A distinctive period for both conflict and refinement, the Regency period confirmed and deepened the remarkable transformations in the design of men’s and women’s shoes that had already begun.
The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) overshadowed much of the period and resulted in an increased demand for Hessian style boots which, worn by men on and off the battlefield, helped to create a look which became synonymous with fashionable swaggering masculinity. New innovations, such as Wellington’s redesigning of the boot (c.1817), also proved to be immensely popular, being considered fashionable and foppish in all the best circles.
From around 1810 women’s half boots also increased in popularity and became a must-have fashion staple. Rudolph Ackermann in 1810 observed that ‘In the morning habits, the half-boot prevails over every other, and is most fashionable when formed of materials similar to the pelisse or mantle’. Half boots were accordingly constructed of sturdy cotton or kid leather and came in a variety of colours. In Jane Austen’s The Watsons, Lord Osborne says to Emma that ‘nothing sets off a neat ankle more than a half boot’.
Whilst half boots were de rigeur for day wear, evening costume for women demanded a ‘simple shoe of queen silk, satin, or kid’. This plain design reflected the move towards a simpler, purer style of dress and footwear which was influenced by designs from classical antiquity and made the perfect complement to the delicate muslin gowns by women in the period.
During the last years of the Georgian period women’s feet were on show as never before. With skirts becoming wider and shorter, attention increasingly centred on footwear. Satin, silk and leather slippers with thin flat solves and squared toes became available in an array of vibrant colours. They were fastened in a ‘Roman style’, with long ribbons which criss-crossed up the leg while ribbon rosettes at the toe added an additional touch of feminine charm. Due to their fragility, silk and satin slippers were usually reserved for indoor wear or special occasions.
With such simplicity in design and high demand, shoes for women were increasingly ‘readymade’ and available in haberdashers or from warehouses. It was also in this period that shoemakers began to place labels in their shoes to identity their products.
For men, boots had remained a fashion essential for almost forty years, and whilst they continued to be worn both indoors and out, decorum dictated that shoes were preferable for formal occasions – something which was reinforced around 1818 at the Bath Assembly Rooms with the introduction of a regulation which stated ‘No Gentlemen in boots or half boots to be admitted’. With the introduction of trousers around c.1815, which replaced pantaloons, boots became more permanently relegated as men chose simple, yet elegant, low-heeled shoes instead.