Strap Shoes: Conventions

Figure 1.--The girls here are in costume, I'm not sure about the boy. They seem to be wearing strap shoes as playwear with white socks. Note that the strap shoes are not black. They look to be red or brown.

There are a range of conventions associated with strap shoes, including age, gender, usage, and social class. These conventions varied over time anf from country to country. Other factors like color, design, and material also affected the conventions concering the wear of strap shoes. Age was an important factor. We note mostly younger boys wearing strap shoes, but girls od all age wore them. Gender is a major factor. Both boys and girls wore them in the 19th century, but after the turn-of-the 20th century they became more associated with girls. Here the time-line varied from country to country. Strap shoes today are primarily seen as a dressy shoe style. This was also the case in the 19th century. Starap shoes were at first worn by younger children as an inside shoe. They would not stand up to rought outdoorwear. Boys, even younger boys in the late 19th century wearing Fauntleroy suits, might wear heavier boot like shoes. Strap shoes became increasingly common for formal wear in the early 20th century. After World War I (1914-18), strapshoe styles appeared for play. They were often red, brown , and blue and work with white socks. The English literary character Christopher Robin was often depicted playing in strap shoes. By the 1940s, however, they were increasingly being seen as a dress shoe although younger children might still wear them as a play shoe. Social class is another factor. We note children from well-to-do families wowearing then more than working-class children, although there were differences among countries and gebder here seems to have been a major factor.


The conventions associated with the strap shoe has changed significantly over time. A HBC reader reports, "Some of the HBC strap shoe pages reminded me that in the royal palace in Stockholm. Special shoes were worn by tourists so as not to ruin the beautiful floor. In many of the Newport homes in Rhode Island (luxury summer homes for wealthy American families), children wore special shoes not to ruin the valuable rugs and floors and different shoes outside. Maybe strap shoes were inside shoes and the more rugged shoes were outside shoes. In the older Fauntleroy pictures where children were wearing heavy boots most of those were taken in studios. If so, it would make sense for them to wear outside shoes. In the pictures of Fauntleroy dressed boys taken in homes, many appear to be wearing strap shoes. I do not have any hard facts for this speculation, just HBC images." Indeed, this is a subject that needs to be addressed. Some differences are country based. Strap shoes, for example, seem much more common in France than America. I get the impression that strap shoes were an indoors shoe. Especially in America it was also seen until after the turn of the 20th century as a shoe for very young children. Another factor nay be that because a boy had to go to the studio to have his portrait taken that his outdoor shoes were worn. At any frate, this is a subject that requires nore work.


There were definite age conventions associated with strap shoes. Strap shoes were primarily a style for younger boys. This was especially the case for strap shoes worn as part of a formal or dressy outfit as well as with white socks. We jave, however, noted older boys wearing strap shoes in some countries as a kind of casual sandal. This seems to have been the case in France and to a lesser extent Germany. The age of boys wearing strap shoes varied over time and there were differences among different countries. There was also an element of social class. Generally speaking, strap shoes for boys was much more common for boys from affluent families. The ages at which the shoes were wprn has varied over time. Boys up to about 11 wore these shoes in the eraly 20th century, but this declined after the early 1920s.


The same style of back strap strap shoes were worn by both boys and girls. Girls wore them to an older age, but the styles were identical. Girls also continued wearing them after the mid-1920s when boys rarely worn them. We notice that in many photographs the boy wears one style of strap shoe and the girl another style. We can detect no consistency, however, as to who wears which style. Both boys and girl wear back strap shoes. Often mothers liked to diferentiate, but as far as we can determine, there was no well accecpted convention.


Strap shoes today are primarily seen as a dressy shoe style. This has not always been the case. In the years before sneakers, boys also wore them as a play shoe.

Dress Shoe

Play Shoe

Children in the 1920s began wearing strap shoes for informal occasions and play. Styles varied. Some wore the single trap Mary Jane style, while older boys wore the "T" strap school sandal style. Colors varied. The most common color for play were red strap shoes, but dark blue and other ones were also worn. These shoes were worn until the 1960s when most boys stopped wearing them--except for boys from very rich families.

Social Class

There are definite socal class conventions associated with strap shoes, althogh they varied over time and from country to country. A reader writes, "Interesting write up in the Royalty section about the Bonaparte discendants. Is it just the preference of the mother to dress 7 and 9 year old boys and girls exactly the same, or is there some other reason, such as a type of symbol to separate the classes? The big question I have in my research is why the wealthy children continued to wear strap shoes? Where can I get a source that would explain this phenomenon?" We think questions like this have never been addressed so there are no sources to go to. As least we do not know of any. We would be interested in any sources readers may know about. We think a major factor here was that royalty even out of power had considerable wealth and the inclination to remain separate from the common people. They were commonly tutored at home rather than attending schools, even private schools. This was especially the case for younger children. Thus the mothers were able to dress the children just like they wanted to and the children involve did not notice it was unusual. And it was not unusual for children of both genders from well-to-do to wear strap shoes in the 19th century. And there were differences from country to country. We note quite a number of boys in Belgium, Germany, France wearing strap shoes into the 1930s. It became much less common in the 1940s. We see some younger boys wearing strap shoes into the 1970s, but they were mostly boys from wealthy families, in some cases royalty. In American itvwas seen as a kind of European style. Some of the last royals to wear strap shoes wwere Britain's Prince Harry and William.


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Created: September 10, 2001
Last updated: 1:08 AM 2/11/2011