Image: Women's slipper, 1660-75, England, silk, silk and metal embroidery. (c) V&A
Today we bring you another way to enjoy the V&A online, with an interactive timeline exploring the museum’s collection of shoes: around 2,000 pairs spanning more than 3,000 years of history from different cultures around the globe. Drawing from this resource, the timeline gives an overview of the history of shoe design, showing chronological progression of shoe height, heel shape and materials, from Roman sandals to sculpted stilettos and the classic wellington boot.
Image: Woman’s shoe with red heel, 1720-30, England, brocaded silk, leather and silk ribbon. (c) V&A
From the decorative stitching of hemp shoes found on the ancient Silk Road from the 1st Century BC to Venetian platform shoes typical of the 16th century, shoe design and construction reveals remarkable inventiveness. The timeline exposes how many styles we consider to be modern have been in and out of fashion across the centuries.
Image: Pair of overshoes, 1550-1070 BC, Egypt, reed. From Major Myers collection. (c) V&A
The timeline covers the story of 52 items, the earliest being a pair of overshoes made of reed from Egypt, 1550-1070 BC. These boat-shaped flat open shoes are made from woven reed and most likely the oldest surviving pair in the V&A collection. The straps are also made of long, thin reed, covered in a strip of a wider reed. The construction of these practical overshoes continued in the same style into the 19th century. The latest pair are the Ferragamo Reinvention, wedge-heeled sandals, 2015, Italy (Florence), Salvatore Ferragamo made of straw, leather and cork. The Italian fashion house Ferragamo have recently reinvented their timeless cork wedge shoe, first patented in 1938, by covering the heel with coloured straw instead of suede. This experimental use of modest materials in shoemaking has always been a feature of Ferragamo design. Straw is a particularly relevant choice as it was once an abundant raw material in Italy.
The V&A also has a series of shoe-related videos to watch, including Fashion and Textile Curators discussing three groundbreaking shoe designs from Alexander McQueen's final catwalk collection, 'Plato's Atlantis' (Spring/Summer 2010).