Footwear Gender Trends

Figure 1.--We see many children, especially younger children, wearing the same footwear in the 19th and early 20th century. Strap shoes were a popular style. This began to change after World War I. Strap shoes persisted in Germany longer than in most other countries.

The HBC footwear section is not as developed as some HBC sevtions, but it is a clothing/fashion topic we eventually hope to explore in detail. We note that many women's and men's footwear styles in the 19th century look very similar, especially the high-top styles. We also note many children's shoes, meaning styles worn by both boys and girls. This was primarily the case for younger children. As far as we know there was no reason for separate boy/girl shoes other than fashion. The only reason we can see is that boys were more likely to be involved in rough play and in the 19th century and early 20th century physical labor than girls. We believe that the trend toward separate shoe styles is associated with the same trend as other gender-specific fashions, beginning with the decline of the common convention of dressing younger boys in dreeses and other skirted garments. Just as we do not fullnunderstand this trend, we also do not fully understand the footwear trends. We think an important fctor was the popular view of childhood where most parents regarded children as basically asexual beings. Thus mothers saw no need for gender-specific clothing for younger children. A reader writes, "I too am wrestling with gender factors with respect to shoes. I'm trying to address the question of why there are 'boy shoes' and 'girl shoes'. Some people think it was the companies who promoted separate lines to maximize profits. There certainly were geographical/country differences involved. The turn of the 20th century is so long ago that we can't ask anyone if they preferred separate types of shoes for boys and girls, or whether they liked one line that could be used as hand me downs, etc. I am addressing some of these questions in a book preparing, but not being an expert, I'm afraid the discussion might be superficial. Do you know of any source that might shed more light on this subject with respect to fooitwear? I am trying to get hold of early editions of the Boot and Shoe Recorder, but copies are difficult to find. Here HBC has not found any written work, our work comes primarily from the photographic record, catalogs, and fashion magazines.


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Created: 6:40 PM 3/5/2009
Last updated: 6:40 PM 3/5/2009