Children's Shoes


Figure 1.--A very popular children's shoe style in America was the saddle shoe during the mid-20th century. They were worn by both boys and girls. This portrait looks to hve been taken in the 1920s.

A great deal of historical information is available on shoes. We do not, however, begin to see specifically children's until the 19th century. Perhaps the first such shoe was the strap shoe, although we do also see adults wearing this shoe style. Gradually in the 19th century it became seen as more of a child's style. Children footwear styles become much more common in the 20th century. This page will survey several different styles of boys' shoes. We notice quite a variesd range of different shoe styles over time. The popularity of many of these shoes varied by country. Styles have ranged from the buckle shoes just like the ones worn by their fathers in the 19th century to fancy patent keather strap shoes. The modern boy, however, prefers comfortable sneakers. The saddle shoe was a sport shoe that became popular for children, bith boys and girls. We also notice a range of specialty shoes such as the Sperry Topsiders. Loafers also became popular, but more for teenagers than children. Many boys in the 1990s 'have increasingly worn sandals.

Historical Background

Historically, the lower classes continued to wear sandals while those of higher position and rank chose to wear intricately designed slippers. We do not have much information on shoes in the ancient world. Sandals were common. A Roman shoe was called a Carbatina. Lleather strips to fasten the shoes. We know more about the medieval period. Men's legs suddenly became a focal point of fashion, shoes took on new importance (15th-17th centuries). Highly decorated bows and buckles were added to make them more attractive. During this era, boys once they emerged from their baby dresses were attired in shoes much like their parents. By the beginning of the 19th century, however, the pendulum had begun to swing the other way, as shoes took on a more functional look. Styles became rigid, almost clumsy; colors vanished; and footwear was, for the most part, to be found only in black and brown leathers. In America, Massachusetts quickly established itself as the shoemaking center of the Colonies. Thomas Beard, who settled in Salem soon after arriving on the Mayflower in 1629, is widely considered the pioneer of the American shoe industry. Following his lead, other craftsmen set up shop in many of the small towns surrounding Salem. The industry grew, and by 1768, nearly thirteen thousand pairs of shoes were being exported each year by Massachusetts shoemakers to the other Colonies. Up until the middle of the 19th century, shoes were slowly and painstakingly produced by hand. But as soon as Elias Howe's sewing machine was adapted to the tasks of shoemaking, the industry began to join the Industrial Revolution. In the meantime, footwear fashions ran the gamut from slippers to boots, which became popular in the early part of the 19th century. There were boots with spring heels, developed in 1835, and there were boots with no heels at all, popular in the middle part of the century. Boots began to fade from the scene somewhat just before the turn of the century, at about the same time that the rubber heel was first introduced. During the first 25 years of this century, shoes were rather dull and lackluster. But by the time the 1930s rolled around footwear with more style and imagination began to make a long-awaited comeback. American manufacturers copied styles of English custom shoemakers, who were turning out new models every few months. Brogues became popular and once again color was added to footwear, with black-and-white "co-respondent" shoes (that is, shoes with contrasting colors). From the 1940s to the 1950s a wide variety of shoes existed, yet styles did not change much from year to year and one simply wore shoes until they were no longer in good enough condition to be worn any longer. It wasn't until the 1960s and the advent of the Peacock Revolution that shoe fashion began go change radically, with new models introduced each season. The choices were mind-boggling: platform shoes; sleek, pointed English mod shoes of wild, iridescent colors; boots, from cowboy to hiking to frontier styles; and sneakers. Italian shoes - sleek and lightweight styles produced to go with the European cut suits--flooded the market and immediately became a favorite of the American man. Today the choice remains wide as to the kind of shoe a man can wear. There are men who wear practically nothing but sneakers or running shoes, while others enjoy the opportunity to change styles with each business and social engagement.

Boy's Shoes: 19th and 20th Century

Dedicated children's footwear, as far as we can tell, are a relatively modern phenomenon. We are not entirely sure why this was. Of course most children in the ancient and medieval era commonly went barefoot--weather pemitting. The first dedicated children's shoes we note are strap shoes. Up until this point, the strap shoe was not seen as a specifically child's style, but this begn to change in the 19th century. Boys' shoes changed significantly at mid-19th century. Well dressed boys from affluent families often brought slipper-style shoes for boys still in dresses and later in the skeleton suits and tunics of the first few decades. By mid-century much heavier boot and-high top shoes were more in vogue, even with formal or party clothes. A mother in an affluent family would never let her boy leave home without shoes as it would suggest the boys' parents were not well healed and that the boy himself was "rough". By the turn of the 20th century, the strap shoe was largely seen a a child's shoe. A reader writes, "Why is it that strap shoes have been worn primarily by children in recent history, whereas they were popular for adults in earlier times. Could it be that they were easier to fasten by children who couldn't tie shoes?" I think that indeed was a factor in the 20h century. I'm less sure that is why children wore them in the 19th century. Certainly the very uoing children wearing them could be explained as they were easier for mother to dress them. But we also see older children wearing them. During the 1920s boys began wearing modern oxfords. Other styles develoed such as saddle shoes. American boys in the 1930s began to wear canvas tennis shoes or sneakers. The dominant brand became Keds which could be purchased for a couple dollars. For a time sneakers in America were called Keds. These sneakers developed into the fashionable sports shoes today marketed by Nike, Rebok, and Adidas. British boys did not commonly wear sneakers in the 1930s. They had "plymsols" for gym, but for school and play wore Clarke's school sandals, a kind of "t" strap, closed-toe shoe.

Material

The traditional material for shoes is leather. Different types of leather have been used. Poor people could not afford leather shoes. One alternative which prevented them from going barefoot was wooden shoes. Early man wove fabric shoes out of various plant mayerial. The flexibility and durability of leather, however, made it the ideal material for shoes, at leadt the upper portion of the shoes. Barious mterials such as cork and rubber have been used for the soles. A new kind if casual shoe appeared in the 20th century, the sneaker made with canvas upprs abd ru]bber soles. Sneakers have become a major shoe type and vcanvass has been replaced with a variety of different mostly synthetic materials.

Types

There are two baic shoe types, the high-cut and low-cut shoe. The high-top shoes seems to have been very popular in the mid- and late-19th and early-20th centuries. We note both button and lace-up high-top shoes. Button shoes dominated into the 1910s. A good example is American boy Ivan Eugene Perry in 1906-07. We are not entirely sure why high-top shoes became so popular at this time. It was not because children neededmore support because adults also wore them. There were different styles of high-top shoes, but they all look very similar. We don't know enough about the subject at this time to describe them. We know much more about low-cut shoes. They seem to have been the dominant shoe type in the early- and mid-19th century. A good example is an unidentified Salem boy in the 1870s. They continued to be worn in the late-19th century, but specialized forms such as shoes for young children and dancing pumps. Low-cut shoes begin to become more popular in the 1920s, although younger boys continued to wear high-tops for some time. Low-cuts were worn in the early- and mod-19thb centurt, but did not become standard again until the 1930s, especially for younger children. They were made many different styles.

Country Trends

We are developing informtion on shoe trends in individual countries. we have not yet developed a setailed assessment of country differences. We note American boys wore mostly high-top shoes in the second half of the 19th century. Hight-tops were also common in Euripe although not as common as in America. We see aot of glish noys, for example, wearing low-cut shoes. We see even more differences between America and Europe in the 20th century. There was some variation in the early-20th centyry, but as high-top shoes declined and new trends set in we see American boys wearing mostly low-cut leather shoes, but neakers becoming popular, at first high-tops. We don't see sneakers in Europe, but we see many boys wearing sandals and strap shoes, many more than in America. After World War II we see these differences gradually narrow as American influenced pan-Euopean styles took hold in Europe (1970s). We are slowly byulding country pages for shoes, including America, England, France,and Germany.

Shoe Styles

This page will survey several different styles of boys' shoes. We notice quite a varied range of different shoe styles over time. The popularity of many of these shoes varied by country. Styles have ranged from the buckle shoes just like the ones worn by their fathers in the 19th century to fancy patent keather strap shoes. The modern boy, however, prefers comfortable sneakers. Sneakers were at first for boys and very baic. This began to change in the 960s and by th 70s the sneaker had become a major shoe style and the height of fashion. The saddle shoe was a sport shoe that became popular for children, bith boys and girls. We also notice a range of specialty shoes such as the Sperry Topsiders. Loafers also became popular, but more for teenagers than children. Many boys in the 1990s have increasingly worn sandals.

Lacing

A HBC reader asks, "Have you ever investigated the differences in how the shoes/boots were tied or laced? Maybe there are chronological, regional, or country differences." HBC has no information on this, but would be interested in reader input.

Colors

We do not have a lot of information on shoe colors. Shoes were at first the color of leather. We re not entirely sure when this began to change. Footwear for men and women was similar during the mideval era. We begin to see differentiation in the 19th century and this included color. This process, however, began slowly. The styles still were similar as were the colors. As far as we can tell the color of footwear was not a major factor until the 20th century although fancy women's footwear in the 19th century might be found it the 18th century. We notice no color conventions associate with age. This we begin to see in the 20th century. We notice high-top white sjors for very young children. The most colorful shoes were the strap shoes, also referred to as sandals, done for children, here we might see blue, red, and white. For the most part children wore either brown or black shoes, brown was the most common. We see two colors shoes beginning in the late-19th century. Brown and white shoes were fashionble after World war I, a style which continued into the 1950s. This was, however, not aspecifcally children's style. A good exanple is the fashionanle two-tone shoes worn by Ben Davies in the 1920s.. This two tone style was most common for men and boys. A special style was saddke shoes, originally a sports shoe, but evtually a style for children and teens. Thy were done in white with a variouly colored saddle. Sneakers began as very plain shoes, usually black or white. Beginning in the 1950s we begin to see color--red Keds for younger children. In recent years, mosrly fter the turn-of-the 21st century we see a color explosion.

Related Links

Careful these interesting links will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site:

Civil War era reenactors

Shoe history: Middle ages







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Created: January 15, 1999
Last updated: 8:32 PM 5/25/2016