*** boys' footware county trends

Footware Country Trends

Figure 1.--American boys commonly went barefoot in the early-20th century. It was more common than in northern Europe and did not carry the same stigma of poverty.

Our information on boys' footwear is still quite limited. We notice fewer national differences in footwear than clothing in general Footwear in the 19th century seem relatively standard. The principal differences seem more related to climate than national styling. We see far more boys going barefoot in southern Europe than Northern Europe. Here both climate and poverty were involved. Going barefott was also common in America, Audtralia, New Zealand and South Africa. Even when sandals began to become popular after the turn-of-the 20th century, we do not note substantial country differences. Asian countries had specialized styles like Japanese Zori. After World War I we notice substantial differences, especially betwwen Europe and America. Sandals become popular in Europe. American boys do not seem to have like sandals, but sneakers become very popuilar. We also notice specialized styles like saddle shoes and loafers. These differences continued through tj\he 1950s when Europe began to adapt American styles, especially sneakers.


We note American boys wearing a range of different footwear. Footwear in the 19th century seems similar in both Anerica and Europe. We have only limited information on the early 19th century. We note mosrly high-top shoes in the late 19th century. Some younger children wore low-cut strap shoes. Going barefoot was probably more common in America. We notice various styles of strap shoes and sandals in the early 20th century. They were at first worn by both boys and girls. Here there were social class factors involved. Sandals became less common for boys after World War I and the early 20s and do not reappear as a major style for boys until sports sandals in the 1990s. American and European footwear styles begin to significantly differ after World War I. The Briish school sandal never became popular in America. nerican sneakers did bot become popular in Europe until the 1970s. We do see American boys wearing sneakers in the 1920s. They were discouraged at scgool until well after World war II, but eventually become the primary style for children., especially boys. Most boys wore low-cut leather shoes by the 1920s, although high-top shoes were still worn in the 1920s.


HBC at this time has very limited information on the footwear worn by Belgian boys. We do not know to what extent wooden shoes were worn as in the Netherlands. Many younger boys appear to have worn strap shoes. Sandals were also popular. We have not seen as many boys wearin sneakers as was the case in France by the 1950s. We have noted some boys wearing boot-like shoes through the 1940s, but oxford styles appear more common. By the 1970s sneakers or running shoes become increasing popular as was the case throughout Europe.


A Canadian reader informs us, "Even though Canada has a harsh cold winter, it also gets a very hot summer and Canadian boys always go barefoot during the summer months, particularly July and August when school is out. During the 1970s, it was most common to see Canadian boys wearing T-shirts, cut-off jeans with frayed edges just above the knee, with bare feet. They would walk everywhere, play with friends and go around the neighbourhood in bare feet. It is also very popular in Canada for boys to ride their bikes in bare feet. Canadian boys, in the the early 2000s during the summer wear long shorts, which can also be used for swimming, and go barefoot all summer. It is still quite popular for walking around and riding a bike in bare feet during a Canadian summer." [Alcock] The same source also tells us, "Black and red rubber boots have also been extremely popular among Canadian boys, and remain so today. Every Canadian boy has worn a pair of rubber boots, like his British counterpart. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was considered tough and cool to fold the tops down. The lower they were folded, the more cool a boy was. Rubber boots in the early 2000s remain popular in Canada, more so than in the U.S., however, it is now more common for Canadian boys to wear their rubber boots up at full length. Canadian boys wear rubber boots in the mud and water in the spring, at camps in the summer and generally on rainy days. They also wear lined winter boots during the harsh cold winters. Canadians usually have a blend of the British and American influence, this is evident with the boots and the popularity of going barefoot in the summer." [Alcock] Sandals do not appear to have been very popular. Trends seem similar yo America. We do, however, see a few boys wearing sandals. An example is a Quebec boy in 1959. Canadian boys in the 2000s wear the same popular shoe styles worn in America--running shoes and sport sandals.


We have only limited information on English footwear at thus time. Some footwear is the same styles as worn by boys in many other countries. We note boys at the turn-of-the-20th century wore heavy boot-like shoes. Poor boys might wear wooden shoes or clogs, but they seem less common than is the case of many boys on the Continent. The oxford shoe is a standard boys' style, but notably named for Oxford, England. One of the most destinctive English footwrear style is the school sandal. Another destinctive English style is Wellington boots. Canvas shoes were mkostly worn for school gym classes and called plimsols. Sneakers became popular in the 1970s and were called trainers.


We see Finnish children wearing the same kind of footwear that was common in he Baltic area. Rural children were somewhat different. They very commonly went barefoot in the warm summer weather. Of course during the cold winter this was not possible, but it was very common in the countryside. To what extent it affected city children we are not sure, but it was less common. It seenms to have been more common in small towns and villages. This was in part an economic matter. Finland until after World War II was a relatively poor country. And because of forced ties with the motibond Soviet socialist economy did not recover from the War as fast as Western European market-based economies. Going barefoot was not enirely a sign of poverty. We noticed children going barefoot in Finland during the summer well into the post-War era when Finland was able to ease away from the Soviet hold and participate more fully with the burgeoning economy of Western Europe. A reader has provided a village smnapshot and tells us, "This photo was taken during summertime 1959 at a kindergarten in Ylöjärvi,, in the Pirkanmaa region of Finland. Going barefoot was and still is quite common for Finnish children during their brief Summer season."

Figure 2.--French post cards in the early 20th century commonly depicted emacuately dressed children wearing strap shoes, both boys and girls.


Footwear is a topic that HBC has not yet serious addressed, especially 19th century footwear. We have begun to acquire some information about the 20th century. French boys have worn a wid range of dfferent footwear styes. Hightop shoes were common in the klate 19th century. Younger children might wear strap shoes. Sandals have been popular during the 20th century, although we are unsure as to when they first appeared. Low cut oxford shoes replaced high top shoes in the ealy 20th century. We note, however that even into the 1960s that some children wore hightop boot-like shoes. We begin to note many boyswearing sneakers in the 1950s, but they had a more flimsy look than American Keds and were often hightop. Trendier sneakers appared in the 1970s.

Figure 3.--German boys during the 1920s and 30s commonly wore different kinds of strap shoes. We see boys wearing balet-type shoes as a kind of casual footwear.


Many German boys in the 19th century and well into the 20th century wore boot-like heavy shoes. Closed-toe sandals were worn in the early 20th century. Strap shoes might be worn by boys from afflient families. Sandals were laregely shunned under the NAZIs, although younger boys might still wear them. Adter World War II, boys began wearing open-toe sandals. Boys from working-class families in the 19th and early 20th century might wear wooden shoes, especially in northwestern Germany near the Netherlands.


We still have relatively limited information on Italian children's footwear. Italy today is renowed for its fashionable footwear. Italy until recently, however, has been a poor country. Poverty was especially severe in southern Italy. In these areas it was very common for children to go barefoot, even to school. This was an economic function and not a fashion or popular style. Families with money to do so would buy shoes for their children. Sandals appear to have been very popular in Italy and we have noted a variety of styles. HBC does not yet have timeline information.


Traditional footwear in Japan was the zori sandal which appears to have been the inspiration to the modern flip-flop. Leather shoes have been worn much less than in Europe. Boys generally wore sneakers after World War II, except for very formal occasions. I'm not sure just why this was, but believe sneakers were less expensive than leather shoes.

(The) Netherlands

Dutch boys are perhaps most noted for wearing wooden shoes. In fact this was a style most common among boys from modest-mcome families are living in rural areas. Dutch boys have worn a wide range of footwear. Younger boys might wear strap shoes for dress occasions. Sturdy shoes were most common in at the turn of the 20th century. Gradually by the 1920s Oxford-style shoes became increasingly common. It was at this time that sandals appeared. At first English-style school sandals were the most common, but other styles appeared after World War II. Sneakers became increasingly popular in the 1970s.

New Zealand

Clothing styles in New Zealand were very similar to those in Britain. This only began to change after World War II when American syles began to have some influence. This was especially true for casual clothes. School styles continued to be essentially British styles. The one major difference is footwear. From an early point in the settlemena of New Zealand, children commonly went barefoot. We are not entirely sure why that was. The climate had to be a fsctor. And consumer goods before local industries developed much have been very expensive. Even after cattle wwre introduced, we suspect the quality of footwear was poorer than in England and the price was higher. This alomg with the climate may explain why going barefoot was much more common in New Zealand than Britain. We assume that footwear manufacturing by the early 20th century became comparable to Britain, although New Zealand is of course a much smaller market which would mean that companies did not enjoy economies of scale. Hopefully New Zealand readers can tell us more about this. We note boys wearing inexpensuive leather shoes with rubber soles in the late-20th century. They were almost always black shoes. British school sandals were never very popular in New Zealand, although many schools had Roman sandals as part of the summer uniform. Boys do not appear to have worn sandals much outside of school. Sneakers becane popular in the 1970s as was common in most countries.


Because of the endemic poverty most Portuguese children went still wentg barefott well into the 2-th centutu. t was very common throughout Portugal, includinhg the major cities. And because of the country's benign climate, this was possible through much of the year. Lether hoes were the most ewxpensive clotyhing items. This became somewhast of an embarassement as it wa becoming invreasingly less common in Wesdtern Europe. The Lisbon town council in 1928 forbade going barefoot in the city. In the photo here we can see a free dispensation of canvas shoes, in order to encourage the use. However a lot of Lisbon inhabitants ignored the town council decree for many years, especially the women and the children. Out of the capital, especially in villages and in the country, the children (and sometimes also the women) went usually barefoot until the economy began to improve after World War II. some decades ago. An Italian reader tells us, "I visited the north of Portugal in September 1979. Except in the towns (Porto and Braga) all the children were barefoot."


Scottish footwear as best we can tell basically the same as English footwear. The only difference we can see is economic. Scotland was not as affluent as England as thus we see more barefoot children in Scotland during the 19th and early-20th century. Scottish boys like English boys beginning in the 1920s wore closed-toe sandals, both for school and for play. We see them being commonly worn at school. both the "T"-strap style and the double-strap style. The popularity began to decline in the 1960s after sneakers began to become increasingly popular. Sandals were worn both with and without socks. The most popular style was the standard "T" bar strap. Scotland with all of its rain creates ideal conditions for the Wellington boot or 'wellies' as they are affectionately known in England and Scotland. We note quite a few images of barefoot Scootish children in the early 20th century. These children are working-class children. We notice both street children and children at school who are barefoot. A good example is the Queen Mary Street Public School in 1916. A French reader writes, "Quite strange to see barefoot children. That could shock people here in France. I think it is a cultural question. Even in the poor villages in France, the children in this case were wearing clogs." HBC is unsure how common clogs were in Scotland. We do not see them in the photographic record, but our Scottish archive is still limited.


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Created: 1:38 AM 2/6/2009
Last updated: 5:27 PM 4/1/2022