Vintage Shoes by Caroline Cox is surprisingly readable considering it is a coffee table book about the history of women’s footwear in the twentieth century. It appears that there were more innovations in the designs of shoes within the last century than all of the centuries prior – although readers learn shoe styles like Mary Janes have been worn by children since the Renaissance. The beginning of the century started with functional boots that soon fell out of favor for fancier designs with less practicability. The world had changed due to industrialization (which could mass produce shoes) automobiles, and covered sewers.
What was interesting to note was how the century’s World Wars shaped fashion trends. During times of war women settled for more durable shoes. Shoe designers were forced to make fashionable footwear with nontraditional materials. Second World War Italian designers had used to use cork for women’s shoes because of the ally’s embargo. This cork innovation then changed face of summer fashion. After a wars end the public begins to favor frivolous shoes that are more statement than, you know, actual practical shoes that get you from one place to another. After WWII, high heels as we now know them were made to compliment Dior’s “New Look.”
Fleeting fashion versus durability could be the theme of shoes from the early 1900s until now. The conspicuous consumption of different footwear is more of a sign of our times than practically anything. Women may wear heels for work but to get to and from work they revert to comfortable sneakers – I wish Cox had delved a little more into the tennis shoe phenomena because such footwear can be both status symbol along and being a symbol of a classless society (everyone wears sneakers)
Along with styles of shoes the book gives attention to individual designers like Christian Louboutin whose red bottom souls are now legendary due to the inspiration of an assistant painting her nails. I could have done without Louboutin’s introduction in which he conveyed a customer’s praise for his heels because of her difficulty walking in his heels she was now seeing Paris up close.