What 1940’s outfit could be complete without the perfect pair of shoes? In the 1940s, shoes were, like everything else, very practical.
Shoes were very chunky by today’s standards with a blunt toe box, stacked square heel (2-3 inches), thick decorations like bows and flowers, and thick wedge or platform soles in the late 40’s. Since WW2 efforts required all available leather, 1940s shoes were commonly made of heavy fabrics and reptile skins. Colors were brown, black, olive green and light tan during the war years with a splash of patriotic reds, whites and blues in the summer.
What sets women’s 1940s shoes apart from other decades are a handful of styles that were very popular. The following ten styles were the most common during the forties and still readily found today. After reading the article be sure to check out the 1940s style shoes page to shop for your very own pair of forties shoes.
For day wear, the stacked heel, lace up oxford was the shoe that could be worn with anything. They were sturdy, practical, long lasting and comfortable to wear around the house, running errands, and working a job. Everyone had at least one pair in brown or black. They were minimally decorated with only some accent materials, like patent leather or reptile skin, on the toes and heels, and small holes called brogue perforated on the vamp or sides.
Today heeled oxfords have been back in style for a few years. Even the heels are stacked like they were in the 1940’s! Pick up a pair to wear with your 1940s day dress or your everyday jeans- they look great with both!
The sling-back shoe was also a day wear style as well as an evening pump. It had a rounded front, sometimes with a small peep-toe opening, and a strap attached with a buckle around the back of the ankle. Evening shoes had taller heels while day shoes could be as low as 1/4 inch. They were usually plain shoes without decoration or detailing. The beauty was in the simple, understated, elegance of showing off a woman’s heel.
Slingbacks have never left fashion since the 40’s. What makes new styles more forties than others is the thick square heel, thick straps, plain dark colors, and a possible small peep toe.
Slip In Pumps
Non strap 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 and cut outs. The two tone combination was a trendy way to make pumps more casual and sporty. Brown and white was very popular with black and white becoming more common as the decade progressed.
What makes 1940s pumps so “vintage” today is once again the stacked heel and blunt toe but also the amount of material. Notice how high the sides go up and the toes are covered. Most modern pumps barley have any materiel covering the foot. Pumps in the 1940s were sturdy even while being pretty.
The most iconic of all 1940s shoes must be the wedge or wedgie shoe. The thick sole with raised heel was certainly sturdy yet also sexy since it raised the heel and shaped a woman’s leg nicely. They could be casual or formal and combined with many other iconic 40’s styles like a slingback strap, peep toe, ankle strap, or laces. Fabric covered the wedge heel and matched the upper material too. Formal shoes could also have a wedge heel when made of all black patent leather. Wedge heel heights were mostly low or reasonable walking heights. They were a favorite shoe for the entire decade.
Today’s wedgies have come in and out of fashion again. They became popular in the 1970s and again in the early 2000’s although the heel tended to be higher.
During the summer, straw wedge espadrilles became a big hit. They had a closed or open peep toe and laces that would wrap up the vamp or were up and around the ankle. The material was a woven straw that didn’t always cover the wedge sole, exposing wood or cork underneath.
Today’s wedge Espadrilles tend to be styled on later decades with thick laces wrapped up the leg and tied in a big bow. The 1940s versions had thinner laces and tied lower on the foot. Even so, many pin up styles embraces the modern Espadrille and make it look very vintage!
Ankle Straps and Mary Jane
For the evenings, shoes often had straps around the ankle or across the foot. The later was called a Mary Jane style and it was also a common day wear style. The high ankle strap was mostly an evening style. Ankle straps could be attached to pumps, peep toes, and wedges. The style that favored the sexy ankle strap also favored less materials. Deeper cut outs on the side of the shoe, an exposed heel, and larger peep toe all added to the sleek night time romantic design.
Both Mary Jane strap and Ankle strap shoes are very easy to find today. As long as the heel is thick and decoration minimal it will be right in line with the 1940’s.
Saddle shoes were sporty white lace-up oxford shoes with a darker colored panel in the middle of the shoe, usually in brown, black or navy. The sole was low with a very small heel and thick rubber tread. It was a casual shoe worn by mostly youth and teens although many women enjoyed wearing them at home too. They wore them with dresses, skirts, and pants.
Today’s saddle shoes are almost all black and white, an iconic style of 1950s shoes. Saddle shoes for men come in all sorts of color combinations with a few lines carrying saddle shoes for women too. Stick to the classic two tone colors and avoid bright pinks, greens and yellows to be more authentic looking.
Like most 1940s women’s shoes, loafers were a style of shoe borrowed from the men’s line. They were flat or very low heeled, easy to slip into, very comfortable, and trendy, especially with teens. Many women first started to wear loafers while working factory jobs during the war. They were so comfortable and practical they became stylish footwear after the war too.
The penny loafer style featured a strap with a slit in the center placed across the vamp and over the tongue. Teens put their pay phone coins in the slot thus giving it the “penny loafer” name.
Today’s penny loafers are unchanged from the 1940’s. Classic styles still exist and indeed are coming back into fashion again with some updated options too. For women who can’t wear heels the classic loafer is the perfect 1940s style shoe to wear.
Besides the wedge the peep toe shoe is by far the most “forties.” 1930’s shoes dabbled with exposing skin with cut outs and brogue perforations but the forties were the first decade to expose the toe. Expose might be too strong of a word. There has a small hole at the toe of the shoe but the toes were hardly seen. A visible toe would have been just too “sexy” for the conservative values of the day. The small peep toe was just enough to be cute but not vulgar.
Trendy peep toe shoes today tend to be larger open toe designs. To be authentic try to find small peep toes and other elements of 40’s shoes with adorable but large decorations such as bows and flowers.
Last but not least is the vintage 1940s sandal. It is different from the pump and strap shoes only in that it was designed for warmer summer time use. Sandals featured the least amount of material yet true to the 40’s still had a chunky appearance with a thick heel, large decoration on the vamp, and wide Mary Jane strap. Sandals were often peep toe but could also feature large cut outs on the vamp allowing for air to circulate in.
Classic retro sandals are coming back in fashion. I recently found two 40’s style sandals on a shopping trip to my local shoe store. Keep an eye out for Wedge sandals and espadrille’s this summer.
These are just 10 of the common styles of 1940’s shoes for women. There are, of course, other styles like slippers, moccasins, and winter boots that I didn’t cover here. If you need help learning about for shopping for any style of 1940s shoe please feel free to leave a comment or contact me for help.
For vintage inspired 1940s shoes I have found some great choices online and linked to them here. Click on the shoe for more information on the retailer’s website: