The Tragic Beauty of Vintage Shoes

N.B. Our friend the Legatrix, who last time wrote about the ill-omened hairdos, is back with the post that the Manolo thinks is brilliant.

I love vintage clothing. The cut, elegance, and craftsmanship of clothing from the 1930s to the 1960s have always captivated me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t separate the fashions of those decades from the films. I’ve got my Bette Davis suits, my Barbara Stanwyck blouses, and my Jayne Mansfield sweaters. I wear my vintage pieces for work and play, mixing them up with current clothes to keep anything from looking costumey. I love the art of vintage clothing construction so much that I’ve even bought scraps of vintage dresses only to admire the exquisite handsewn beadwork left on pieces of shattered silk. But there’s one place I draw the line: vintage shoes. (Cue outrage and indignation from all the vintage fashionistas out there.)

Here’s the deal. Unless you’re a collector who hangs fancy shoes from your Christmas tree, don’t buy vintage shoes. No matter how curvaceous the vamp, well-turned the heel, or smooth the skin (yes, we’re still talking about shoes,) try to resist their siren song. I speak from experience. Over the decades, leather weakens, glue dries out, and stitching breaks. However accomplished your cobbler, he cannot restore such shoes to wearable condition. So when you consider buying a pair of vintage shoes, ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”

Right now I have two pairs of vintage shoes. I wear neither of them. Because for every pair of vintage shoes presently in my closet, three died painful, public, embarrassing deaths. There isn’t a place in New York City where I haven’t wiped out in a pair of gorgeous vintage heels. I went down in a blaze of pantyhose when my 1940s snakeskin ankle-straps disintegrated underfoot at Columbia University. I landed skirt-over-face on a midtown sidewalk when the heels of my 1950s cherry-red babydolls snapped clear off beneath me. And, apart from the concussion, I can’t remember what happened after a pair of 1930s golden sandals gave out in the East Village.

So rather than risk your hard-earned money on a pair of shoes that may leave you and your virtue(s) splayed out on the pavement for all to see, save your pennies for new shoes with a vintage vibe.

These crisp white lace-ups from Chloe remind me of the Katharine Hepburn’s sporty chic look.

Katherine Hepburn Wearing Shoes That Look Like They're From Chloe

Kate says, 'If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.'

They’re reminiscent of the ghillies that were popular in the 1940s, but are miles away from the orthopedic ones your nana still wears.

And these deceptively simple Kate Spade pumps, with their almond-shaped toe and low, curved vamp, are reminiscent of Jean Harlow’s infamous “where’s my shoe?” scene in Red-Headed Woman.

Jean Harlow wearing Kate Spade?

Jean Harlow says, 'Do it again! I like it!'

The heel is narrower than you’d see on a shoe from the 1930s, but the sleek and subtle curves are emphatically art deco. They’d be as fitting at the office as they would out on date night.

And finally, there are these shoes from Salvatore Ferragamo. Every time I see them, they bring Sophia Loren to mind. Like her, they’re classic and restrained, yet unabashedly sexy.

Sofia Loren wearing vintage Ferragamo?

Sofia tells Salvatore, 'Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.'

2 Responses to “The Tragic Beauty of Vintage Shoes”

  1. The gold digger March 31, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I have also discovered one does not buy vintage fur. As a novice fur buyer, I was seduced by the siren song of the cute fur jacket at the ritzy consignment store at the lake resort town where we went to visit our ritzy lake resort friends.

    Fur dries. Did you know that? Fur dries over time if it has been stuck in a maiden aunt’s closet without proper summer storage (although really, is there any season that is not fur season in Wisconsin?) and is now being sold by her heirs.

    But to the unsuspecting buyer, who does not know she should check to see if the skin is still supple, the jacket is just cute. CUTE!

    I bought the jacket. Wore it out one night. And discovered that it was shedding all over the place. As in, all over the car. All over my clothes.

    I do not like shedding. I have two cats and that’s more shedding than I want.

    I called the store, mortified that I had not been a better consumer. In a hesitant voice, I explained to the owner that the jacket was shedding.

    She was horrified, as I had imagined she might be. Most business proprietors want to sell good products. I know she had not intentionally accepted a shedding jacket and I also know that this purchase was my own decision, entered into quickly without adequate research.

    She agreed to split the difference with me, which was more than fair, and sent me a check for half of what I had paid.

    The jacket remains in my upstairs closet. Shedding.

  2. Kittie France April 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    I love this article Legatrix, and also Gold Digger’s comments! I too have fallen for the charms of vintage shoes only to find my relationship with them ultimately unsatisfactory. One exception though is a striking pair of Chanel cork ‘drinking’ sandals I bought at auction. They are not extreme vintage, although I’m uncertain of their age, but they are a dream to wear. http://myshoeyear.blogspot.com/2011/01/day-31-chateau-chanel.html