Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dancing Shoes for the Civil War Period

Slippers owned by Empress Eugenie, Bowles Museum, 1862

If our goal is to dance as they did during the mid-nineteenth century, we need to wear the clothes and underpinnings that were worn at the time. We also need the right shoes. We really need the right shoes, because the wrong shoes can make it impossible to perform the steps the way they were done in period.

Our fallback shoes are ballet flats for women and dance oxfords for men. The dances require shoes that are lightweight, stay on the foot and do not stick to the floor. These shoes are easily available, fulfill the main requirements, and are unobtrusive.

Good modern alternatives
Let's look at some original shoes to see what we're aiming for. These men's shoes show that oxford style shoes existed in the period.

Men's Shoes, 1848

Men's Shoes, 1800-50

I haven't seen extant evening shoes for men, but here is a fashion plate showing some. It looks like a man's pump with a dark sock, or more likely, a shoe made of two materials that mimic a pump with a lacy dark sock.

 Gentleman's Magazine, January, 1856

There are a lot of extant women's evening shoes. The mid-century is when heels begin to come back into fashion, so you have the choice of wearing small heels (1/2 to 3/4 inch) or no heels at all. This is also the time when American women go from wearing only light weight slippers for day and evening, to wearing boots for day and slippers for evening. Slippers for dancing should either be tight fitting enough to not slip off, or should have little ribbons to cross over the instep and tie around the ankle.

First, let's look at some shoes that are not ideal for the ballroom. Boots in delicate fabrics can be worn in elegant contexts, but are not really formal enough for the ballroom.
Boudoir slippers, made of leather with fancy embroidery and insets, were only worn in private. They were something a woman could slip on when she was relaxing. Even though they look beautiful to our eyes, they were considered too comfy and casual to ever show up in a ballroom.

White satin boots, MFA, 1850               Boudoir slippers, Bata, 1860s

Now, here are some lovely original slippers that could have been worn to dance the night away in the 1850s and 1860s.

Wedding slippers, V&A, 1854

Slippers with heels, MFA, mid-19th

Black slippers, MFA, 1845-1865
Black slippers trimmed with blue, Les Arts Decoratifs, 1850s

Pink slippers, Met, 1830-45

Green slippers, Met, 1835-45

Striped slippers, Met, 1840-49

Striped slippers, Met, 1860-1870

White slippers, Met, 1844

Black slippers, MFA, 1860

Wedding slippers, Met, 1835-45

Wedding slippers, Met, 1865

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