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A Walk Down Memory Lane: 25 Photos Showing the Fabulous and Frightful History of Women's Shoes

Dragon shoe

Dragon shoe, circa 1979

Shoes: You can’t walk without ‘em. And as is frequently the case, too, you can’t walk in ‘em. They’re often where glorious and gory intersect — accompanied by many, many Band-Aids.

Women have long had a love/hate relationship with shoes. We so badly want them to be comfortable. But unfortunately comfort and fashion are sometimes at the opposite ends of the sky-high, narrow stilettos we stuff our tootsies into.

The Northampton Museums and Art Gallery in England is showing an exhibit on the history of women’s shoes, and the artful results are fabulous and frightful all at once (not to mention perhaps a bit fetishist).

Your head might scream “No!”, but your feet will (mostly) scream “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at these shoes from the 21st century back through the 17th century.

Take a look:

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  • Camata designed by Manolo Blahnik (2000-2001) 1 of 25
    Camata designed by Manolo Blahnik (2000-2001)
    Pair of old gold satin court shoes. Pointed prow shaped toe. Tabbed vamp decorated with rectangular diamante buckle fringed with black, white and gold beads. Gold leather sock. Label sewn into sock: MANOLO BLAHNIK'. Very high thin straight heel flared out at the top. Leather sole stamped: MANOLO BLAHNIK MADE IN ITALY. Size 36. Autumn/Winter 2000-2001 collection.
  • Dragon shoe made by Thea Cadabra (1979 & 1996) 2 of 25
    Dragon shoe made by Thea Cadabra (1979 & 1996)
    Handmade shoe with an oval toe. High cuban heel. Vamp made in shape of dragons head in gold red, black and white leather with blue and green triangular lobed 'nose' on centre of vamp with mouth and teeth around toe. High tab with edge cut with flame shapes. Oval eyes with padded eyeballs. Green horns stick up from nose. Quarters striped gold and black with scalloped edge towards back seam. Quarters extended upwards to point behind heel. Heel covered as quarters. Lined cream leather and suede with woven label Thea Cadabra inset into sock.
  • Rocking Horse Golf Shoes designed by Vivienne Westwood (1997) 3 of 25
    Rocking Horse Golf Shoes designed by Vivienne Westwood (1997)
    Brown leather with crocodile leather covering toe, heel and tongue. Four pairs of eyelets, front lace fastening. Large fringed tongue extending over laces and vamp, attached to shoe by brown lace. Pale pink sock stamped in gold: Vivienne Westwood, London. Thick natural wood sole, cut away at heel to form right angle. Size 8.
  • Cloud & Rainbow High Heel designed by Thea Cadabra (1984) 4 of 25
    Cloud & Rainbow High Heel designed by Thea Cadabra (1984)
    Single blue leather high heeled shoe. Oval toe. Appliqué leather shapes in yellow, red, green and pink in patterns resembling clouds and a rainbow. V shaped vamp throat. Leather lining and sock. Leather sole and plastic top piece. Right foot. Unworn.
  • Platform Shoes (1980s) 5 of 25
    Platform Shoes (1980s)
    Pair of orange and pink synthetic platform shoes.
  • Ankle Strap Shoes (1978) 6 of 25
    Ankle Strap Shoes (1978)
    Pair of black patent shoes. Blunt pointed toe. 4.3 inch high thin covered heel. Ankle strap with gilt buckle to fasten. The shoe has had a nude female figure wearing court shoes and long gloves attached to vamp throat forming a T-bar. Pink lining. Left foot
  • Stiletto Shoes (1973-1977) 7 of 25
    Stiletto Shoes (1973-1977)
    Pair of black patent leather fetish shoes. These shoes have a 7-inch stiletto heel and are a size 11. They were probably worn by a man.
  • Clogs made by Dr Scholls (1969) 8 of 25
    Clogs made by Dr Scholls (1969)
    Pair of wood and beige leather exercise clogs. Footshape open toe, wooden base upcurved under metatarsal arch; adjustable leather strap, side stamped: Dr Scholls Made in Western Germany, low heel, rubber sole.
  • Mules made by H & M Rayne (1953) 9 of 25
    Mules made by H & M Rayne (1953)
    Pair of high heeled mules. Clear plastic, peep toe, vamp decorated with a peacock green metallic leather bow and circular buckle of blue, yellow, red and green cut glass gems. Green metallic rand and covered heel. Leather Spring-O-Later insole stamped in gold: By Appointment Rayne. Cemented. Narrow Louis heel with top piece. Leather sole. Size 3 1/2.
  • Court Shoes made by Northampton College of Technology (c1939) 10 of 25
    Court Shoes made by Northampton College of Technology (c1939)
    Pair of red leather and white, blue and gold metal court shoes. Round toe, red sock and top; blue lining; small grip in outside quarter with pink ribbon; white and blue top binding; red, white and blue buttons sewn on back; red, white and blue check bow on front, high heel made up of five struts of metal.
  • Bar Shoe retailed by Harrods Ltd (c1925) 11 of 25
    Bar Shoe retailed by Harrods Ltd (c1925)
    Red satin, bead embroidered bar shoe. Pointed toe. 2.6 inch embroidered louis heel. Bar to button over instep. Embroidered with red sequins and black and white beads. White kid lining and sock stamped: for Harrods Ltd. Sole stamped: Made in France. Right foot. Made in about 1925
  • Orthopeadic Boot retailed by Co-Operative Wholesale Society (1920-1925) 12 of 25
    Orthopeadic Boot retailed by Co-Operative Wholesale Society (1920-1925)
    Single right brown glace and silk brocade surgical boot. Pointed toe, above ankle high; front lacing over tongue, 14 pairs eyelets; brocade leg; red satin lining to tongue and top; back strap; punching and stars on top of tongue and inside top. 5 1/2 inch sole, 7 1/2 inch heel, white and black sole finish; wheeling. Retailed by the Co-Operative Wholesale Society, Leicester.
  • Slip-on Shoe made in China (1900-1924) 13 of 25
    Slip-on Shoe made in China (1900-1924)
    Pair of round toe shoes coming to point made to look like oriental dragon. White sole with white stitched pattern Back and front seam. Trimmed with, pom pom in green and pink on middle of sole; black binding, tassels all round upper in different colours, blue binding round welt, dragon face on vamp, red moustache, green hair, pink heart shape ears, tail attached to top of back seam.
  • Wedding Charm: made by Sears (1923) 14 of 25
    Wedding Charm: made by Sears (1923)
    Wedding Charm made from Confetti: Made by 'the girls', closers, at Sears Factory. This was a common practice at the factory.
    Story: Given to Edith Crouch at her wedding to Frederick Arthur Amos at St Michael's Church, Northampton on August 2 1925. Edith was a closer at Sears. Fred was a clicker at Oakeshott & Finnemore.
  • Slipper Uppers possibly designed and made by Ann MacBeth (c1900) 15 of 25
    Slipper Uppers possibly designed and made by Ann MacBeth (c1900)
    Pair of beige felt slipper uppers. Square toe. Vamps decorated with embroidered design in blue, pink, yellow and orange threads. Green satin top edge and tab. Described as being designed 'in the Glasgow School of Art style'.
  • Court Shoe made by C Moykopf (1900) 16 of 25
    Court Shoe made by C Moykopf (1900)
    Single white suede and blue, rust and gold court shoe. Pointed toe, flowers painted on suede upper, white kid quarter lining, satin sock, labelled: Moykopf, high gilt heel. Straights.
  • Cromwell Shoes made by Charles Hind (c1889) 17 of 25
    Cromwell Shoes made by Charles Hind (c1889)
    Pair of gilt glace kid barette shoes. Pointed toe, fastening with four bars and buttons in front; 5" wooden plaster covered heels engraved gilt rococco pattern; Made by Charles Hind of 22 Park Terrace, Regents Park, London
  • Slip-on Shoes (c1850) 18 of 25
    Slip-on Shoes (c1850)
    Pair of multicoloured kelim weave slip on shoes. Square toe rounded off. 1 lift inserted heel. Lobed vamp edge. Upper woven with diamonds and flower pattern in pink green and blue on beige. Vamp throat trimmed with ruched pink satin ribbon. Pink silk lining.
  • Latchet Shoes (1759) 19 of 25
    Latchet Shoes (1759)
    Pair of ivory satin buckle latchet shoes with silver embroidery. Oval toes. 2 5/8 inch high covered Louis heel. Straps to buckle over square tongue. Silver bow and flowers embroidered on vamp, and looped chains and leaves on quarters. Linen lining. White kid sock. Leather sole and top piece. Straights.
    Handwritton on the sole of these satin shoes is "1759 My Grandmother's Wedding shoes. She was born in 1740. E.R. Henning 1865."
  • Shoes Probably Worn by Lady Mary Stanhope (1660) 20 of 25
    Shoes Probably Worn by Lady Mary Stanhope (1660)
    Made of blue velvet and embroidered with silver gilt thread, these shoes must have been worn for a special occasion. The latchets would have tied across the tongue with a decorative ribbon possibly gold in colour.
    Story: Could these shoes have been worn during the celebrations, which took place after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660? Lady Mary was the wife of Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire. After Sir John's death in 1638 she married Sir John Gell. She seems to have kept her links with the Stanhope family after she married again.
  • Court Shoes 21 of 25
    Court Shoes
    Women's court shoes with floral decoration.
  • Bath Shoe made in Turkey 22 of 25
    Bath Shoe made in Turkey
    Wooden Bath Shoe
  • Footbinding 23 of 25
    Footbinding
    Showing size of the shoe.
  • Chinese Footbinding 24 of 25
    Chinese Footbinding
    Elaborate red shoes.
  • Footbinding 25 of 25
    Footbinding
    Lady showing shape of her foot.

All photos and captions used with permission from the Northampton Museum

More from Meredith on Strollerderby:

Read (even) more from Meredith at Babble’s Toddler Times, follow her on Twitter, and check out her weekly syndicated newspaper column at MeredithCarroll.com

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