Sunday, February 25, 2018

History of Shoes: Buckles to Oxfords

At the time of the American War of Independence men wore shoe buckles. These remain the only surviving artefact of the shoe when buried in the ground for years and buckle collections have become highly prized by collectors but also are used by historians to date military campsites and battlefields.

Distinctive workmanship, even in military style can pin point origin of source. The majority of buckles were made in England and exported to the colonies. Buckles became coveted trophies of manliness and were displayed with pride as they were handed down through families. Sometimes made in semi-precious metals they were often displayed on belts, like horse brasses. Later these were worn around the waste.

The belt buckle developed from the large shoe buckle and incorporated military design. These buckled belts were impractical for working drovers but eventually found a prominent place in modern cowboy outfit.

The larger than life style was popularised by the celluloid heroes of early Hollywood. Manufacturers eagerly catered for the growing vogue by producing fancy sterling and gold buckles for both men and women. The fashion zenith for glamorous belt and shoe buckles was in the 1930s.

Buckled shoes were originally worn by monks in the Dark Ages, but later flamboyant cavaliers looking to wear ostentatious footwear rediscovered the buckle. Highly decorated footwear starkly contrasted with Puritans who wore plain clothes including footwear without decoration. The plain look lasted for the duration of Oliver Cromwell reign but a resurgence of finery came during the Restoration when high fashion was restored.

Shoe roses replaced shoe buckles about 1675. These were made of the finest materials, trimmed with gold lace, pearls and spangles, roses grew to enormous proportions. Shoe Bows were popular also and worn by the well heeled throughout Europe.

Finally, the buckle returned and although sober by comparison to previous times these were made from the metal titania and soon became the symbol of wealth. 18th century men of distinction wore shoe bling in the form of semi-precious metals and jewellery. The demand for shoe buckles was enormous a complete industry was centred in Birmingham, England, where it employed thousands of people.

Dandies openly boasted of owning fifty or more different types of buckles. Silver or gold gilt buckles were popular everyday wear with bejellewed fasteners kept for special occasions. Jewellers and shoemakers were challenged to keep up with demands for novelty designs. Street robberies were common and many men took to wearing costume jewelled buckles.

Macaronis (fops) continued to sport precious metal trimmed buckles and had their heels fitted with metal tips to give an audible click as they fearlessly strolled along the cobbled streets.

The demise of the buckle for men in Europe coincided with the French Revolution when conservative laces (shoe string) replaced ostentatious buckles, bows and roses.

Ironically lacing shoes were at first considered too effeminate for the macho, mincing Dandies and Macaronis. Immediately after the Revolution however, wearing ostentatious footwear was considered dangerous as it was seen by the revolutionaries as a mark of rank and privilege. Post revolution the new government of France was kept afloat by the donation of buckles and bling. It was safer to wear lacing shoes.

As men’s footwear became more conservative women wore simple heeled slippers made from sumptuous materials decorated with semi-precious stones and buckles.

Ball JD Costume Jewellers: The golden age of design
Calver & Bolton History Written with Pick and Shovel.
Grimms J L Archaeological Investigation of Fort Ligonier Fort Ligonier Association, Ligonier, PA 15658 (724) 238-9701.
Neuman G C Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.
Western Buckles
Wright T 1922 The romance of the shoe being the history of shoemaking London: Farncombe & Sons.

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