Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Hello and Welcome again to another Fifties Fashion Fix! I’ve written a lot of blogs about clothes, so now it’s finally time to write about every fashion-savvy woman’s passion: shoes!
It has been said that a woman can never have too many shoes. For many women, that is true. The 1950’s was a decade that introduced many new styles of shoes to women everywhere. High heels, sling-backs (with and without a “peep toe”), wedges, flats (called “flatties”), loafers, mules, oxfords and t-strap shoes were just some of the new choices. Pointed toes became more popular towards the end of the 50’s when shoes began to look less clunky and more sleek.
However, the most iconic shoe of the 1950’s will always be the Saddle Shoe. Saddle Shoes were first introduced in the 1920’s, but had their hey day in the 50’s. They were mainly for youths, particularly teens. Every teen had a pair or two. They took great pride in their saddle shoes, making sure they were neat and clean, laced properly and worn with a pair of neatly folded socks. Girls and boys alike wore saddle shoes, but the one of the most common images of the Nifty Fifties is a girl bopping along at a sock hop wearing a poodle skirt and saddle shoes. Flat shoes with long skirts and dresses (often worn with petticoats) were all the rage. Wearing flat shoes was a sign of youth, and some shoe companies marketed flat shoes to adult women, enticing them by saying “You can’t tell the mothers from the daughters.” (Oddly enough the opposite became true later: wearing high heels mean a woman is still young and sexy, while flats mean she is too old to walk in heels anymore.)
In addition to saddle shoes, other lace-up shoes were popular, such as shiny patent black oxfords. “Wing tips” were also popular, adding a dapper flair to an oxford shoe. At the end of the 50’s, “White Bucks” were the new rage. White Bucks were made popular by heartthrob Pat Boone, who always wore his white bucks with his nifty suit and tie. Like the saddle shoes, White Bucks were worn by both males and females.
Now let’s say you want to dress 1950’s (and not look like you’re going to a costume party) and you LOVE retro-shoes! (Well gee whiz, who doesn’t?) As with clothes, you have two options: Buy reproduction styles or hunt for true vintage. In this case, I strongly suggest you buy repro styles as opposed to actual vintage shoes. Shoes can really take a beating and pre-owned shoes from the 50’s will more often than not be in rough shape. They will show their age, probably have serious condition issues and look sloppy, which is the last thing you want when trying to emulate that era. Plus, for some weird reason, most shoes from that time period seem to run narrow. I mean really, really narrow. They had all kinds of widths available, but “AA narrow” seems to be the most common. Maybe more narrow shoes were produced than wider widths… Maybe more women wanted to try to squeeze into narrow shoes… Whatever the reason, buying vintage shoes is probably not the easiest (or even the most fun) way to go about obtaining a 50’s Footwear look. But fortunately, there are MANY current-day companies that offer vintage-looking shoes. There are also many different colors and funky styles, but remember if you want a true vintage look not to go too crazy with colors and patterns. Most shoes in the 50’s era were on the basic side. Pastels and brighter colors came later– although there were red and blue shoes (blue suede shoes!), most people stuck to either the sharp-looking black and white, or more neutral tones.
One of my favorite styles of retro-shoes are the simple strapped shoes that have a moderate heel and easily stay on your feet. These are comfortable and the best for dancing, but I don’t recommend them for more glamorous wear. It’s interesting to note that in the 50’s, shoes with the “Mary Jane” straps were for very young girls. When a lady became of age (around her Sweet Sixteen) she would graduate to a high heel shoe with no strap. No strap meant you were no longer a baby and didn’t need to have your shoes fascinated to your feet. You could walk in adult high heels with grace and charm.
But the Mary Jane shoe is alive and well in today’s retro-shoe market. The cute little cut-outs will get you lots of complements too.
If the “Mary Jane” dance-style shoe isn’t your thing, you can always opt for a sexy a sling-back strap (with or without the classic peep toe.) A patent finish was popular and looks good on a pair of peep toe sling backs. This look is so classic, it never, ever goes out of style, nor should it!
In addition to retro-themed shoe brands, many current day, contemporary companies offer classic styles that go very well with a 50’s-retro ensemble. Certain styles either make a come-back or just simply never go out of vogue.
So as you probably already well know, there’s really no limit to the shoes you can buy for your retro 1950’s wardrobe. Whether you decide to keep it conservative, or go for something with more pizzazz, there are always places to find some great throwback footwear to the Fabulous Fifties. Happy shopping!
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shoes—you really made shoes fun and exciting and purposeful for me–thanks