The vintage shoe. A tricky beast if ever there was one. Often fragile, invariably too-small-to-even-consider-squeezing-your-foot-into, frequently downright ugly YET smacking so utterly of the past that an outfit can be instantly transformed by their addition… I am at once enthralled and repulsed by the shoes of yesteryear.
We’ll get the repulsion out of the way first. This feeling is triggered within me by one style of vintage shoe more than any other : the wedge. I’m not talking 1950s espadrille wedge here. Oh, no – I like those. Just bought a pair, in fact. No. I’m talking 1940s dowdy, low wedge. Oh, this shoe is a monster! A veritable monster!
Rather like the crocs of today (of which I do NOT approve…), I can see only one reason why anyone would ever venture to wear the 1940s wedge: Comfort. Wedges are, after all, notoriously comfortable and I shan’t deny them that. But what use is seeking comfort when style is completely thrown to the dogs in the process?!
If I’m going to buy some shoes of vintage ilk for dancing (rather than stick to my lovely-but-scruffy duck-taped pumps), then I’m near as damn it going to find something glamorous. Comfort? Pah! What 1940s fashionista in her right mind needs comfort?
Actually, it seems that maybe some of them do. That’s if the Swing Dance shoe supply websites are anything to go by. Wedges galore, I tell you! Yuk!
To give them credit, some of these swing shoe suppliers do try to mask the fact that the wedges are, er, wedges. They dress them up in fancy colours, add punched leather detailing, or tassel them up in a spectacular fashion, hoping beyond hope that such details will distract customers from their ugly structure. Needless to say I’m not going to be persuaded by their efforts.
I can’t expect everyone to have such immaculate standards though. Whilst not mentioning any names (discretion is paramount in a Young Lady) I will confess to having spotted an acquaintance of mine (a very well dressed acquaintance, no less!) sporting a pair of wedges on the social dance floor. Now, I’m sure she had an absolutely marvelous time and was really able to dance hard and long to several songs on the trot without once thinking of her poor feet… but REALLY… is such comfort worth it?
The more I think about it, the more my answer to this is an unresounding, arms folded, foot stamping ‘NO’.
Right. Rant over. Onwards and upwards into the dizzying world of high heels.
There are a fair few vintage shoe myths lurking out there – one of which I’m going to bust right now. For those of you who think the forties were a time for demure heels and frumpy wedges only, think again! Every 1940s wannabe should know about the platform and it’s place in this incredible decade. Think Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Jeanne Tierney. 1940s Hollywood was awash with starlets in platforms. And they looked totally fabulous.
I’ve noticed a few 1940s style platforms emerging on the high street this season too… Hobb’s aptly named Ava looks particularly authentic. They have a slightly heavy ugliness about them which is (dare I say it..? ) a quite charming 1940s characteristic.
And now we come to the question of authentic V reproduction. I’ve a steadily growing collection of genuine vintage shoes. Every time I buy a new pair, I have every intention of wearing them. Every time I get my new pair home, I lovingly arrange them on a shelf in my room. Every time it would be appropriate to wear the aforementioned vintage shoes, I have a mild panic that they’ll get ruined and opt to wear some modern repros instead. Fail? Probably. But they do look very pretty on my shelf…
You see for me, more often than not, vintage dressing goes hand in hand with dancing. Which in turn goes hand in hand with being trodden on. Which in it’s own turn goes hand in hand with rapid destruction of footwear. Anything fragile would be a gonner quicker than you could say Charlie Barnett and his Orchestra.
It’s at this point that I would like to preach the wonders of vintage reproduction footwear – of which Remix Vintage Shoes is the hands down, out-and-out winner. Their designs are exact replicas of footwear from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Their website leaves a lot to be desired but their collections are second to none. Remix shoes are pricey. Very pricey. But you’ll feel so terribly authentic when you wear them that all thoughts of money (or the lack there of, following your purchase) will fly from you mind. Revival Retro is the only place I’ve yet to find in the UK that stocks Remix shoes and they have a terrific collection. The shop’s owner, Rowena is an absolute gem who knows everything there is to know about vintage dressing. Go there! (It’s certainly where I’ll be heading on payday… got my eye on a bit of green croc skin… )