What Stories These Shoes Could Tell If Only They Had a Different Sort of Tongue

Author: Shelley Coriell

The main character in my YA debut — Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe— adores vintage shoes. Chloe’s footwear fascination isn’t so much about the actual shoes but about the people who once wore the shoes. A people person to her core, Chloe wonders about the women who once wore the shoes, the places they saw, and the travelers who crossed their paths. “What stories these shoes could tell if only they had a different sort of tongue,” Chloe says.

In my novel, Chloe got most of her vintage shoes from Grams, her spunky seventy-two-year-old grandmother who is struggling with progressing Parkinson’s Disease, and from garage sales in Grams’s seniors-only trailer park.Here’s a quick look at shoes you might find in Chloe’s closet. Most of the information comes from the Vintage Fashion Guild.At the turn of the century, most women wore sturdy leather boots. They were functional, not very fashionable, and usually hidden by long skirts. But as women started to get out of the house more and participate in sports, we started to see sporty canvas boots with rubber soles or low-heeled leather boots.

When skirt hems started to rise in the 1920s, boots fell out of fashion. Basically footwear became less practical and more fashionable. We started to see colorful leather, sequins, and elaborate embroidery. Slipper-like Mary Janes and silk pumps were very popular.

In the 1930s we started to see peep toes, which showed just the tiniest bit of a woman’s toenails. We also saw high-heeled oxfords and sandals come into fashion.

In the 1940s shoe designers found inspiration from footwear of the Renaissance where women wore platform shoes to avoid the muck and filth of fifteenth century streets.  Chunky platforms and sturdy wedge heels were a good fit for women in the 1940s who were running homes and businesses while their solider husbands fought in World War II.

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As women stepped into the 1950s, footwear fashion exploded. Chunky platforms gave way to soft, sexy high heels. In 1954, we also saw the first stiletto appear on Paris runways. Less casual shoes such as “saddle shoes” and sneakers became common place in high schools everywhere.

In the 1960s, two fun trends occurred. Women started wearing back-to-nature type styles such as colorful, beaded moccasins and simple sandals. Boots, which we hadn’t seen much in the past 60 years, came back in style. We saw square toed, low-heeled boots and bright, shiny go-go boots.

When you think shoes from the 1970s, think huge platform shoes and spiky stilettos, and in winter women wore knee high boots made of either vinyl or earth-toned leather and suede.

Shoes from the 1980s were very much about color and surface embellishment. Think bows, sequins, jellies, and patterned leathers. Heels were the rage, including stilettos and upside down, triangular-shaped heels. We also saw plenty of boots, this time cowboy and Cossack boots.

For more information, check out www.vintagefashionguild.org.

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