Fashion in the 1950s brought the world out of the conservative war years and into the dazzling ’50s. Dresses were bigger, accessories richer, hairstyles taller and shoes.…well plainer. With so much new emphasis on the rest of women’s fashion. 1950s shoe styles became understated accessories. Instead of bold patterns and a pile of fancy adornments, shoes were basic classy single color pumps, flats, wedgies and loafers. Black and brown were the main choices for day wear while brighter colors were acceptable for summer sportswear or house slippers. Shoes also coordinated perfectly with an outfit’s accessories matching purses, gloves, belts, and even jewelry perfectly.
The 1950s shoe styles were varied but almost all came down to fitting into one of these popular silhouettes.
In the early 1950s the stiletto heeled opera, court, and pump shoes were all the rage. At an extreme they were very tall with 4 inch spiked ultra thin heels. Early on, the heels ended in a small metal cap that left dents in soft wood floors requiring some museum and court houses to forbid stiletto shoes. The stiletto featured tall arches with a V shaped cut away from the shoe sides. Red was the most bold and most in demand color for formal wear. They were impractical and mostly only worn for very special occasions, short duration, and by fashion models.
The winklepicker was a extreme version of the already extreme opera pump. With its sharp pointy toe and high thin heel it was trendy in the late 1950s for formal and even semi formal at home wear.
Thicker but still shapely tall heels continued to be worn with fancy dresses. Some heels had pretty all over designs carved, painted or printed onto them while others had decorations around the edges.
The very strappy tall heel shoes were another ideal shoe for evening wear. Unltra thin T-straps, slingbacks, and ankle straps all provided just enough coverage to keep the shoe on but ultimately made the foot look bare. Especially in nude colors and sometimes clear plastics they complimented dreamy party dresses elegantly.
Lucile Ball wore tall chunky ankle strap shoes through most of the early 1950s. These were a carry over style from the 1940s worn by many pinup girls. While many shoes retained the thicker heels of the war years, especially for working classes, most fashion followers preferred the smaller narrow heel shoes as an rebellion from the masculine ’40s.
After trying to balance on tall heels most 1950s women regained their senses and accepted low but still thin kitten heel shoes. These classic dress shoes were safer to walk in yet still remained elegant and classy. Shoes were made of a soft leather or reptile skin. Suede and some fabric materials, like velvet or mesh, were used as well. Toes were very pointed in the early years and more rounded in the later years. For evening wear, jewel tone colors especially glittery gold and dark silver were fashionable.
For every day wear, around the house or running errands, a thicker low to mid heeled pump was the best choice. Black was the color that went with the most outfits so every woman had at least one pair. One style of day pumps were called Baby Dolls. They featured very round toes that resembled a doll’s shoes. They came in many fun colors during the spring and summer with cute accent decorations on the trim or an ornament on the vamp.
Unlike the 1940s famous peep toes sandals, the 1950s version was far more sexy. Toes were fully exposed and straps very thin. Evening sandals showed off the most naked foot skin and had the thinnest heels. Most day wear sandals had lower chunky heels and a medium thick ankle strap around the heel called a slingback. Slingback straps were found on pumps, wedges and slip on casual shoes too. The style assured women their feet would not slip out of the shoes- a dangerous and embarrassing accident. Take a look at the history of sandals through the decades.
1950s Ballet Flats
Another 1950s shoe style called flatties or flats in today’s lingo were popular house shoes. They were sometimes worn with pants outside of the home for casual occasions. Teenagers wore them as often as saddle shoes when Audrey Hepburn declared them as her favorites. Ballet flats featured very small heels of 1/2 inch but were the most trendy having no heels at all- just flat, flat flat! Black was the most common color with a thin bow on the top. Other colors often matched and accessory such as a belt, scarf, purse or hair ornament.
Of all the flatties brands Capezio was the cream of the crop. They were luxury for those that could afford them but oh so divine. They had no heels, very low profile sides, deep cut on the toes revealing toe cleavage, and sharp pointed toe tips. They exuded sexiness like no other flat could!
Capezio and Bernardo both created a lace up flat called ghillies. It was a sister to the espadrille shoe but looked more like a cross between a men’s oxford and a ballet shoe. The long laces provided endless amusement in devising new ways to tie the straps. At the back of the ankle was the best way for 1950s espadrilles while wrapping up and around the leg was the vogue thing to do with ghillies. Many movies show cased women dancing in ghillies (see if you can spot them next time you watch a 1950s musical.)
Beside the peep toe, the iconic shoe of the 1940s was the wedge or wedgie shoe. They were however equally popular in the 1950s too. Wedges naturally retain the chunky sturdy shape and give a nice lift to the heel (sexy!) Toe openings were bigger in the 1950s and wedge heels a bit taller and curved inward for a slightly more delicate look. Most came with a 1/2 inch platform sole as well giving extra height to the wearer. They were and still are a style that screams “vintage” or “retro” shoes!
1950s Slippers and Mules
Only in extreme summer heat did women go without stockings. Wearing stockings with sandals was a must. Wearing them with strapless mules made for a rather slippery experience. In 1954 a solution called “Spring-O-Lators,” featured a leather and elastic band down the inside of the mule to push the foot forward and keep the shoe on. Finally women could wear mules for evening wear or at home as dainty bedroom slippers (not practical enough for house slippers, bedroom slippers were only worn with sexy lingerie as an enticement for husbands.)
For summer wear, thin heeled mule shoes and slingback sandals were in vogue. If they featured any extra adornment it came in the form of a thin, flat bow across the toe. Straps were wide and heels either very thin or more commonly thick and rounded.
The most casual of all sandals was the rubber sole flip flop. Women and girls loved them, husbands not so much. They were noisy to wear and many kids were only allowed to wear them outside where they couldn’t be heard flip flopping away. The became very popular going into the 1960s.
Oxford- 1950s Saddle Shoes
Teenagers and house wives wore saddle shoes. These were black and white oxford shoes most associated with teenage girls in felt poodle skirts. They were usually worn with a pair of bobby socks- white socks rolled or folded down 2 or 3 times. The soles and heels were black along with the center panel. White shoes and heels had to kept in pristine condition. Girls would clean and shine their shoes nightly and buy new ones as soon as they began to show signs of wear. Learn about the history of saddle shoes.
White “bucks” or nubucks were another style of oxford shoe for teens. They had to be kept perfectly white all the time. Small “bunny bags” of chalk powder were included with each white buck shoe so girls could powder them on breaks. Another white shoes was the clunky Joyce, which resemble nurses shoes or senior orthopedic shoes today. They also had to be kept perfectly white at all times. Bleaching laces, polishing leather, washing soles were all part of the nightly routine.
Some teens still wore Mary Jane shoes– a single strap oxford shoe. They were a young girls shoe that to teens meant you were too young to know how to keep your shoes on. Graduating to a strapless shoe meant growing up. There was a trend for the T strap shoes which returned everyone back to strapped shoes again. Black or red were the most popular among 12-15 year olds. Even women jumped on the trend with T strap evening shoes and sandals.
The most casual shoe for girls and women was the loafer. Moccasins fit into this category and were a staple in most young women’s closets. Easy to slip on, available in all sorts of fun colors, casual enough to wear with bobby socks, and durable to last all year they were practically perfect.
The penny loafer got its name by the slit in the decorative leather strap across the tongue. It was sized for a coin that teens used to call home. Brown or white were the most common penny loafer colors. Other slip on loafer shoes came in many colorful shades and shiny materials like patent leather or plastic. Some were clear plastic although they proved problematic once the foot started to sweat turning the plastic milky white. Yuck!
There are, of course, other styles of 1950s shoes not mentioned here. Sport shoes like Keds or Plimsolls remained popular from the 1930s onward. Various boots for work or winter fashions were necessary shoes and one that deserves a future article on their own. Same for house slippers, sexy or practical, they were a part of every woman’s wardrobe yet are not discussed in fashion history books very often.
If you don’t see a shoe style you want to know more about leave a comment below and I will add in to the next 1950s Shoe Styles. Part Two article.
More Shoe History
1960s Shoe Styles for women
1950s Style Shoes for Sale
Many modern shoes have their roots in 1950s styles. A keen eye can find them almost anywhere. Here are some great choices to get you rocking back to the 1950s: