Sunday, May 19, 2019

A short history of miniature shoes

Giving miniature shoes is an age old custom. In antiquity funereal jars were made in the shape of boots and were kept as keepsakes in memory of the dearly departed.

By the late 18th century in England, Prince Frederick Augustus (Duke of York) got engaged to Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina (1767-1820). Frederica was no raving beauty and had rotting teeth but the lady had dainty feet which captivated the Prince who wanted her to have special bridal shoes. The royal shoe maker was consulted and six new pairs of tiny shoes were promptly made.

At the time newspapers were unable to comment upon the beauty of the royal person so instead heaped praised upon the charm of her "neatness" and petite shoes. However, as a result of the media interest copies of her purple leather shoes (13.97 centimeters long), sold in their hundreds and miniature replicas became a must to have. Miniature shoes were made of silver and porcelain and many were used as pin cushions.

The popularity of all things oriental saw miniature porcelain lotus shoes as keep sake in many European houses. The gift of a miniature shoe was generally well-meaning and the sign of real friendship.

After George du Maurier (1834 – 1896) published the novel Trilby (1894) it had enormous success. The story involved an Irish girl who goes to Paris during the Belle Époque. There she falls under the control of Svengali (evil hypnotist). One of Trilby’s eccentricities was to flash her bare feet in public. At the time this was considered as rude as baring bear bosoms or flashing a bare bottom. The popularity of Trilby (novel and play) became international and caused public riots wherever the play was performed (because of the barefoot flashing). This caused the fashion for foot and shoe shaped objects such as snuff containers and hip flasks to become a gentleman’s must have accessory.

By this time the miniature shoes had taken on a more risqué meaning. Miniature tight laced ladies’ boots or even a full leg were popular hip flasks and snuff boxes. Foot shaped sausages and ice creams became a real novelty which attracted much attention among those familiar with the book and play. It is reasonable to assume the same population were familiar with Freud’s Castration Theory.

The tradition of giving a shoe to mark the completion of a business deal dates to Biblical times and supplies the origin to the custom of the bride’s father passing a shoe of his daughter to the groom. This marks the exchange of fiscal responsibility. In the past brides were considered property. Today the custom is still followed more usually in the form of a miniature shoe. These also make favourite good luck charms.


Finally, there is a superstition to not give shoes to friends at Christmas time. The belief is the friend would walk away from you. The origins are unknown but in less enlightened times it was understood whatever station you were born into was your destiny and helping people rise above this was not the right thing to do. The belief may have come from the wealthy classes who lived in abject fear of being overtaken by the lower classes.

(Video Courtesy:theshoeisthesign by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 19/05/2019

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