Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Footwear

~ Footwear ~

Take a look at both men's and women's Regency slippers, shoes with ties, and boots.

Note: for suggestions on modern sources of period-appropriate footwear,
visit the page entitled To Market, to Market.

Pair of c. 1800 shoes from the Northampton Central Museum.

English shoe, 1796-97, from the L.A. County Museum of Art.


Prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call "court shoes": high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers.

The first pair of shoes on this page dates from c. 1800. With tiny cone-shaped heels and pointed toes, these ladies' slippers were meant to be worn indoors or in fine weather with the full-skirted gowns of the early Regency. The yellow leather of this lovely pair has been cut away to reveal an insert of white satin, embroidered in blue, pink, and green.

The second shoe shown here dates from the late 1790s. It is made of striped silk (olive, brown, and rose), with a black leather-covered heel and black silk trim. The stripes and the trim are typical of the early date; later shoes were usually much plainer, with stripes in particular being a fad of the 1790s. A feature that was to continue longer was the distinctive angled side seam, here accentuated with trim.

Detail of a fashion plate from 1809.
Men's dress shoes lost their heels even before women's did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. The fashion plate from which this detail is taken dates to 1809. Men's shoes also became basic black quite early in the century - almost no other color is seen after 1800.

French shoe, 1799-1805, from the L.A. County Museum of Art.
As the decade progressed, pointed toes rapidly gave way to rounded ones, and heels disappeared almost completely. Although materials continued to became plainer, colors proliferated. I have seen existing Regency shoes in lavender, pink, and robin's-egg leather, and many pale colors in satin. This shoe is made of green leather with blue-green silk ribbon trim and ties. It is the classic shoe of the Regency: simple, reminiscent of a ballet slipper, with a rounded toe and virtually no heel. Some had ties and some not.

Detail of Mrs. Henry Baring and two of her children
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1820,
Christie's International Magazine.

Here's what the above shoe was meant to look like on your foot. It's clear from this painting that most shoes were still "straights," which means that the right and left shoes were made identically--perfectly straight on both sides, with no allowance for a big toe or an instep.

The modern ballerina-style flat that Audrey Hepburn looked so good in is a reasonable substitute, and you can probably find something at your local Payless that will work. However, the originals are much more delicate than modern shoes - more like gloves for the foot. Modern shoes have many layers of stiffening materials in the uppers, and the soles tend to stick out around the edge of the shoe, giving the game away. Mrs. Baring has added much charm to her shoes with a simple little satin bow tacked on each, which would be simple to replicate.

Detail of an 1812 fashion plate.

Here is the fashion plate's rendition of the standard slipper, additionally dressed up for dancing with a criss-cross lacing. If you like this effect, it would be very easy to buy satin ribbon, cut it in four pieces, and sew it (firmly) to the inside edge of both sides of each shoe.

Detail of A Visit to the Shoe-Maker's by ?

This detail of a painting shows the same idea as the laced-up shoe above, but here you can see how simple the ribbons really are and exactly where to sew them on. Like Mrs. Baring's, these slippers have little ribbon bows as well.

White kid slippers from 1815.

Here is another pair of kid slippers. These show the much higher throat that developed as the Regency wore on. I'm sure they'd stay on better than the lower-cut kind.

Leather slippers with vandyked leather trim, ca. 1812.
These distinctive shoes are as fancily decorated as those of the early Regency, but the high throat shows their later manufacture. I think you can see the influence of the rising interest in gothic and renaissance influences here, all part of the drift toward the romantic parodied in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland would have loved these shoes!

Men's shoes from the Northampton Central Museum.
Shoes with Ties.

Both men's and women's shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called latchets, and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.

These men's shoes of red leather date from the 1790s and clearly show the transition from the high-heeled, pointy-toed, fancily fastened court shoes of the 18th century to the much simpler flat, round-toed shoes of the Regency. This pair fastens with two ties to each shoe; the red is a last gasp of frivolity before basic black takes over for men's shoes.

Shoes from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
What's interesting about these shoes is that the upper one, made of black velvet, is a man's shoe, while the lower one, of leather, is a woman's. Both date to around 1805-10, and you can see how the latchets have narrowed and the toebox has rounded. This type of shoe was considered more of a walking shoe for women, a slightly dressier shoe for men. It was also considered a fairly masculine style and stopped being worn by women in the 1810s, replaced by half-boots for outdoor pursuits. The slight heel is interesting, probably intended to help hold one's feet out of the mud.

Men's shoes from the Northampton Central Museum.
These fine black leather men's shoes show the further progression of latcheted shoes, here turned into very elegant dress slippers for dinner or dancing. Dated 1810-29, they foreshadow the long lines and square toes that shoes would achieve in the 1830s. This pair ties with silk ribbons, but I have seen examples that fasten with simpler cord.

Detail of an Ackermann's Costume Plate of 1818.

Tied shoes went out of fashion for women mid-Regency and were replaced by low, lace-up footwear called half-boots. They were often made of nankeen, a hard-wearing yellow cotton fabric, but also of a variety of materials; fashion plates often show them in black leather. This unusual pair is described as having a lower part of blue leather and an upper of contrasting fabric.

1815-20 kid half-boot from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Here is a later Regency half-boot made of brown kid leather, better suited to a nice long tramp over to one's neighbors' (after all, it's already dirt-colored!). The rosette at the toe is silk, and adds a charming touch to an otherwise fairly practical shoe. However, although a practical improvement on the previous century's shoes, all women's footwear of this period was fairly flimsy - the kid of this boot is quite fine and thin, easily prone to tears and quickly soaked through by water and mud.

1812-20 cotton jean half-boot from the V&A.

A mid- to late-Regency half-boot of striped cotton jean (thin denim), a material that looks surprisingly modern to our eyes. Again there is a silk rosette at the end of the lacing, and the construction is almost identical to the one above, just cut a bit narrower at the back of the throat. To make a modern boot look more period, add a rosette and replace the laces with two-ply cording from the fabric store.

Detail of a portrait of Beau Brummel.

The standard outdoor footwear for men was the riding boot, whether riding or merely striding about town. Always very low-heeled, practical and hard-wearing, the differences lay only in the details: some had tassels, some had turned-down brown tops, some ended just below the knee and some were shorter. For more on men's boots, go to my page of menswear images.

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Copyright 1997-2002 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
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