At the time of the 1911 census in Great Britain, there were over 200,000 people employed in shoemaking from apprentices to master cobblers. By the 1940’s, the manufacturing process had become somewhat less labour intensive than in the past however the skills of shoemaking by hand acquired by those long in the trade were considered priceless.
The art deco dance shoe of the thirties gracefully shuffled into the shadows as the Second World War advanced and almost all footwear manufactured in the early part of the decade was designed to be practical. As shoe leather became scarce, rationing on footwear increased.
Conscripted men were issued with combat boots often referred to as trench boots. They encased the foot and ankles entirely, had a metal toe cap and were made of toughened black leather typically with seven to ten eyelets and laces. Varying designs were trialled by the armed forces throughout the war including some that incorporated a buckle and flap on the high uppers. Men were urged to take good care of their shoes by polishing and repairing them accordingly.
Aside from military issue boots, men could be most commonly found wearing Oxford brogues, loafers or saddle shoes which have remained a classic design still widely worn today.
Women’s shoes underwent a radical change in design at both the beginning and end of the decade. The verticality of a ladies heel was still limited due to the halt in technology until long after the war; however cobblers became inventive when leather was not an option. Shoe bases were created with wood and cork. Established shoe manufacturers like Clarks ran successful campaigns for their range of hinged wooden shoes. Wedge designs were popular as although they used more base material, they offered better height, longevity, sturdiness and were more unusual compared to a standard wood platform.
Shoes made from reptile skins were an exotic and highly fashionable statement for any lady but generally only available at high end retailers with a high end price tag to match.
Heels will vary on forties shoes however you will typically come across block, lavatory and Louis heels. Look out for creations from Russell and Bromley, Clarks, Dolcis and Lilley & Skinner as well as shoes from prolific designers of the time - Salvatore Ferragamo and Roger Vivier.
As with any original vintage shoes, it’s advisable to consider how durable you need them to be. You may need to have heels re-enforced (which can be costly) and would be wise to check straps and eyelets for weakness which may need to be patched. Find yourself a good modern cobbler who can offer you a thorough vintage shoe maintenance service. I have a wonderful local cobbler in New Barnet who possesses old fashioned skill and knowledge and who minds my very own shoe lasts for when I decide to treat myself to a pair of handmade shoes once in a while!
Written by Hannah Wing from www.bellusfemina.co.uk