Fashion in the 1950’s brought the world out of the conservative war years and into the dazzling 50’s. Dresses were bigger, accessories richer, hairstyles taller and shoes.…well plainer. With so much new emphasis on the rest of women’s fashion. 1950’s shoes became understated accessories. Instead of bold patterns and a pile of fancy adornments, shoes were basic classy single color pumps, flats, wedgies and loafers. Black and brown were the main choices for day wear while brighter colors were acceptable for summer sportswear or house slippers. Shoes also coordinated perfectly with an outfit’s accessories matching purses, gloves, belts, and even jewelry.
The styles of 1950s shoes are varied but almost all come down to fitting into one of these popular silhouettes
In the early 1950’s the stiletto heeled opera, court, and pump shoes were all the rage. They were very tall with 4 inch spiked ultra thin heels. Early on, the heels ended in a small metal cap that left dents in soft wood floors requiring some museum and court houses to forbid stiletto shoes. The stiletto featured tall arches with a V shaped cut away from the shoe sides. Red was the most bold and most in demand color for formal wear. They were impractical and mostly only worn for very special occasions, short duration, and by fashion models.
Lucile Ball wore tall chunky ankle strap shoes through most of the early 1950’s. These were a carry over style from the 1940s worn by many pin up girls. While many shoes retained the thicker heels of the war years, especially for working classes, most fashion followers preferred the smaller narrow heel shoes as an rebellion from the masculine 40s.
After trying to balance on tall heels most 1950’s women regained their senses and accepted low but still thin kitten heel shoes. These classic dress shoes were safer to walk in yet still remained elegant and classy. Shoes were made of a soft leather or reptile skin. Suede and some fabric materials, like velvet or mesh, were used as well. Toes were very pointed in the early years and more rounded in the later years. For evening wear, jewel tone colors especially glittery gold and dark silver were fashionable.
For every day wear, around the house or running errands, a thicker low to mid heeled pump was the best choice. Black was the color that went with the most outfits so every woman had at least one pair. One style of day pumps were called Baby Doll’s. They featured very round toes that resembled a doll’s shoes. They came in many fun colors during the spring and summer with cute accent decorations on the trim or an ornament on the vamp.
Unlike the 1940s famous peep toes sandals, the 1950s version was far more sexy. Toes were fully exposed and straps very thin. Evening sandals showed off the most naked foot skin and had the thinnest heels. Most day wear sandals had lower chunky heels and a medium thick ankle strap around the heel called a slingback. Slingback straps were found on pumps, wedges and slip on casual shoes too. The style assured women their feet would not slip out of the shoes- a dangerous and embarrassing accident. Take a look at the history of sandals through the decades.
Another 1950’s shoe style called flatties or flats in today’s lingo were popular house shoes. They were sometimes worn with pants outside of the home for casual occasions. These featured very small heels of 1/2 inch or less but were the most trendy having no heels at all- just flat, flat flat! Black was the most common color with a thin bow on the top. Audrey Hepburn was a forerunner of fashion in these basic “ballet shoes” and women followed her every move.
Of all the flatties brands Capezio was the cream of the top. They were luxury for those that could afford them but oh so divine. They had no heels, very low profile sides, deep cut on the toes revealing toe cleavage, and sharp pointed toe tips. They exuded sexiness like no other!
Capezio and Bernardo both created a lace up flat called ghillies. It was a sister to the espadrille shoe but looked more like a cross between a men’s oxford and a ballet shoe. The long laces provided endless amusement in devising new ways to tie the straps. At the back of the ankle was the best way for 1950s espadrilles while wrapped up and around the leg was the vogue thing to do with ghillies. Many movies show cased women dancing in ghillies (see if you can spot them next time you watch a 1950s musical.)
Beside the peep toe, the iconic shoe of the 1940s was the wedge or wedgie shoe. They were however equally popular in the 1950s too. Wedges naturally retain the chunky sturdy shape and give a nice lift to the heel (sexy!) Toe openings were bigger in the 1950s and wedge heels a bit taller and curved inward for a slightly more delicate look. They were and still are a style that screams “vintage” or “retro” shoes!
1950’s Slippers and Mules
Only in extreme summer heat did women go without stockings. Wearing stockings with sandals was a must. Wearing them with strapless mules made for a rather slippery experience. In 1954 a solution called “Spring-O-Lators,” featured a leather and elastic band down the inside of the mule to push the foot forward and keep the shoe on. Finally women could wear sexy mules for evening wear or at home as dainty bedroom slippers (not practical enough for house slippers, bedroom slippers were only worn with sexy lingerie as an enticement for husbands.)
For summer wear, thin heeled mule shoes and slingback sandals were in vogue. If they featured any extra adornment it came in the form of a thin, flat bow across the toe. Straps were wide and heels either very thin or more commonly thick and rounded.
The most casual of all sandals was the rubber flip flop. Women and girls loved them, husbands not so much. They were noisy to wear and many kids were only allowed to wear them outside where they couldn’t be heard flip flopping away.
Oxford- Saddle Shoes
Teenagers and house wives wore saddle shoes. These were black and white oxford shoes most associated with girls in felt poodle skirts. They were usually worn with a pair of bobby socks- white socks rolled or folded down 3 times. The soles and heels were black along with the center panel.
White “bucks” or nubucks were another style of oxford shoe for teens. They had to be kept perfectly white all the time. Small “bunny bags” of chalk powder were included with each white buck shoe so girls could powder them on breaks. Another white shoes was the clunky Joyce, which resemble nurses shoes or senior orthopedic shoes today. They also had to be kept perfectly white at all times. Bleaching laces, polishing leather, washing soles were all part of the nightly routine.
Some teens still wore Mary Jane shoes- a single strap oxford shoe. They were a young girls shoe that to teens meant you were too young to know how to keep your shoes on. Graduating to a strapless shoe meant growing up. There was a trend for the T strap shoes which returned everyone back to strapped shoes again. Black or red were the most popular among 12-15 year olds. Even women jumped on the trend with T strap evening shoes and sandals.
The most casual shoe for girls and women was the loafer. Moccasins fit into this category and were a staple in most young women’s closets. Easy to slip on, casual enough to wear with bobby socks, and durable to last all year they were practically perfect. The penny loafer got its name by the slit in the decorative leather strap across the tongue. It was sized for a coin that teens used to call home. Brown or white were the most common penny loafer colors. Other slip on loafer shoes came in many colorful shades and shiny materials like patent leather or plastic. Some were clear plastic although they proved problematic once the foot started to sweat turning the plastic milky white. Yuck!
1950’s Style Shoes to Buy
Many modern shoes have their roots in 1950s styles. A keen eye can find them almost anywhere. Here are some great choices to get you rocking back to the 1950s: