

The 1920s saw increasing numbers of women participating and excelling at sports. The sporting accomplishments of women, such as Suzanne Lenglen’s stunning tennis game and Gertrude Ederle’s record breaking swim across the English Channel were celebrated and inspired many women to take up a sport. Each sport required its own specialized footwear including swimming. This pair of red rubber, “silver wing” bathing shoes would have been worn by a swimmer in pursuit of both fashion and fun at the end of the 20s.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: 2011 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Starburst shoe made by Th. J. de Bont
Dutch, 1922-1925

The origin of the term “flapper” seems to have originally been used to describe young birds on the verge of leaving the nest. These “flappers” and their ungainly attempts at flight were seen to parallel the awkward years of female adolescence. By the early 1920s, the term had come to describe young women of high school age who flouted social conventions particularly in how they dressed. Some flappers were associated with slovenly and mannered dress such as unbuckled galoshes worn on sunny days. Others were associated with racier fashions, such as the wearing of makeup and high heels---fashions that suggested questionable morals. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby ensconced the flapper into the public’s imagination and Hollywood transformed her into a commercialized trope whose antics quickly came to define a generation. The gold starburst that explodes across the uppers of these shoes is an elegant translation of the dynamic Art Deco design of the 1920s into fashion and is the type of shoe favoured by the elegant “flapper”.
Photo credit: 2011 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Art Deco shoe
English, c. 1925,

The stark contrast between light and dark was exploited by many Art Deco designers, artists, and architects in the 1920s and this pair of shoes exemplifies this aesthetic. The glimmer of dark bronzed leather on the quarters offsets the light pearlized leather inserts that comprise the vamps. The resulting inlayed effect is reminiscent of many Art Deco architectural details and makes this pair of shoes “shine like the top of the Chrysler building.”
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum
Photo credit: 2011 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

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