Sunday, August 11, 2013
Dancing Shoes (Animal Dances to the jitterbug)
By the turn of the 20th Century dance floor behaviour was likened to that of animals and therefore to find each subsequent dance craze embraced the idea was no surprise. The Turkey Trot was perhaps the best known and was introduced by the youth of 1900 and danced to ragtime beat. The undoubted attractions were the dancers moved together, touched, pawed and intimately supported each other with their perilously off-balance gyrations. This dance craze was thought to have originated in the night clubs of the San Francisco' Barbary Coast and became popular after the 1910 musical revue, Over the River. Al Johnson was known to have danced the Turkey Trot.
From the Vatican, Pope Pius X asked the faithful to forswear the animal mimicry and sanely return to dancing the medieval, furlana. Italian in origin this dance was in effect a wild courtship configuration for couples, which even Casanova considered violently passionate.
Everybody’s doing it
Ladies shoes in the early part of the 1900's were medium heel pumps. The fashion for boots had passed and the court slip-on was worn with Cuban heels. The raising of the hemlines meant the legs were on show and the focus of both male and female attention. The next fad was called the 'Grizzly Bear" and owed its success to Irving Berlin's "Everybody's Doing' It Now". The reaction from establishment was predictable but the gravity surpassed anything before it. The Establishment objected and revelers were arrested for dancing animal dances. Soon ballrooms employed floor walkers to root out the troublemakers.
During the early decades of the 20th century the tango with its smooth suave Latin sensualness became the dirty dancing of the period. The dance was thought to resemble a sadistic Apache dance in which a woman attempts to love a sadistic man. The origins of the word ‘tango’ are thought to be the Spanish ‘tengo,’ meaning first person singular, or "I possess". No dance craze swept the world faster than the tango and brought millions of dollars to dance studios. Originating in Argentina it found its way to Paris via the Atlantic luxury cruisers of the time. Rudolph Valentino tangoed his way to fame causing women in the audience to swoon and faint from worship. The dance was banned in many cities with the threat of fines and imprisonment. By 1913 the craze hit England and became very much a tea dance phenomenon.
Each era kicked off with a new dance craze and a new venue in which to dance. In 1913 Harry Fox, a popular music hall performer, trotted out a jerky two step to ragtime. The dance was refined and the Fox Trot became the most popular form of dancing associated with the war years. Irene and Vernon Castle were the key dancers of the time predating Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers by at least two decades. Their following was in the millions and their appearance was studied by thousands of fans. Vernon and Irene Castle were 'the' people in dancing circles as well as fashion icons. When she wore white satin shoes stores could not keep the items in stock. When Vernon wore a wrist watch he broke the macho custom of wearing a fob (pocket) watch. Until this time wrist watches were thought rather effeminate but hence forth all real men sported wrist watches. Women's shoes were made from silk, fabric or kid leathers with styles including straps and buttons. Louis heels began to re-appear and shoes were made for dual day wear as well as dancing.
Flappers did the Charleston
The Charleston and its spin offs: the Shimmy, Black Bottom, and Varsity rag were the dances of the trendy non-prohibitionists. They drank giggle water and danced in the speakeasy to jazz. Flappers flicked their knees open and closed with what was called ' peek-a-boo indifference". The dance required swiveling on the balls of the feet, balancing pigeon toed, swaying the body side to side, and knocking the knees with their hands in a maddening frenzy. The Charleston was enormous and spread throughout the western world but had its critics and was condemned by clergy and other moral guardians of society. After a tragic accident in a dancehall where a roof fell on revelers many buildings displayed notices like "The Building cannot withstand the Charleston" to deter young people from dancing the new dances.
Despite the unsettling effects of the First World War, the 1920s stood out as a bright, youth orientated period with great enthusiasm for its own time. Glamorous dance shoes sported designs and trapping of the rich and exotic culture. Shoe styles of the mid twenties reflected contemporary events such as the sensational opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen, which saw a flurry of fashion for all things Egyptian. People had confidence in the future. Woman's fashions included more leg on show and the impacting fashion was immense. According to Bond (1992) the sight of young women confidently wearing clothing which showed their knees and thighs as they got in and out of cars, or sat on trains and buses represented the allure of glamour dressing in its most potent form. Daytime shoes were neat and feminine looking, with oval toes and straight, high heels. The classic court shoe was an everyday basic but the new look, slender high heeled sandals with ankle and "T straps" in reptile skins, soft kid, suede and satin were very much the desire of most.
Gold and silver 'Charleston' sandals were very popular and a ready accessory for eveningwear.
20s Shoe Design
Shoe designs of the 20s reflected art deco style with mixtures of leather and suede. Many styles boasted of cushioned heels for dancing. Shoes had pointed toes with low heels many with button straps shoes and pierced hole design over the toe box (brogue style). Evening shoes were immaculately presented, matt fabrics were always well brushed and leather buffed to a high gloss. Strappy designs were a popular feature in elegant evening shoes. The straps were sometimes plaited or made of satin ribbon and crossed over like ballet pumps. Other styles were dotted with glitter and fastened with fancy gold, silver or diamante buckles. The sides and heels of the shoes were sometimes decorated with tiny gold flecks or diamante tips. Fabric match with shoe and dress were popular. Alternatively dresses in plain velvet satin or chiffon were worn with patterned shoes. High heeled sandals covered in eye-catching, glittering brocade became the focus of leg watching.
The English Style
During the 20s, the English style was at its most classic with emphasis on being dressed in high quality, perfectly fitting clothing which flattered rather than promoting a strong designer look. Men followed fashion in a more clandestine way and style was shown in subtle forms and imagery displayed within the bounds of long established conventions. The more extreme image of men's fashion included the two-tone shoes, which at the time were thought to be very brash. These styles, according to Bond (1992) were popular among a few male groups including students, celebrities and artists. Changes for men were slow and conservative whereas radical fashion changes had taken place for women during this period. The main shift in fashion for men was also on the legs. Unlike women's preoccupation with how much of the leg should be shown off with fit and up and down hemlines, the controversy for men was how much fabric should be used to cover them up. At the beginning of the twentieth century men wore tailored trousers which were both slim and tapered. Sportswear was also conservative with modestly wide knickerbockers. The name came from the Dutch living in New York at the turn of the century and continued to wear traditional knee pants. By the 1920s these ballooned out into baggy plus fours. The number depicted the length in inches, the trousers hung below the knee. During a very hot summer Oxford students were banned from wearing them and defiantly continued to wear them under loosely fitting wide, legged trousers, called Oxford bags. These measured as much as 66cm (26") round the trouser bottoms and would hide the forbidden knickerbockers. Later oarsmen wore the style of trouser over their shorts. Only those who could afford it wore these styles and the fashion soon caught on in the US. By the end of the decade, men's trousers were cut fuller.
Towards the end of the decade the Rumba from Cuba came like the Tango with festering sensualness as Caribbean and African rhythms and movements increasingly influenced social dancing.
The Jazz Age
In the 1920's, jazz moved across the social barriers which previously had divided black and white communities. It suddenly became chic to dance to jazz music and the effects on fashion were considerable. Two-tone shoes were introduced at this time and reached their fashion zenith in the thirties. The spectator (name given the two-tone in the US) was considered elegant for both sexes and both races. It also attracted the fashionable sporting types and was made socially acceptable when the Prince of Wales was seen wearing spectators on the golf links.
Swing (Part One) and glamorous shoes
In the thirties dancing to the sound of the big bands spirited swing music which took people's minds off the grimness of the Depression. The decades beat was lively but smooth, and lovingly called swing. Swing steps were more athletic than the Charleston. Dancers were younger and dancing was more physical. Inspiration for the new steps came from many sources including the Lindy or Lindy Hop which was a dance rendition of Charles Lindberg's solo struggle across the Atlantic in 1927. Partners faced each other and the male tossed the woman in a blizzard of solo turns and supported leaps. With hemlines becoming shorter than ever before underwear became a serious dress consideration.
Popular dances of the 30s
Dance became a means of cutting loose from the hardships of reality and for working class people became an established form of escapism. Dance marathons became incredibly popular with literally many people dancing until they dropped. The Big Apple was the next craze and took its origins from country folk dances. Dancers would parade in a circle hands joined together and a caller chose which pair was to move to the centre. The dance incorporated elements of four other popular styles i.e. the Shag, Suzi Q, Truckin' and Hokey Pokey.
Lambeth Walk and Samba
Most of the dances were North American but the UK, Lambeth Walk enjoyed intense popularity for a short time. The sensuous Samba originated in Rio de Janeiro and was introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Carmen Miranda danced the Samba to stardom. The Samba led the way for Latin American dance and was soon joined with the Paso Doble, Mambo, Cha Cha, and Merengue.
Shoe Styles of the 30s
Prior to the Depression it was important to have shoes for both daytime as well as evening wear. After 1929 most women preferred to wear styles which could be worn during the day as well as at night.
Skirt lengths came down to mid calf and remained there until 1939 (Van Zendt, 1999). As hemlines dropped shoes took on high vamps and hugging heels. Toes became rounded in this more conservative look and the borderlines between different types of shoes began to blur. Court shoes became broader, toes less pointed and heels were lowered to around 4 cm, although high heels remained in vogue for dancing.
There were many variations on the T strap with cutaway sides and open toes. Evening shoes had to be hard wearing and the luxurious silks, satins and suede and kid replaced velvets of the beginning of the decade. Exotic hides, such as python and lizard remained chic. As the decade progressed, although black was the most popular colour for daywear, gold and silver were discretely piped on evening shoes. Wine, maroon, and navy were the colours of choice until in 1935 when pastel colours replaced them. Just before the Second World War, bright coloured footwear made reappearance. (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997).
Fashionable footwear of the thirties were draped in silk bands and decorated with soft bows or ornamental buckles on high fronted town shoes. Alternatively the shoes were laced over the arch of the foot with silk or fancy cord laces. Small cuts like stencil patterns or tiny perforated dots decorated the fronts and sides of some styles. Other features included rows of top stitching or very narrow strips of leather on suede as decorative effects on toe boxes and heel caps.
The Business Shoe
As the world’s economy recovered a mark of success was the tailored suit (referred to as the English Look). This became popular daytime wear for both male and female and suits were cut comfortably to highlight the waist. A fashion accessory was the business shoe broader more angular and with a lowered heel. Walking shoes for women were introduced during the economically depressed years of the early 30's. These were worn with tweed suits or tailored dress (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997). Adverts of the time tried to capture the style conscious consumer with practical items such as Quarter tips to protect heels from wear. This is the origin of the sensible shoe, oft cited as good advice to the foot challenged of today.
The Sahara Sandal
The brogue fashion became popular in ladies style. The Sahara sandal was introduced for women in 1931. Despite its name it had a moccasin construction and the new fabric, rayon was used as shoe uppers. A new fad for outdoors meant boots were briefly fashionable i.e. short ankle boots. Although these disappeared after 1934 as sandals became prominent. Sandals started as beachwear but were eventually worn for eveningwear. The sandals of the thirties were made with sturdy soles for dancing while the open toes kept the foot cool (O'Keeffe, 1996). By the end of the decade sandals were worn during the day. In the absence of nylon stockings, legs were made up with cosmetics. When open toed shoes and sling backs were introduced they became an instant success (Pattison A & Cawthorne N 1997). Italian women continued to wear long, slender high heeled shoes made in black leather and decorated with metal buckles or jewels. 1937 gradually eclipsed court shoes by wedges, platform shoes and sandals. In 1938, shoes with cork platforms appeared covered in cloth or leather and decorated with sequins for eveningwear. By the end of the decade dark grey stockings and black shoes were popular.
Elsa Schiaparelli was a major influence on fashion in the 30's and let shoe designer Perugia produced shoes with twisted metal heels, fish shapes and golden globes. Schiapelli even produced yellow bootees with gold toenails painted on them. She also collaborated with Salvador Dali to produce the famous, shoe hat (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997). Adrian Adolf Greenberg was a designed for MGM film studios and was credited for creating the slim & long image of the thirties. This definitely influenced Elisa Schiaparelli (aka Scap) and other Paris designers. Carmen Miranda wore six inch high platforms studded with diamante or nail heads. High wedges were often cut out in different shapes like modern sculpture.
The Juke Box
Amplification meant the new automatic phonographs could be heard even in a crowd. The developing plastics industry meant castings could be made in an array of attractive ways and combined with water effects and light shows, the juke box was invented. For the price of a nickel, the host could entertain friends.
Swing (Part Two) The War Years
The Swing Era that began in the Thirties was interrupted by World War II. With men at war the invention of the record player meant women could dance in their living rooms. This was where the jitterbug grew up and had elements of other dances from previous times. The jitterbug was danced to the music of Benny Goodman. Named after the jitters or too much alcohol, participants suffered many injuries. Because the adult men were serving their country, dance halls filled with teenagers would boogie woogie to the jitterbug. The dance craze spread where ever GI's were posted.
The Zoot Suit
The zoot suit or baggy broad shouldered look may have had its popularity from the simple fact teenagers were seen to replace their elders during the war years. The cut of the jackets inferred they belonged to bigger people i.e. the missing adult. The jacket had wide lapels with a long narrow "reet" pleat heavily padded shoulders, and multi-button sleeves, and was worn with high wasted trousers cut full in the thigh and tapering to a ankle-hugging tightness called the peg leg. In many versions the foot opening was so narrow that the trousers needed ankle zippers. Kids would wear a wide brimmed fedora hat, a glaringly patterned fish tail tie, and a lengthy loop of curving key chain that began at the belt plunged below the knee and came to nestle in the trouser pocket. The clothing style in the forties was closely associated with the underworld and the loose fit provided easy place to conceal weapons. The zoot suit was condemned in many states and clergy warned the suit only appealed to pre-repentant Mary Magdalene kind of women. Riots broke out in New York and California in the 1940's when servicemen attacked wide boys wearing the attire. This led to a ban on servicemen visiting the Big Apple and Los Angeles unless by prior permission. In the UK a similar craze was happening and many historians believe the zoot suit may have been the invention of a tailor called F P Scholte at the end of the nineteenth century. He adapted the oversized coats of Guard officers to become zoots, i.e. rhyming slang for suits. These were very popular with the spivs or wide boys of the time. These were street traders selling black market goods. The fashion came to an end when L-85 restrictions on clothing were introduced in 1943.