From the Vault: 18th century English shoes

Take a peek into our 14,000+ collection with our blog series, From the Vault! Every other week, we're sharing interesting stories about one of our artefacts.

What is the provenance of this pair? When did they enter the BSM collection?

The English shoes date to the 1760s. They were acquired by the Museum in 1995 from the auction house Christie’s in London.

Are there any features that distinguish this pair from other footwear from the same period and geographical location?

One of the things that is interesting about these of shoes is that they were made from a textile that was created decades prior to the when the shoes were crafted.

Can you elaborate more on the materials used to make this pair?

This pair of shoes, with its rounded toe, narrow heel and lack of white rand, dates to the 1760s. The fabric, however, dates to earlier in the century. It is an example of what came to be called ‘bizarre’ silk. These silks were very popular in the early years of the 18th century and typically featured fanciful ‘Eastern’ motifs. The silk used here features stylised lotus blossoms and was woven with gold silk thread. The reuse of valuable textiles, especially ones embellished with precious metals such as gold, was quite common in 18th century upper-class dress and speaks to the high cost and cultural value of luxury textiles and the willingness to repurpose material.

The maker of this pair of shoes used the golden sections of the brocaded silk to great visual effect. The addition of gold bobbin lace transformed them into special occasion shoes that were the height of fashion decades after the fabric used to make them had gone out of style.

Who would have worn this pair and where or for what occasion?

These shoes were sent to auction by the family Mrs. Broughton Rowse but it is unknown if she was the original wearer. There is a pair linked to her in a European collection but they date to the end of the 18th century so it remains a mystery who the original wearer was. However, the luxury materials used clearly establishes that whomever these were made for was wealthy.

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