Shoes

The twentieth century was a period of great change in women’s footwear. The unexpected changes in lifestyle with women’s emancipation, the development of new technologies, and research into new materials all led to new shapes, new styles of heel, and different thicknesses of sole. During the first half of the 20th century, women’s legs were increasingly revealed to sight, consequently giving greater emphasis to the shoe, of which the most extreme examples were the low-cut shoes and little buttoned boots worn for the Charleston. In Italy the 1940s were marked by a sense of economic self-sufficiency and the scarcity of leather, leading to substitutes such as cork and wooden wedges. The dolce vita bought with it not only flared skirts but also stiletto heels. In the 1950s, people started talking about specialist shoe designers like Ferragamo, RenĂ© Caovilla, and Mario Valentino. Renato Guttuso’s sketch for the brand Alexandria is from 1951. The 1960s combined ballet shoes (for example, Audrey Hepburn) with models inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture, Pierre Cardin’s homage to space travel, and Capri sandals. Mary Quant and her miniskirts brought shoes decisively into the open. The political 1970s saw the return of the clunky clog, platform shoes, and saw the introduction of folkloric and ethnic influences.The 1980s was the crowning decade for shoe designers, bringing with it huge expansion in ready-to-wear footwear, and the liberalisation of fashion away from a single style. It was a highly creative period of “cohabitation” when everything was juxtaposed with its opposite. The trend continued into the 1990s, the decade of fashion revivals, in which the 1940s, 1970s and ethnic fashion were all exploited again. At the end of the decade, snakeskin, jewelry, cut-glass decorations, the inclusion of lace and transparent material, and studded denim were all seen on high street shoes: the shoe had become embellished and worn like a dress, with the same intention of winning admiration.