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History shows little new in women’s shoes

By LEANNE ITALIE Published: March 28, 2010
Semmelhack said the separate high heel "came into fashion in Europe but was worn in the Near East before it was of any interest to Europeans.”

Height has a long history played out in the extreme in chopines nearly 20 inches high in 16th-century Venice.

"Venetian women were actually sequestered and only put on view at certain times of the year,” Semmelhack said. "You don’t actually see the chopines themselves. They were put under women’s dresses. The cost of textiles was so high that wearing chopines meant more fabric and therefore higher status.”

Color often shows up in shoes via long-lasting books and movies, taking women back to their childhood romps through the closets of their mothers.

Stuart Weitzman, who has a long relationship with glitzy heels and a new line of chunky jeweled and studded jelly sandals and shoes for spring, said that, year after year, his best-selling color in sandals is no color at all.

"Who is the first hero, the first story that every girl ever reads or learns or is told about in her lifetime? The transparent shoe in Cinderella,” he said.

He does sell color, and a consistent favorite is red, he said.

As mass media and mass production made fashion "more democratic,” Semmelhack said, politics often revolutionized it. Shoes were no exception. Heels went flat in 1800 and stayed that way through 1850 in response to the French Revolution, a time ornate heels were preferred by the ruling class, she said.

"It’s interesting that when we head into more difficult economic times, we see a rise of very, very architectural and sculptural footwear,” she said.

Ferragamo is one of the biggest names in women’s shoes. Some have speculated his wedges were inspired by chopines, but he was interested in women’s comfort, Semmelhack said.

Herman Delman, who founded the Delman brand 91 years ago, also built shoes of style and comfort. Over the years, Delman hired top designers as he attracted star clients such as Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford, releasing ready-to-wear copies of shoes he made exclusively for the rich and famous, according to a student-curated exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, "Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers: A History of Delman Shoes.”

Go online to see more shoes.


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