Artifact Corner: 1830’s Women’s Shoes

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today is a very special video for us. We will be looking at two artifacts that are almost never seen by the general public. These two pairs of shoes belonged to our Frances Henrietta, and are from the early 1830’s. Both pairs of shoes are made from a silk satin with leather soles, and delicate silk ribbons that would have been laced up around the ankle. These shoes are so delicate and lightweight, they would have felt like wearing almost nothing on your feet. These shoes are so special because they seem to have been worn very little. Both pairs of shoes still has the original makers tag in the soles, and the tags are in incredible condition. Let’s learn a bit more about women’s shoes in the 1830’s.

Shoe styles for women throughout the years have gone in and out of fashion just as frequently as did women’s clothing styles. Shoes for women in the late 18th Century looked very different from the shoes Frances Henrietta wore in the 1830’s. Women’s shoes in the later part of the 18th Century had more pointed toes, and stacked leather heels. They could be made entirely of leather, or be made of sumptuous fabrics and richly embroidered. But, following the French Revolution, fashions across Europe and the United States shifted dramatically, and that included shoe style. Gone were the heeled shoes, and in came very delicate flat soled shoes. They look similar to what we would call a ballet flat today. They have a soft leather sole, with either a leather of fabric upper.

These shoes were made on a straight last. A last is a wooden form shaped like a foot that is used by shoe makers to create or repair shoes. Having a distinct right and left shoe is a relatively modern concept. These shoes were made to be identical, and after some time being worn, would mold to wearers foot. The amazing thing about our shoes is that you can see both pairs are labeled with the words droit and gauche. In 1830 in France it was common to write on the sole of the shoe droit meaning right and gauche meaning left, and since French fashion was all the rage, shoemakers around the world copied that practice. You can clearly see that the shoemaker did that in Frances’ shoes as well. Frances’ father, Henry Delord, was born and raised in France and spoke and wrote fluent French, so it’s not hard to imagine that Frances would have delighted in this little nod to French fashion. 

The makers of the shoes were J.L. Williams from Troy, NY and J.B. Miller from New York, NY. Even though Frances was a young woman, she had traveled to both of those areas in the early 1830’s. Sadly, Frances died from childbed fever when she was only 20 years old in 1834, and so her shoes, and many of her other possessions were packed up, and not worn again. It is likely because of this that these pieces are in such great condition! There is light staining on the silk, but the leather is in great condition, and the soles of the shoes are also in fantastic condition. These shoes are stunning and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. If you would like to see these shoes in person, you are in luck! We are kicking off our open season with a special event running May 6th through May 8th. It’s called Treasures from the Attic, and these shoes, and many of our never before seen or rarely seen artifacts will be on display for this special event. It’s a can’t miss event! For more information, check out the description box of the video for the museum’s contact info. We hope to see you there! And as always, thanks so much for stopping by!

Questions about the event where you can see these shoes? Email [email protected].
Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,