Afternoon Tea in the 18th Century. The shoes Elizabeth wore?
If you have a copy of Linda O'Keeffe's book entitled 'Shoes', she includes a photograph and description of 'High throated latchet pumps....... were suitable accessories for afternoon tea in late 18th Century America' 1996/190. The shoes are of floral brocade and dated to 1785, and very similar to the ones I have here, although we cannot see the heels.
My regular readers will know all about my imagination, so please indulge me for a little while. My shoes, of a gorgeous striped green & cream brocade, have a little provenance of being owned by 'Elizabeth'. So, in my imagination, Elizabeth would have worn these very shoes while going to take tea but this time over here in England! I know no such thing of course, but the delightful style would be just perfect for going out and about during the daytime.
Now to truth and reality!
These shoes are wonderful, but quite difficult to date accurately. As usual with shoes, I have used Althea Mackenzie's 'Shoes and Slippers from Snowshill' to guide me. She provides so much detail in the examination of 18th & early 19th Century shoes, but the selection is not vast, being from one collection, and so it is vital to study all aspects of a shoe to be able to have confidence in dating.
Using Mackenzie, we can find the quite chunky heels, with rounded toes on Page 40/2004. These date to 1780 but have no latchets. My shoes have beautiful slim latchets. Then, on Page 36/2004 there are a pair with latchets, and the same fabric covered heels. The back quarters also with the same centre back seam. But different shaped heels.
[Please see The Study for full references]
So, in conclusion, I am dating these beauties to circa 1770-80's which covers this complex period to my satisfaction!
I mentioned 'Elizabeth'. The shoes came with a note, written in ink and in old hand, which to one side says 'My Great Grandmothers shoes' and to the other says 'Elizabeth, [mother?] of Thomas Chalton.' There is further writing but it is all difficult to read.
The striped brocade of the shoes is also helpful in dating them, because stripes became most popular in the last quarter of the 18th Century. The cream stripes, very fine, are raised slightly, and the green stripes have a tiny pattern. The colours, especially to the fronts, are wonderfully clear. The silk edge binding of the shoes is a soft green, the delicious bows are sage green and the fabric covered heels are almost a yellow green. Turn up the tongue a little and we see that it was lined with a deep blue silk, faded but in excellent condition. My, oh my!
Inside, the shoes are constructed just as we would expect. Coarse linen insoles, while the inner sides are fine kid leather. The linen is raw edged and simply stuck in place but all fresh. The soles of the shoes show that they were regularly worn. Originally suede, we now just see the remnants of the pile. But apart from a couple of little cracks in the leather, the soles are in good condition.
The fabric covering the heels is interesting, a fabric I have not seen before. Possibly a heavy silk, or a mix of fibres. It is a little nibbled but sound enough.
Now, I hope that you can see that there are very old pins inserted into the sides of the latchets. I have not moved them, tempting though it is. The silk bows are just adorable and are sewn in place to centre fronts. This may suggest that the shoes were favourites, and worn beyond their original date by Elizabeth, because in the 1780's latchets start to go out of fashion. I think it is more than possible that Elizabeth added the bows to the front of the shoes, thus covering the immediate appearance of the latchets and updating them to late 18th Century fashion! How lovely if she did.
The bonus of this is that one latchet to each shoe has been hidden for many, many years and appears to be as fresh as a daisy!
The shoes are however, fragile and require a most careful owner to preserve them. It is very important that you read the condition report below before you consider buying. Aspects of the shoes are truly good, but not all, as will be explained.
The shoes measure an unusual 3" wide and are approximately 9.5" long. The heels are 2" high.
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If looking at the shoes from the front, they are in remarkable condition for age. Sadly, the back quarters and centre backs of both shoes are not.
When the shoes arrived, I could see the shoes had been badly stored for a very long time. We must understand that shoes kept within one family for Centuries have not had the luxury of expert storage. We weigh this against the pure joy of finding shoes that haven't seen the public for centuries either!
If shoes are not padded firmly, the silk deteriorates as it creases. This is what has happened here. So, the silk to the back quarters, all round to the centre back is split quite significantly. Amazingly, the kid leather lining and very little handling has meant that the silk still survives to cover the shoes, despite being vertically shredded.
The way to keep the shoes in the current condition without further deterioration, is to stuff them very firmly. Yes, it may expose the splitting a little, but far better when firmly held taut than allowed to 'droop'.
Other than this, the shoes are just lovely. As explained above, there are minor nibbles to the heel coverings and the toes are slightly worn, but nothing major.
The colours are wonderful, less faded than my photographs appear, and the silk ribbon trims should not be removed, in my opinion, because they cannot be more than 20 years later and are so attractive.
The pins - well. Your decision to remove them or not. They have been in place for so long and have kept the latchets so fresh, I have to be thankful to them!
And the deep blue silk linings of the tongues with their gentle green stitches are simply to swoon over!