This article from Woman’s Home Companion, April, 1936, showed me that I have a lot to learn about the way shoes were perceived in the 1930s. Were white lace-up heels always for women over fifty? Did young women really wear them, too?
“Old Lady Shoes”
I find many thirties’ shoes stodgy looking because I associate them with “old lady shoes.” My grandmother and her friends were still wearing white, lace-up, perforated shoes in the 1950s.
Those white shoes looked exactly like some of these fashion shoes from 1936, and the question raised in some online discussions has been, “Were the old ladies we remember wearing shoes they had saved for 15 years, or did they just buy new ones that looked old-fashioned?”
You could still buy similar shoes in the 1960s. (When lace-up oxfords with moderate heels were black instead of white, we called them “nun shoes.” I went shopping with a high school friend who had to buy a pair when she entered the convent in the 1960s. We laughed a lot.)
Shoe Vocabulary, 1936
As often happens with fashion writing, vocabulary doesn’t always mean the same thing now as it did in the past. It would never have occurred to me that oxfords were more “tailored” and more appropriate for wear with a city suit than pumps with straps! It’s also hard to remember that a “sandal” was any shoe that did not completely enclose the foot, no matter how structured and pump-like it was. And how can a high heel be “Monkish?”
Here is the article, with its line illustrations, plus related ads from 1936. [Fashion reports in the Woman’s Home Companion rarely named the sellers of featured items. If you wanted more information, you had to write to the magazine and ask for it.]
Sturdy, Comfortable, and Tailored for Spring
“What type of shoe, Madam?” and if your answer to the sales clerk is “Something to wear with my spring suit – something sturdy and comfortable and tailored looking,” he may bring out some or all of these eight most popular styles.”
“Oxfords still come first. We used to wear them for comfort and now we choose them for style. The newest are trimmed with stitching and perforations ranging from tiny pinpoints to larger triangular shapes, for decoration as well as ventilation. Some show tiny touches of light contrast under the perforations or, even newer, thongs of bright colored kid laced through the holes.”
This perforated oxford was actually black, like some of the shoes in these advertisements.
Wide Strap Pumps
“Sharing the popularity of oxfords are wide strap pumps. They have the comfort of oxfords and are more open, a trifle less tailored.” [Surprise. I would have said these are more dressy.]
It’s a little surprising that gabardine fabric shoes were popular in the Depression, since they would not wear as well as leather. But fabric is also featured in this Matrix Shoe Ad, March 1936.
Blue was definitely a fashionable color:
In this Queen Quality ad, the question of the wearers’ age is settled by the appeal to “Spring Brides.” And, although not extremely narrow, those are pretty high heels. Here are more wide-strap styles:
Monk Type Shoes
“If you prefer a heavier-looking shoe to go with a mannishly tailored costume then a monk type with side strap and leather heel is your goal. This style originated in smart country shoes and is now coming into new fame for town wear.”
Probably the stacked leather heel gave it a “country shoe” feeling. These “Cabana” two-tones with a (monkish?) tongue and buckle are perforated, but don’t have that ‘old lady oxford’ look to me:
Square Toes and Square Heels for Young Women, 1936
“Young girls, with that smartly casual look, may choose a different type of tailored shoe altogether. With their youthful suits, stubby little square-toed square-heeled sandals are charming. [Bucko was a scraped leather with a slightly sueded or matte finish.]
Low heeled, square-toed shoes were also available in the 1960s, but the one in this ad dates from 1936.
Like the shoes in the illustration, they are made of bucko; the brand ‘Collegebred” confirms that these are for teens and young women. They have casual, stacked leather heels.
“The last of these eight popular types is a sandal with high support and an open effect, the perfect complement to your silk suits and dresses.”
These may not be what we usually think of as sandals, but they look light and appropriate for a silk, rather than a wool, suit or dress.
Like the article on shoe styles I have been quoting, these Walk-Over brand sandals are from Woman’s Home Companion, April, 1936:
They are much more open, but not open-toed. All four styles were available in patent leather, and some came in a range of colors (Dubonnet, blue, black, white, brown, British tan, white kangaroo suede, etc.) Style A has square toes and heels and is pictured in bucko. Perhaps I like these sandals because – except for the one with the wide strap – they remind me of the elegant shoes of the twenties. The ad says they are “young” and colorful. I wonder: Would they have looked old-fashioned to women who had worn similar styles – which were then described as new and “unusual” — in 1928?