"Porträt der Heinrike Dannecker"

H.Dannecker, G. Schick, 1802, Staatliche museum, Berlin, Germany


leather and gold decoration, shoes, 1790s

How do we choose our shoes? what makes us long for a pair of very pointed flats rather than round toed ballerinas?…

Fashionarchaeology has been musing over this question very much lately. Pointy flats are, after all,  THE  party shoe this 2013-14 festive season…

Looking back in history, points have come and gone several times over the centuries. Waves of “fads” or “fashions” which lasted centuries or just decades. Today they last barely one season and are always offered alongside a distinct alternative. Freedom of choice? maybe. So how do we decide which shape of shoe to go for? It would be great to say we follow our instinct, but of course our choice is always culturally determined. We can hardly desire what we do not know or can not yet imagine.

kore,ultimo quarto VI sec aC,mrt NY

Etruscan, metal statuette, kore, last quarter 6th Century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York USA

The Etruscans where master cobblers. Unlike Greek  (and later, Roman women) Etruscan women were always represented wearing ankle-high, smooth and strong-looking, pointy booties. We have however very little information regarding this particular “local” fashion  –  or how and who produced it.

The “orient” (anywhere east of Athens) seems to be the common denominator for pointed footwear of the past. Pointy flat shoes were fashionable for women  throughout the long Byzantine Empire

Imp Irene pala d'oro venezia Xsec

Enameled metal plaque, Empress Irene (detail from the Pala d’Oro), 10th Century, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

pantofole di pelle stampata con croce oro,VI-IXc,Walters mus Baltimore usa

Gold stamped, leather shoes, Byzantine, 6th – 9th Centuries , Walters museum, Baltimore, USA

The higher the status the greater the decoration, empresses such as Irene, wore red pointed slippers encrusted with gems and pearl embroidery.

In Christian iconography females are always depicted with footwear, never barefoot. Their feet were covered by pointed shoes and hidden by long floor-length garments  (just as their hair was safely tucked away under veils). Women’s feet thus become taboo…


Benedetto Antelami, Deposition from the cross (detail: women), 1178, Parma cathedral, Italy

The real “pointy shoe fashion moment” in history however, comes with the French Revolution. By 1795-6 French women were reinventing their fashion identity in the aftermath of the worst years of the Revolution  – when dress had become a matter of life and death

A.Appiani,Josephine Bonaparte 1796

Andrea Appiani, Rose Beauharnais (Mme Josephine Rose Bonaparte from 1797), 1796, p.c.

During the years of the Directoire women like Rose Beauharnais (Napoleon gave her the name Josephine as he found Rose too vulgar) were turning to the art of classical antiquity for fashion  inspiration. In the early years of neoclassical dressing, sandals were the most obvious choice – but also a semi closed shoe like the light blue one she is wearing in the portrait.

I have never seen examples of surviving sandals from this period, but I have seen many utterly wonderful examples of  very pointed “flats” (heels were  totally out of fashion)

leather and embroidered linen shoe, 1790s, V&A

Green leather shoe, cut out detail filled with silk embroidered linen, late 1790s, V & A, Lon, Uk

Debucourt, abito da giorno 1801

French fashion plate, 1801

3 leather shoes, 1800c, V&A

Three shoes, 1790s-1800, V & A, London, UK

Leather or silk or the very “modern” printed leather variety of pointed flats (see above) in bright pastel tones such as lilac, heather pink, sun yellow, grass green, were chosen to set off the bright white of the neoclassical dress to its best effect.

Fast-forward to today:


Black suede Jimmy Choos……


G.Rossi black lace version…..


And Tabitha Simmons’s black with glittering embellishment…..

ENJOY and dance your way into a fabulous 2014!