A convertible high heel shoe from the 18th century? I don’t want to wear this—but I do kind of WANT this to still exist

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Leather shoe and patten, 1700s V&A Museum T.442-1920 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O135237/shoe-unknown/

The first time I held a shoe from the 18th century, it was a little silk slipper being passed around my costume history class. Yes, my amazing costumer instructor regularly brought dozens of objects from her personal collection to the Smithsonian Castle (home base for my grad program)  and we handled them and viewed them up close during lectures.

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Silk from Spitalfields (England), 1749 Designed by Anna Marie Garthwaite (a very well known fabric designer of that time period). This is a typical Spitalfields silk damask pattern, and the more you see them, the easier it will get to identify them

The little silk slipper was a “straight” which means that it was not shaped especially for a left or right foot and the fabric was a creamy silk damask with a colorful floral design—-probably made from Spitalfields silk. I was actually amazed to see that it was designed to match a dress, and not just a white kid leather slipper,  but matching fabric shoes were actually very common.

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An English shoe from the 1730s-1740s in our collection at Winterthur. That’s one of my working photos before it’s cropped and ready for the database.

I’ve never known very much about shoes, but I’m cataloguing some at work right now, I picked them as a plan B one day because the room large enough to lay out full length garments for photography was being used by someone else, so I needed to work with something small.

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Pair of Leather and silk Pattens from 1730s-1740s, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115792/pair-of-pattens-unknown/
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Leather and silk pattens with iron bases V&A Museum. The iron ring raises your foot over the mud and muck of an 18th century road. Your pretty silk shoes would remain pristine http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74764/pair-of-pattens-unknown/
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Yes, these shoes and pattens were not taking long strolls through the streets of London, but to step out of a carriage and into an opera house? It will do.http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115851/shoe-and-patten-unknown/

I’ve been working with silk and leather ankle boots, children’s boots, silk slippers with very low heels, silk heeled shoes and something kind of amazing. A heeled shoe that fits and ties into a flat leather base. The base is called a patten and it looks sort of like a sandal when it is empty. Add a shoe and you’ve got a high heel shoe that operates more like a flat.


Wouldn’t that be a great idea when you are in heels and it is raining and you are trying to get to the metro or catch a bus or something? 🙂


Women only wore pattens outside, and some were even raised to help navigate through muddy streets—or to at least get you from your carriage to the front door of the opera house, I think.

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I couldn’t get enough of these shoes on Thursday, but that patten that impressed me so much actually isn’t original to the shoe—the colorful silk trim doesn’t match and the shoe is too big for it.

Our pair has a patten that doesn’t exactly fit the shoe. Not knowing a whole lot about shoes from this period, I didn’t realize this until I dug into some books and looked for some other examples. That’s one really interesting thing about my line of work. You can think you know SO much about something, and then you can turn a page or two and and realize that you, my dear, are just at the tip of the iceberg and thank goodness you didn’t finish writing this object’s description before you actually did some more digging to see what experts already thought about this design. These two objects are in our collection together to show their function—but they weren’t worn together and now I know that.

Imagine what Nike could have done with this concept! Too bad it fell out of favor before the 1800s.