Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I never understood people's fascinations with shoes until I started selling on etsy. In my travels around auction houses and garage sales and thrift stores - shoes started to speak to me along with handbags. I've written about handbags before, so its time to have a brief look at vintage shoes.

We have been wearing shoes for 40,000 years according to some experts - early examples were sandals, and animal skin booties. By the middle ages in Europe,  artisans had perfected the crafting of shoes with drawstrings and flaps which assisted in a better fit. Around the 16th century, the use of a sewn on sole became standard and this was the beginning of what we consider the modern shoe. It is said that at this time, Catherine de Medici brought heels from Florence to Paris for her marriage because she was so short. The style was immediately adopted by ladies of the French court, and the fashion spread throughout Europe for both women and men.

After the First world war skirt lengths shortened and there was a sudden interest in what was on the feet. Decoration was added to all shoes. Buckles are the favourite, but by 1920, feathers, rosettes, fur, velvet ribbons, lace and embroidery were all used to add interest below the ankles. The delightful T bar and strap shoes were in favour because they were useful for dancing in! The heel remained at 2" throughout the post WWI period. 

The bubble of gaiety reflected in fashion soon gave way to the 1930s period of depression and political upheaval in Europe. Sensible shoes such as sandals and sneakers make an appearance. 1930s was also Hollywood's heyday and court shoes, peep toes and slingbacks became features of evening dress.

Early 1955 saw the arrival of the stiletto heel from Italy and an intense rivalry between the French speerheaded by Dior and the Italian designers to slim down the shoe. Women’s shoes of the 1950’s were arched, sophisticated and cut away to reveal the maximum of the foot. These were perched atop narrow delicate heels that only diminished in width as the decade wore on.


Late 1950s saw a reaction against this fashion and the introduction of the low squat heel and the wedge toe. Flatties also became popular as they could be worn with trousers.

By the late 1960s and 1970s wedges were popular, and bright colours marked another cultural period of flower power, hope, peace and love. 

In contrast, the 1980s was an era of power dressing and high consumption, this period saw a revival in the classic slingback especially suited to the professional woman of the day. Chanel offered seven different variations of this shoe each season. Toes again became pointed, and the heels were slender throughout the decade. Loafers and man style oxford pumps accessorised the tailored power suits.

Today, we have thousands of shoe styles to choose from. The range takes us from machine stitched leather shoes or rubber sole sneaker to ancient favourites such as the sandal, the clog, the platform and the pump. Vintage offers the chance to dip out of this mainstream mailstrom and step back a bit.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Upcycling on a big scale

I am currently quite distracted due to the start of a very big upcycling project. We bought an old factory in the inner west of Sydney and have now begun to convert it into a home. I am the project manager and am there every day making decisions and supervising the tradesmen. This is both exciting and daunting and I keep thinking about starting a dedicated blog to track our progress and get everyone's input - but there simply isnt time yet. It is hard to focus on the detail of small vintage things when my day to day decisions are of a very different scale. So a mention here will have to do!

The factory has a history dating back to 1903 when Cobb and co carriage repairs, boat building and furniture manufacturing occurred. In 1967, Blythe Furniture owned it and produced very fashionable and apparently robust furniture. In 1980 it burnt down leaving a couple of walls and some lovely iron support structures from the 1920s.  The rebuild is in very 1980s red brick - which curiously I am quite attached to!

When we bought it - it held two kitchen and cabinet makers both near retirement. It was timely that we turned it into a home - it is the only factory in the street and is surrounded by lovely old federation (early 20th century) houses and mid century blocks of flats (apartments).

Demolition started in February and it has not been without some dramas already - but thats another blog post....I can now speak purlin, drop beam and noggin. Now where's the plan? I need to measure up for roof struts.....