Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design

The URI Historic Textile and Costume Collection

On-line Catalog

Wedding Shoes, ca. 1768 
Donor: Mrs. Thomas Hazard, Jr.
Accession Number: # 1978.03.02

These green shoes were worn by Hannah Slocum (1745-1823) of Portsmouth, Rhode Island when she wed Nicholas Easton (1733-1811) of Newport in November of 1768. The shoes, including the heel, are covered with a pale green, silk damask with a floral design (Figure 1). They are lined with a linen fabric. The sole and sock are of brown leather.

The shoes are hand sewn, with quarters and a back seam. The quarters extend to latchets that overlap the instep. The vamp continues into a high tongue. A white kid welt is placed between the upper and the sole. The numbers 5 and 2 are inscribed under the shoe vamp. These shoes were designed as straights, meaning the absence of distinction between the left and right shoe (Figure 2). This was a common practice in eighteenth-century shoe construction. The toe is slightly rounded, and the curved heel is 2 ¼ inches in height. The shoes show signs of wear.

Figure 1. Side view of shoe Figure 2. Soles

During the first half of the eighteenth century, ladies’ shoes were, according to English shoe specialists, “exceedingly rich, being either pink, white, or green . . . and the fabrics ranged from delicate silks to sturdier materials, such as leather or wool, for everyday wear” (Pratt & Wooley 1999: 41). The growth in prosperity in the last half of the century produced a greater market for luxury goods, including fine shoes and clothing. In the 1750s and 1760s, shoes had a more rounded toe, a higher heel, and a large buckle.

While the green silk damask of the URI shoes could date them to an earlier period, the style suggests they were made in the 1760s, close to the time of Hannah Slocum’s wedding. This would also be consistent with the latchets, which were likely fastened over the instep with a buckle. The shape of the heel is indicative of this time period as well. Shoes from the earlier part of the eighteenth century generally had lower heels than this example, and shoes from the 1770s and 1780s had higher, narrower heels.

During the mid-eighteenth century, women’s dress underwent a number of changes, greater than those of men. Dresses were supported by a hooped frame which extended the skirt in a bell shape. According to Kohler, the hoop began to decrease in size by 1750. By 1760, it was replaced by numerous stiff petticoats.

Cultural Analysis
Walking was admired in the eighteenth century, and “all fashionable people spent a portion of each day publicly promenading in a park where, nonchalantly strolling and conversing, they could display themselves and observe others displaying themselves to best advantage” (Maeder 1983: 47). Though shoes lacked arch supports at this time, women were advised and expected to “walk smoothly, with shorter steps than a man’s, and without jostling her skirts” (Maeder 1983: 47).

Figure 3. Shoe and clog, Historic Northampton (MA)

To protect elegant shoes of the period, pattens or clogs were worn to lift the shoe out of the dirt. Pattens were separate wooden soles on iron rings that fastened to the shoes by leather straps. Because of their functional appearance, they were eventually associated with lower classes and country people. Clogs, which can be described as cloth or leather overshoes, were an elegant alternative to pattens (Figure 3). They were often covered in fine materials or decorative leather stitching. “Curved and neatly shaped to fit under the arch, they would have supported the foot, perhaps making high heels easier to walk in” (Pratt & Wooley 1999: 42). The thin leather soles of clogs, however, offered little protection from the dirt of roads or unpaved streets. Lack of wear on the soles of surviving pairs suggest they were probably worn in dry conditions, such as inside the house or carriage. They were, therefore, “linked to luxurious lifestyles or to those who wished to imitate the fashions of their betters” (Pratt & Wooley 1999: 42). 

Hannah must have worn her wedding shoes for other events after her wedding because the toes and soles show wear. Also, "tide lines" on the heels indicate that the fabric got wet at some point while the shoes were being worn. Today women "preserve" their wedding ensembles for posterity rather than continue to wear them for special occasions as did eighteenth-century brides.



Text by Karen Kaplan. Photos by Blair Walker.

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