When thinking of the 20th century in the Western world, it seems like the most revolutionary period of that time was during the 1960’s. Of course that really was a revolutionary time with the first man on the moon, Flower power and the first mini skirt. But actually the latter could hardly have been designed if another startling decade wouldn’t have taken place: the roaring 20’s.
Modestly covered ankles
Just before World War I, skirts had been raised just a little enough to show the shoes a woman was wearing. Most of the time however, these shoes were very narrow boots with shafts that just reached the calfs or court shoes combined with stockings. In both cases the woman’s ankles were covered modestly. During the Great War, most men were sent to the front and women were taking over their jobs in order to keep society going on. A major push for women’s emancipation.
Back to the kitchen counter
After the war, women were supposed to go back to the lives they’d lived before 1914 and to give up their jobs and even to give birth to as many baby’s as possible to repopulate their countries. It meant they had to give up the independent lifestyle, they had been experiencing for some years. But what could not be reversed was the way of thinking that had been developed since the late 1890’s; a mindset that got a boost during WW I. More and more women attended secundary school or even university. And while building up society, women were slowly accepted to go out working again.
All this also had its effect on fashion. Women’s clothing became more androgyn with a flat, straight silhouette and bobbed hairstyles. Skirt hemlines went up slowly until they reached the knees, pinpointing a part of women’s legs that used to be kept hidden at all costs.
Striking new materials
The strange thing is that any of this had a particular effect on 1920’s women’s shoes. Wether they were visible or not, through the ages most women were paying a lot of attention to their shoes, i.e. if they could afford to do so. What did make a difference was that these shoes now became visible. And what made a really huge difference was the ability of tanners to make striking, new materials and the ability of shoe manufacturers to turn these new materials into valuable, eye-catching footwear that could be worn at the many danses that were organized during the Jazz-Age.
Photo 1) Women from the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), 1918 © IWMN (Q7885)
Photo 2) Photographs by Edward Steichen for Vogue oct/1925