I was in Toronto doing archival research and presenting at a conference and came across the gem of the Bata Shoe Museum. It’s the in the northwest-ish section of the city, near the University of Toronto.
I posted some of the images from the museum on Instagram, but one exhibit really caught my attention. It’s called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. It looked at the role the industrial revolution had in the process of making shoes, and the fashion connected with footwear.
From the wall text at the exhibit:
In stark contrast to the somber business suits and sensible shoes worn by men, 18th- century-inspired fashion reinforced negative notions about women as slaves to fashion. It also helped to frame womens’ role as consumers rather than producers.
This pair of boots is a great example of that. They have high heels, highly impractical, but hearkening back to court styling of the 1700s. They’re bespoke, and the handmade detail was necessary to differentiate upper class women from those from lower classes, who were wearing fashionable machine crafted shoes such as the lovely blue boots below. Upper boots feature custom gold details and were made for the individual, the lower, novel elasticized gussets for greater flexibility (in other words, they were mass produced and could fit a greater variety of foot shapes).
I had no idea that the color “mauve” was discovered as British chemist William Henry Perkins was trying to discover a cure for malaria. He came up with a new dye that made the formerly-royal color of purple accessible to the masses. According to the wall text at the museum, it also made Perkins a very wealthy man. The color was a huge success.
I love this pair of red boudoir slippers, which, like the gold-plated bespoke boots above, have high heels reminiscent of 18th century styles. They’re so completely impractical, but completely lovely, with the severe point at the toe and the ribbons to anchor the shoe to the foot. Of course, something like this would never be worn outside. But that’s part of their pleasure.