During what is referred to as the Georgian era, men and women
alike wore shoes with buckles. Boots were standard wear for most
Englishmen, although depending on the occasion, men also sported shoes
that relied on buckle fastenings. Buckles were traditionally worn with
stacked heel dancing shoes, the glitter of the buckle drawing attention
to those who excelled at this past time. A quantity of buckles has been
preserved from this time period, images illustrate what was
considered de rigueur evening wear. Initially fashioned from a variety
of metals, sterling silver buckles came to be preferred. The buckles
were not stamped as silver is now, consumers relied on the seller to
authenticate their wares.
Faux paste jewels were worn by many, this was an acceptable custom as
real jewels could easily be lost and many could not afford them. Tricks
used by buckle makers included backing the paste with a black dot to
give the illusion of depth and setting them in foil to enhance their
sparkle. Men more commonly wore buckled shoes since the length of
women's dresses covered most of their footwear. This period marks an
abandonment of the more sober brocades for women's attire and brighter
colored waistcoats for men. While women's dress colors and fabrics are
becoming lighter, men's fashions are gradually becoming more modern as
advocates of subtle refinement such as the iconic Beau Brummel rose to
The period of time after the Georgian era may properly be referred to
as: Empire, when speaking about France. Federal, which is used to
denote post-colonial America, and Regency, which covers
England. Each of these three terms applies to the same time period;
what changes is the point of reference. At this time, France and America
have both gone through bloody revolutions. England has lost territory
in the new world, and American independence has been won at great cost to
the new nation. Since England was the mother land, American
colonials enjoyed British exports. The colonies were responsible for
sending raw materials to England who could then sell finished goods to
those on the frontier.
Prior to the Revolutionary War that severed ties with Britain,
Americans had inherited many English customs, including their culture
and methods of dress. War is a costly thing, both in terms of money
and lives lost. After winning the revolution, anti-British sentiment ran
high throughout the impoverished nation. When British troops departed,
they took with them a great deal of the things that had made large urban
areas cities of distinction. Many Americans rejected British goods, and
since the British blockade was in effect, getting items from England
was a less feasible option than it had been previously.
France, an American ally during the revolt, was still friendly
towards the nascent nation. While the United States of America could not
deny its English roots, during the Federal period French graftings were
introduced. Empire waisted gowns were a new French import. Heel heights
for men and women dropped and wigs were worn less frequently as men
stopped shearing their hair, favoring natural hair growth instead. With
the shift from English goods and customs to French inspired ones,
clothing was yet another way to support and identify with a particular
political ideology while disdaining another. In France, shoe buckles
grew to enormous dimensions, sometimes even ruining the shoe beneath due
to their heft. Wealthy aristocrats who could afford real jewels wore
them leading rise to the observation that some had: "the value of a good
farm on each foot".
Buckles during this time were functional as well as fashionable.
Latchets, or straps closed the top of a shoe and buckles were a way to
keep these two pieces together. Although buckles were worn by any who
could afford them, they became a hallmark of the aristocracy. Sources
indicate that wearing them on an open Parisian street was taking a
deadly risk as noble blood was the steady diet of Madame Guillotine.
Anything associated with the nobility or aristocracy was rejected by the
bourgeoisie. Trousers became longer as breeches were another mark of
the privileged; for more information on the role played by this clothing
piece, search for the Jacobin group known as the Sans-culottes.
More than simple clothing changes, these ideas embraced new attitudes.
Art is not produced in a vacuum, styles may be dismissed as
representative of the time, yet those who overlook the reasons behind
these adaptations are missing the larger picture.
Footwear worn by prominent political figures deserves investigation
as it can provide clues about eras gone by. When Thomas Jefferson was
inaugurated during March of 1801, he broke with tradition. Recently appointed President of a divided nation after a hotly contested election requiring 36 ballots, Jefferson sought to unify the country
by presenting himself in the clothes of a commoner who walked towards
the incomplete Capitol building. Today, an equivalent action would show President Obama being sworn in while wearing work boots and the type of
uniform favored by mechanics. Additionally, he would forgo any lavish inaugural events, eat a simple meal and spend the night with his
wife and children as a way to demonstrate that he values family time.
When buckles were shunned by the lower class French and their
sympathizers, something had to take their place as a method to fasten
shoes. Women resorted to tying straps around their ankles to keep shoes
on their feet. When Thomas Jefferson wore a common footwear to his inauguration, it was not decorated with buckles, nor did he wear
any ribbons, another affectation of the aristocracy. Laces held his footwear together and by pairing them with the clothes of an every day
man Jefferson sought to demonstrate that he was no better than any of
the people he served. This action was also interpreted as supportive of
the French who had suffered under an oppulent and oppressive regime.
As a style indicator, the Jefferson bootee could properly be termed a
brogan, yet to the people of the time, the Jefferson shoe/bootee
represented something more than mere footwear. It meant that President Jefferson understood that his position, coupled with his personal wealth, was powerful, and he was sensitive to the idea that his authority could be abused. This gambit was a shrewd move on Jefferson's part, designed to ease the minds of the American populace while not sacrificing anything other than his personal appearance. It also countered the ideas of French and British monarchs who believed in their divine right to rule and who went to great lengths to keep subordinates in place.
Intolerable English edicts such as the Stamp Act would be fresh in the mind of citizens watching the inauguration and those hearing of the event. The clothes and shoes Jefferson wore demonstrated that he wanted the common man as an ally, although it is likely that some perceived this as a political ploy instead of honest intent. 'Jefferson' as a footwear adjective quickly
came to mean any shoe or boot that was laced as opposed to one that relied on buckles. Usage of this term ran for most of the 1800s, fading as shoes came to replace boots and bootees. The Jefferson
bootee was the most common footwear item issued during the American
Civil War, all four types of these brogans: hand sewn, machine stitched,
hand pegged, and machine pegged remain in existence and sites selling
footwear suitable for reenactment is a Google search away.
To close: it is often easy to be dismissive of events that transpired
in the past. What may seem unimportant or downright silly might seem so
because context has been lost as time passes. Footwear is not the be
all and end all, however, hopefully some of the things presented here
have provided insight into how it can be used as a tool of those who
wield power and the way that fashion(s) can express the attitudes of certain individuals
and groups. The country known as the United States of America owes much to the man who penned the Declaration of Independence, although as a man, Jefferson was flawed and mortal, as we all are. Today, the United States represents a land of
wealth, opportunity, freedom from religious oppression, the right to
gather in public, and the ability to consume your beverage of choice while wearing whatever footwear you damn well
- Fugawee - Images and recreations.
Make History - An interesting introduction into clothing and styles of
- The Turner Brigade - A good read and rebuttal of data found on the Fugawee website which admits to making corrections.
- Image and a description of hobnailed shoes.
- C & D Jarnigan
Company - features images of US Military issue 1851 and both sewn and
- This site deserves
mention as it reports shoe modifications done by soldiers and later
adopted by the government.
of a Regency pair of shoes. Note the unisex designation.
- Images - paste buckle collection, scroll down for the image of "Marie Antoinette Style" by Adrien Goetz.
A fascinating overview of styles worn during 1775 and 1800.
of some societal restrictions placed upon French citizens.
little history of red shoes. Includes royal image and is suggested
on the Jeffersonian inaguration. Also has a nice rebuttal of the idea
that Jefferson rode a horse to the ceremony.
paste buckle collection. Clarifies the term latchets and illustrates
how buckles were stored by their owners.