Museum exhibit proves shoes can be high art
Nearly everyone, in every culture around the world, wears some kind of slipper, sandal or heel to shield the soles of their feet from the earth. But an exhibition opening April 20 at the New-York Historical Society shows that beyond protection, shoes provide power, prestige, sex appeal and liberation.
“Walk This Way” highlights 100-plus pairs of pumps, mules and more from footwear designer Stuart Weitzman’s private collection of historic shoes. Spanning nearly 200 years — from a pair of 19th-century “boudoir” slippers to modern-day sustainable platform sneakers — the show illustrates how the evolution of feminine footwear coincides with women’s changing roles in society.
“You really see the power of what the women’s movement did to fashion because you don’t see it any stronger anywhere than in footwear,” Weitzman, whose wife began amassing a collection of historic shoes for him some 30 years ago, tells The Post. “After men kept pushing them into shoes that were killing them, women started to change the footwear industry and demanding shoes that actually felt good.”
In 1838, the most desirable footwear was a pair of dainty satin slippers, whose thin soles and delicate fragility meant only a wealthy woman whose home boasted plush imported carpets could afford to wear them.
Later, as women took to the streets demanding the right to vote, they shod their feet in sturdy boots. During World War II, they entered the workforce en masse donning flat shoes and wedged platforms, which were made of cheap cork and proved more stable than delicate kitten heels.
In the 1950s, male designers began pumping out sexy stilettos to woo women back into the home after their husbands returned from the war. That’s when ladies took matters into their own hands, designing practical footwear themselves. The most successful: Beth Levine, who developed an elastic device called the Spring-o-lator, which helped secure backless shoes and allowed women to pound the pavement all day and dance all night in their high-heeled mules.
It all shows how women have used shoes to telegraph their aspirations and desires. “When you put on a pair of shoes it’s not just to cover your feet; it’s to play a role or to feel empowered,” says curator Valerie Paley, chief historian at the Historical Society. “There’s something deeper to the story of the shoe.”
Buttoned boots, 1870s, unknown designerTamara Beckwith
The early Christian church forbade shoes that distinguished the shape of the wearer’s foot, deeming them too “sensual.” So, until about 1900, most shoes — like these dainty white leather boots — could be worn on either the left or right foot. Great for manufacturers, terrible for feet.
Laced pumps, 1910, unknown designerTamara Beckwith
Higher hemlines in the 1910s and 1920s led to increasingly flamboyant fancy footwear, including embroidered, jeweled and brocade heels they could show off while dancing and drinking champagne. Before that, shoes and boots were meant to cover women’s shapely ankles.
Open-toe mules, circa 1950s, unknown designerTamara Beckwith
These thoroughly modern plastic-feeling pink mules belonged to actress and dancer Ginger Rogers. The elastic Spring-o-lator, developed by designer Beth Levine, made backless shoes so comfortable and sturdy that Rogers could cut a rug in them all evening long.
Source link: https://nypost.com/2018/04/14/museum-exhibit-proves-shoes-can-be-high-art/