Unlike previous decades where shoes were hidden underneath layers of petticoats and floor-length dresses and barely see, women’s shoes and stockings of the 1920s and 1930s were all about showing off the legs! Art Deco era shoes were taller, colorful, and festive in their decorations. Cuban heels grew taller and toes were rounded to make the feet look more petite. The use of checkered leather designs and applique were popular trims. In the early ’20s, women were still mourning over their losses during WWI. As such, black was the primary mourning color. Fashion made its footprint by combining black with grey tones on the shoe and thus put some style into traditional life.
1920s T-Strap Shoes
The biggest fashionable shoe style of the 1920s was the T-strap or the T-bar heeled pump. The side strap closed at one side with a button or (sometimes) two. Straps with a lot of decoration and two button closures were called “Fasenettas.” Beads and glass paste gems (similar to rhinestones) were all the rage for decorations. Even beaded fringe became necessary to match the elaborate beading on 1920s formal gowns. Other popular options were to make insects and butterflies out of glass beads or colored gauze and place them on the vamp. Heel height was a moderate 2 to 3 inches during the flapper phase.
When just decorating with color became dull, women began to wear colorful hand painted gold, red, and orange pumps. Often, these came with hand painted ‘oriental’ themes which were wildly popular during the Art Deco movement.
The flapper movement really embraced bold colors and matching shoes to one’s dresses, stockings, and decoration. If a woman couldn’t dye a pair of shoes to match her dress, she just re-covered them in her same dress material. She could also hand paint her shoes. The T-strap was still the most popular style even for flappers. Despite the fact that some art paintings show women in high heeled open toe sandals, these were NOT worn in the ’20s. They would not have been safe for dancing in, nor were they fashionable even to the liberated flapper girl.
Other similar styles of 1920s shoes were the Mary Jane which consisted of a single strap across the foot that either buckled or buttoned in place. The basic pump without straps was common although less so then strappier versions. Some pumps also had an ankle strap to hold the shoe on better. Finally, some Art Deco shoes had several straps, 2 or 3, placed across the foot horizontally or in a criss-cross pattern.
Make Your Own 1920s Shoes
Start with a white pair of T-strap leather pumps and apply your favorite bright colored shoe polish. Accent the strap and heel with gold or silver fabric paint (a paint pen works great) or stick on rhinestones. You can also use a paint pen to draw zigzags, wings, or other Art Deco images across the shoe. Presto! You have your own unique pair of 1920s shoes.
These shoes are Astorias from American Duchess, where I just used rhinestone stickers to add some sparkle. Recollections at Michael’s craft stores make a great assortment of stick-on appliques for scrap books that work great as temporary decorations on shoes.
1920s Oxfords for Women
Besides pumps, the staple shoes were low heeled Oxfords. These shoes, which looked like men’s dress shoes, were comfortable yet classy. They tied up with string laces and came in basic earthy colors.
The stock market crash of 1929 caused a crash in flamboyant shoe fashion as well. High heeled T-strap shoes and string tie Oxfords were still popular, but the decorations and the colors became much more minimal. Sleek and simple was in. Flashy was out. Colors were more subtle and muted like evergreen, navy, brown and black for daytime wear. They typically matched or at least didn’t clash with a lady’s outfit. For evening, matching colors and fabrics were a must. Silk, satin, and velvet were the predominant shoe and dress materials of the ’20s. Accents of silver or gold piping added minimal decoration to plain shoes.
Read more about 1920s women’s shoes.
1930s Women’s Shoes
The one shoe style I usually associate with the 1930s is not the style itself, but the decoration technique. Cut-out, cutaway, and punch-outs are all terms used to describe small perforated decorative holes in the shoe body or accent material. Cutouts could be used on Oxfords, pumps, heels, and any other shoes.
Every ’30s women had to have a white and “whatever color was your favorite” two-tone shoe. The two-toned color combination was seen on both casual and evening wear styles. Men, too, embraced the striking patterns of two-toned shoes and together women and men walked into the 1940s with style. Read more about women’s 1930s shoes here.
Although there was great concern for the health of women’s feet during the mid 1930s, the desire for more freedom in footwear was greater. Open toe, peep toe, and sandals with criss-cross slingback heel straps were a welcome daytime choice. The late ’30s also brought about clunky cork wedge heels (also known as “spool heels”) and platform shoes. Read more about these and other 1940s Style Shoes here.