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Practical Footwear, 1860-1880

AuntieNan asks:

What did they wear in the way of practicality, on a railway journey, say, or going to town?

Why, boots! Delicious, delightful boots!

Just like the re-emergence of the heel on slippers in the late 1850s, boots of this period also begin to have small heels applied.  By the 1880s, heeled boots were the norm, sporting either front lacing, or side-buttons, and a variety of interesting stylings.

Shoe-Icon Museum, 1850-60
LACMA, c. 1860
The Met: boots, 1863
The Met, 1863
Above are the four styles of boot closures, shown on wedding boots.  Just like wedding slippers, wedding boots were made of white or ivory satin, or a very soft, fine kid leather.  Boots like these, of course, are occasion-specific, but the same styles also came in some pretty bodacious colors:

Rare Robin's Egg Blue button boots, c. 1870 - 1880s, Etsy
eBay, 1860s

LACMA, 1868

Within each decade, different characteristics emerge.  For instance, you will notice low, knock-on, kidney heels on 1850s and 60s boots, and side-lacing or elastic goring was in use.  By the late 1860s, and into the '70s and '80s, the scalloped fly on the side-buttoning boots was all the rage, and heels began to move from knock-on kidney shapes to French heel construction.

The Met: boots, 1883
Manchester City Galleries, 1875-85
Boots from this period only feature one common characteristic - a square toe, gradually rounding off, then getting pointier as we moved towards the 1890s.  It is impossible to say that all boots of this time frame had heels - they didn't - or were buttoning - they weren't.  There are trends, however.  For instance, side-lacing boots and elastic goring were common in the 1860s, but fell out of favor in the 1870s.  The scalloped fly was common in the 1860s and 70s, but fashion begins to lean more to the straight fly near the end of the 1880s.  These aren't rules, just trends.

So what would a lady be wearing on a train journey? Why, most likely a pair of fashionable leather, heeled boots with a nice sturdy heel. :-)

Originally publish January 6, 2013
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