Forties Shoe Styles
What outfit could be complete without the perfect pair of shoes? In the 1940s shoes were, like everything else, very practical. Although the U.S. avoided ration coupons for clothing by placing restrictions like L-85 on manufacturers, leather was greatly needed to make boots for soldiers and leather shoes became the only clothing item that was rationed.
Heels were short, about an inch or two, and thicker than today’s heels about a half inch to an inch square. Most heels were stacked, and in the very late ’40s a slight platform was popular. Wedge heels were also very popular and were about the same height. Shoes were a little bit chunky by today’s standards, and the front was very blunt and rounded. In the U.S. some shoes were peep-toes and had a very, very small open toe (no toes really showed, it was just a tiny hole at the front of the shoe).
Leather shoes were still available, of course, but in a limited supply. Regular leather, patent leather and suede were all used frequently. Colors for leather were also limited, and most were only available in a few choices. Black, brown, tan, white and navy were what most women wore on their feet. Burgundy-brown was a popular shade as well. A lot of people bought rubber soles to attach to the bottoms of their leather-soled shoes to reduce wear and make them last longer. If you didn’t have enough ration stamps for new shoes, you had to make do!
Since leather wasn’t readily available, shoes started to be made from alternate materials. Although most women preferred leather shoes, stores and catalogues started advertising ‘ration-free’ shoes that were made out of cloth and wood. For the upper part of the shoe, cotton canvas was used for warmer-weather styles. Straw shoes imported from South America were popular in the summertime. The bottoms of shoes could be made from rubber or other plastics, but those were also in short supply. Some shoe bottoms were made out of wood. This was both uncomfortable and impractical – the shoes were heavy and hard to walk in. Plus, if you wore them out in the rain they had to be dried properly or the wood would split, ruining the shoes!
There were a few very popular styles of shoe in the ’40s. For daywear, the oxford could be worn with anything. The shoe was closed with a short, thick heel, and laced up the front. Think of men’s leather shoes made for women. Oxfords were sometimes decorated with perforations on the sides. The sling-back shoe was also a daywear staple. It had a rounded front, sometimes with a small peep-toe opening, with a strap attached with a buckle around the back of the ankle. Heels ranged in width and height and could make the shoe more or less casual. Regular pumps were worn as well, in the same style as the sling-back. Pumps and sling-backs were often decorated with various types of bows attached onto the front of the shoe, and could also be decorated with perforations. All of these types of shoes could be worn with a wedge heel.
During the summer, straw wedge espadrilles became a big hit and had a closed or open toe and ankle straps. For evening, shoes often had a crossed front in a pump style or with a strap around the ankle. Teenagers wore saddle shoes and penny loafers. Saddle shoes were white lace-up oxford style shoes with a darker colored panel in the middle of the shoe, usually in black or navy, with no heel. Penny loafers were a flat slip-on with a large tongue in the front of the shoe. There was a slot on the front where a penny was placed.
Vintage, Reproduction or New shoes?
When it comes choosing a pair of shoes for your 1940’s outfit style+comfort is what you want. Vintage shoes offer the best style but not always the best comfort. Women’s feet in the 1940’s were narrower. Just finding your size can be a big challenge. If you do find your size you may notice the lack of cushioning, especially in heels. Women were a lot tougher back then and their feet could handle more than our feet today. If size and comfort aren’t an issue then there is only one other thing which may bother you. It’s the “gross” factor. Some women are disgusted by the thought of wearing someone else’s used shoes. If this is you then you don’t want to wear vintage shoes.
Just recently a few companies started to make 1940’s reproduction shoes. Although they can be fairly pricey, the comfort and authentic styling is ideal if you are doing reenactments or other events that require period accuracy. They also come in a wide variety of sizes and sometimes widths.
Remixvintageshoes – Reproduction vintage shoes at their best!
Your next choice is to wear modern shoes. Luckily, shoes styles have not changed much in the last 100 years so finding 1940’s style shoes today is not very difficult. Once you know what style to look for almost any shoe store should have something that will work for you. If you prefer to shop online I have compiled a resource of 1940’s style modern shoes here: www.vintagedancer.com/1940s/1940s-womens-shoes/ New shoes are added frequently so check back often.
You have just read a section from the 1940’s Style Guide: The Complete Illustrated Guide to 1940’s Fashion for Men and Women. To read more pick up a copy of the book today!