August 2009

Barrette Boots

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Barrette Boots
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In my twelve years at the Bata Shoe Museum none of the people to whom I’ve shown these fuschia barrette boots has been able to resist them. They are showstoppers both in colour and in design. Women who see them wonder what it would be like to wear them and men who see them wonder what the woman who wore them was like!

Sometime between 1913 and 1918 a young liberal woman of modest means would have been walking through the streets of Paris and glimpsed these pink silk satin sandal boots through a shop window and decided that they must grace her feet at her next special event. They were made by N. Greco whose shop was at 14 rue de Douai in Paris, near the famous cabaret hall Moulin Rouge. Paris was indisputably the centre of fashion at the turn of the century and shoe fashions were being set and worn by its inhabitants. The shorter skirts that were in fashion in the early 1900s gave shoe and boot makers a forum for their beautiful, inventive and luxurious designs.

Some researchers call boots with open fronts like these “tango” boots because they were influenced by the lace-up shoes and boots worn by female Argentinean dancers. But they are also known as barrette or bar boots which reference bar closures that buttoned up the leg. With the sensual moves that are required to dance the tango, skirts needed to be shorter and fuller allowing the dancer much more freedom of movement, meanwhile shoes needed to be more structured than previous decades and more securely attached to the dancer’s feet. The tango that became popular in Western Europe and North America was much milder than the original, so much so that it was a popular pastime at afternoon socials and teas.

Let’s take a closer look at these particular boots. The uppers are of the deepest pink silk satin and the open front closures are so cleverly crafted in a “v” shaped projection that half overlaps the opposite side and buttons along the edge (1), thus giving the boot a criss-cross effect that spreads the pressure out evenly along the length of the shin rather than at the button hole. The many straps create an interesting visual lattice effect and offer a tantalizing and previously scandalous glimpse of the wearer’s stockinged leg. This criss-cross button fastening is reminiscent of Greco-Roman sandals but is accented with a bejewelled buckle and feminine bow. (2) The elegant heels with narrow little waists (3) are called “Louis” heel’s and are so named for France’s Sun King, Louis XIV, who popularized similar high heels in the 18th century.

One of the elements that I find most enjoyable about studying and examining shoes is imagining the person that wore them and thinking about the events to which they were worn. It is hard to argue that these boots would have been worn by a woman who was hoping not to be noticed, instead I like to think that she would be a strong, independent young woman whose wardrobe was full of equally interesting and progressive pieces, after all, if she owned a pair of fuschia tango boots it can safely be argued that she had many, many pairs of more conservative shoes. Perhaps she was learning to dance the tango in a fashionable dance hall where these boots would have become the talk of the night.