Generally, our impulse is to gravitate toward the best and finest examples of a type. Today's offering is a glimpse of footwear which, rather than representing the epitome - those in top condition, in excellent repair and with established provenance --reveal what is probably a more accurate historical reality: women held onto their shoes for years, updating them for the current fashion, repairing and modifying them to accommodate comfort, aging or even letting them out after feet expanded from many years of childbirth.
Few of the original owners of the shoes included here are known and the institutions who have retained them are to be commended for providing a different look at how women wore and modified their shoes. The more opportunities I have had to investigate shoes, the clearer it has become that approximately 8 out of 10 pairs have been altered in some way. Generally, these are not the shoes you will see in exhibitions and publications, but these shoes hold an equally fascinating history to their prim and tidy counterparts. This makes for a richer study of craftsmanship, technology, fashion and society.
Well worn, tattered and torn.
Shattered silk, abraded toes.
Torn braid, worn down heels.
Ill cut insoles and sloppy stitching.
Downgraded and updated. Buckles missing and sheen-less silk. Shoes were a highly valued, costly possession and for most in Colonial America and the young Republic, they represented economic or social success. They were maintained and altered and updated as long as the leather was still good.
Have you looked at your shoes lately?
1. University of New Hampshire Museum, Irma Bowen Collection. Owner/maker unknown. Red leather (calf-skin?) and linen
2. The Warner House, Portsmouth, NH., Mehitable Rindge Rogers, made by James Davis, London, c. 1760s, silk and linen
3. The Warner House, Portsmouth, NH
4. The Lynn Museum, Lynn, MA., Owner/maker unknown, Silk with "spangle" detail, c. 1780s
5. The Warner House, Portsmouth, NH., Mehitable Rindge Rogers, made by James Davis, London, c. 1760s, detail, heel.
6. The Warner House, Portsmouth, NH.
Thank you to Carolyn Roy and Tara Vose of The Warner House; Abby Battis, Curator, Lynn Museum, and Astrida Schaeffer and Dale Valena, UNH Museum, for their assistance.s