Late Victorian shoes made by Gooch London; Shoe Galleries, Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.
If you have ever looked at historical shoes they all have one thing in common. Take these two pairs from the 1890’s what do you notice? They are floppy right? There is no arch support, they are literally like a flat shoe with a heel stuck on. The part that is missing? The shank, a piece of metal which runs from heel and along the arch to support the foot, first pioneered by Mr Salvatore Ferragamo.
“‘I discovered’, he wrote,’ that the weight of the bodies
when we are standing erect drops straight down on
the arch of the foot. I constructed my revolutionary lasts,
which supporting the arch, make the foot act like an
This X-Ray of a high heel shows the metal shank running along the arch, BBC.co.uk
Since the shank was invented, by paying attention to the anatomy of the foot, we have been able to enjoy wearing high heels – I’ve no idea how anyone every managed to walk in those antique shoes! But if you take a look at dance shoes you will notice they bear a resemblance to the historical shoes, why? Well dancers need their feet to be flexible so the last thing they want is a shank or hard sole. In fact you can usually bend most dance shoes in half! Dance shoes need soft soles which slide across the floor so suede is a popular material for ballet shoes and Latin dance shoes, where as Hip-Hop shoes require more bounce so rubber is used but with a break under the arch for flexibility.
Being lucky enough to study footwear I am always pleasantly surprised with how shoes have developed, things which have changed, stayed the same and developed.
Shoes from the past 100 years including those by Salvatore Ferragamo from 1955 and 1970, Shoe Galleries, NMAG
My column Fancy That! for STYLE.etc magazine delves into the history of the heelless shoe this month – hint it didn’t originate with Jeffery Campbell.