Explore The Style And Substance Of Antique Shoes At The New-York Historical Society

Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes On view April 20 – October 8, 2018

This spring, a new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society explores how shoes have transcended their utilitarian purpose to become representations of culture—coveted as objects of desire, designed with artistic consideration, and expressing complicated meanings of femininity, power, and aspiration for women and men alike. On view April 20 through October 8, 2018, in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery at the Center for Women’s History, Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes highlights 100 pairs of shoes from the iconic designer’s extensive private collection, assembled over three decades with his wife Jane Gershon Weitzman.

1 boudoir shoes - 1867 - no 101

Boudoir shoes, 1867. Paris, France Silk, embroidery, metallic thread. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 101. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. These shoes were created especially for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867. The soles are stamped with the exhibition seal. During the age of European imperial expansion, Western consumers clamored for “exotic” textiles, such as the Turkish gilt-thread embroidery seen on these shoes.

Walk This Way will surprise and delight visitors with its unexpected lens on women’s history through Stuart Weitzman’s unparalleled historic footwear collection,” says Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Shoes on view range from designs to be worn in the privacy of a woman’s home, shoes that American suffragists wore as they marched through city streets, ‘sexy’ heels that reflected changing norms of female aesthetics, and professional shoes suitable for the increasing numbers of women in the workforce. We are thrilled to be able to offer the public this unique opportunity to explore the private collection of a collector extraordinaire who is also America’s top shoe designer.

2 buttoned boots - 1870s - no 179

Buttoned boots, 1870s, Leather, Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 179, Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. One of the first American industries to embrace large-scale mechanization, the footwear industry soon grew into one of America’s largest: by 1850, shoemaking was America’s second-largest industry, following only agriculture.

3 lace-up boots - 1900 - no 59

Lace-up boots, ca. 1900, Silk and silk brocade, Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 59 Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. The late 1800s saw the introduction of machines capable of mimicking even the most intricate hand shoe-making processes, and producing high-quality shoes. By 1900, nearly every American shoe was made in a mechanized factory. One-third of the workers in these factories were women, at a time when women made up less than 20% of the total industrial workforce.

The exhibition considers the story of the shoe from the perspectives of collection, consumption, presentation, and production. It explores larger trends in American economic history, from industrialization to the rise of consumer culture, with a focus on women’s contributions as producers, consumers, designers, and entrepreneurs.

4 pumps - late 1920s - no 247

D’Orsay evening shoes, ca. 1928, Jersey, United Kingdom. Silk brocade, kid leather, rhinestones, beads. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 153. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. The first decades of the 20th century witnessed a revolution in the way women dressed, moved, and acted in public. As the floor-length gowns of the late 1800s gradually gave way to the shorter skirts and slim silhouettes of the Jazz Age, women’s feet and legs became a new focal point for chic display.

5 D'Orsay evening shoes - 1928 - no 153

Pumps, late 1920s, Brocade, kid leather, Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 247. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical SocietyThe advent of the department store helped to change the way women occupied urban space. The evolution of upscale retail districts, such as New York’s famous “Ladies’ Mile” on Sixth Avenue, offered a safe, well-lit place for leisure, pleasure, and refreshment where affluent women could socialize without the need for a chaperone.

Among the many highlights in Walk This Way are shoes of historic value that have survived the years to tell stories of the past, such as a pair of pink silk embroidered boudoir shoes created especially for the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition that reflected Western consumers’ clamor for “exotic” textiles in an era of European imperial expansion. Family heirlooms, such as satin bridal slippers or baby shoes, serve as personal mementos while demonstrating the implications of collecting. The exhibition also includes artifacts from the New-York Historical Society, including brass and bronze shoe buckles from a Revolutionary War officer’s shoes (1760-83) that were excavated in Washington Heights, and a pair of leather child’s shoes (ca. 1904) that were recovered from a victim of the tragic General Slocum steamship fire.

6 peep-toe ankle-strap shoes - 1930s - no 228

Peep-toe ankle-strap shoes, ca. 1930, Silk. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 228 Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society During the 1920s, as women’s hemlines gradually rose from ankle to knee, the shoe trade, which had long been dependent on a few staple styles, exploded in a host of new colors, materials, and patterns.

The early 20th century witnessed a revolution in the way women dressed, moved, and acted in public, as the floor-length gowns of the late 1800s gradually gave way to shorter skirts and slim silhouettes. Dance halls flourished, and manufacturers produced intricately beaded evening shoes with buttoned straps that kept shoes secure while women danced the tango or the Charleston.

13 Rocky Horror

Terry de Havilland (b. 1938), designer, Peep-toe platform shoes, ca. 1972. London, England. Suede, leather. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 257 Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society Celebrities from actress Marlene Dietrich to dancer Carmen Miranda popularized platform shoes in the late 1930s and 1940s. By the 1970s, platforms were back in fashion for both women and men. The glam-rock London shoemaker Terry de Havilland provided high-heeled shoes for gender-bending performers including David Bowie and Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The country also saw a revolution in women’s political participation, when the fight for the vote moved from the drawing room to the streets and hundreds of women marched down Fifth Avenue in America’s first suffrage parade in May 1910. Many suffragists wore practical but stylish shoes, such as the black leather and white felt high-buttoned boots (ca. 1920), spectator pumps, and lace-up shoes on view in the exhibition.

12 SW_269_PUBLICITY IMAGE - green

Seymour Weitzman (1910–65), designer. Mr. Seymour (founded 1950s), maker. Pointed-toe laced pumps, ca. 1964. Suede, grosgrain ribbon. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 269. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. These shoes were manufactured in Haverhill, Massachusetts, at a factory owned by Seymour Weitzman, a shoe designer and father of Stuart Weitzman. Massachusetts was the earliest center of large-scale shoe production in the United States.

The dawn of department stores at the turn of the century created a place of leisure for affluent women and employment opportunities for working women, so retailers began to compete for customers with colorful advertisements and celebrity endorsements. Stores like Saks Fifth Avenue offered glamorous shoes like red velvet and gold T-strap pumps (ca. 1937) or peep-toe mules with clear Lucite flowered heels (mid-1950s). The fashion industry also partnered with Hollywood to create custom shoes for motion pictures and celebrities—such as Salvatore Ferragamo’s handmade black needlepoint Tuscan lace heels (c. 1954-55) designed for Italian actress Sophia Loren—which inspired consumers to purchase similar styles to emulate their film idols.

11 Peep-toe mules - mid1950s - no 84

Peep-toe mules, mid-1950s, Plastic, Lucite, leather, elastic Spring-o-lator. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 84. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. These mules feature an innovation called the Spring-o-lator, a strip of elastic tape in the sole that helped the shoes adhere to the wearer’s feet. The device was first popularized by Beth Levine (1914–2006), known as the “First Lady of Shoe Design.”

Walk This Way also explores the process of shoemaking, examining shoe production and the role of women in the footwear field—one of the first industries to embrace large-scale mechanization. By 1850, shoemaking was America’s second-largest industry after agriculture, and as of 1909, New York was the third-largest producer of shoes in the country. In the early 1900s, when women made up less than 20 percent of the total industrial workforce, one-third of the workers in shoe factories were women. Women became active in trade unions like the Daughters of St. Crispin, named after the patron saint of shoemakers, and the International Boot & Shoe Workers Union, participating in strikes to protest low wages and poor treatment. Considered radical for its time, by 1904 the Boot & Shoe Workers Union constitution called for “uniform wages for the same class of work, regardless of sex.” An intricately beaded shoe (c. 1915), stamped with the union seal, shows off the quality of American shoemaking.

10 Madonna Sandals - 1954-55 - no 57

Salvatore Ferragamo (1898–1960), designer, Madonna sandals, ca. 1954–55. Florence, Italy. Kid leather, Tavarnelle needlepoint lace,, embroidery, beads. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 57. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical. Society. Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo’s rise to success began with his work for the American Film Company. After World War II, Ferragamo rebuilt his star-studded clientele, making custom shoes for Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and the Duchess of Windsor. This design, which features handmade needlepoint lace from Tuscany, was originally created for the Italian actress Sophia Loren.

By the second half of the 20th century, women designers had made a significant impact but were often hidden behind the scenes. The exhibition profiles Beth Levine (1914-2006)—the “First Lady of Shoe Design”—who ran Herbert Levine, Inc., a company named for her husband because “it seemed right that a shoemaker was a man.” Levine introduced luxurious new materials and innovative new designs like the “Spring-o-lator,” a strip of elastic tape to keep backless shoes on the wearer’s feet.

9 T-strap evening sandals - 1940s - no 99

T-strap evening sandals, ca. 1940S. Leather, silk, rhinestones. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 99. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society In the late 1940s and 1950s, epic films such as Samson and Delilah (1949), Quo Vadis (1951), Salome (1953), and The Prodigal (1955) allowed Hollywood costume designers to dodge the restrictive Production Code of 1930 on dubious grounds of historical accuracy. Biblical temptresses and Roman empresses defied the Code’s prohibition against semi-nudity, and inspired a fashion for gold and silver sandals.

The exhibition is enhanced by an installation of unique designs made using a wide range of materials, from corrugated cardboard to stained glass and wire—including a selection of artists’ “fantasy shoes” commissioned by Jane Gershon Weitzman for display in Stuart Weitzman store windows. Also on view will be ten unique shoe designs by finalists in the Stuart Weitzman Footwear Design competition, submitted by New York metro-area high school students in the categories of socially conscious fashion or material innovation.

8 T-strap pumps - 1937 - no 249

T-strap pumps, ca. 1937, Velvet, leather. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 249. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society Department stores offered new employment opportunities for saleswomen, buyers, and in a few cases, executives. In 1934, Hortense Odlum became the first woman to head a major fashion retailer when she became president of Bonwit Teller. She would be followed by Dorothy Shaver at Lord & Taylor, and Geraldine “Jerry” Stutz at Henri Bendel.

As Stuart Weitzman himself expresses in the exhibition catalogue, shoes “tell an almost infinite number of stories. Stories of conformity and independence, culture and class, politics and performance.

Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes, published by D Giles Limited, will be available in March 2018 from the NYHistory Store and other retailers. The book by Edward Maeder, with contributions by Stuart Weitzman and Valerie Paley, features 180 illustrations, revealing the evolution of women’s footwear in parallel with changes in women’s lives.

Walk This Way is coordinated by Valerie Paley—New-York Historical’s vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History—with Edward Maeder, consulting curator, and Jeanne Gardner Gutierrez, curatorial scholar in women’s history.

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.