Question: Where can I find Civil War era boots for my kids (boys and girls) that wouldn’t be as expensive as reproduction boots?
Answer: I hear you. Kids outgrow shoes quickly, which makes them a hefty investment for an occasional hobby. Once upon a time, I was a little girl in need of lace up black boots for a production of The Music Man (Edwardian era) and my mom had to hunt down where to find them. Lucky for us, we found black Jazz dance boots that worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, those are out of style today. Darn! Instead, there are some other options which vary in price from $25 on up.
The type of boots we are looking for are a thin sole, low heel, lace up or button up boots that extend above the ankle. Black was the most common color. Brown is ok for working class kids, and white should be worn for upper-class girls in white summer dresses. The two tone boots (black/white, brown/tan, grey/black, blue/navy) were also very popular for upper-class children. They look like button up spats over boots. Civil War era shoes had a square shape toe, while later styles were more rounded and then pointy by the turn of the century.
Eventually, boys could wear Oxford shoes around the 1890s onward. There were also formal shoes that looked like women’s low heel pumps or men’s Opera slippers.
Babies/Toddlers: Little ones wore hand-sewn Mary Jane slipper shoes of satin or silk until they were walking. Then they wore leather booties that looked like older kids’ shoes. Footmates has great choices for boys and girls. Elephantito and Stride Rite also make vintage style kids shoes.
Girls and Boys: There are more choices of lace up boys’ shoes than girls’ (why?). No worries, as you can always adjust the sizes from boys to girls shoes. Consult the size chart of the shoe brand and measure you child’s foot.
- Paddock Shoes – English riding boots for children are often in the classic Victorian lace up boot style. Modern styles now feature zip up fronts. Don’t get these. Get the lace ups. Cost $35-150
- Chukka Boots – Boys’ leather Chukka boots, also known as desert boots, have 2-3 eye laces and end just at the ankle. They are not quite right for the era, but if you are wearing long pants over them, no one will see. The look more working class/rugged than the full lace ups. Avoid thick soles that look like tire tread. Girls can wear these boots, too.
- Chelsea boots – Later in the Victorian era, many people were enjoying the pull on boot (no laces!) which had elastic panels on the sides. They were mostly an around the house/work boot. These are best for boys who, again, can cover them up with long pants. Many Civil War re-enactment societies will allow these types of boots for children. Check the rules to be sure.
- Mary Jane shoes – Beside babies, many girls and boys(!) wore single strap Mary Jane shoes inside the house/ in the city. They were black with one strap across the foot or around the ankle. These became more popular as the 1900s approached and cities got less dirty. Mary Jane shoes are usually easy to find, but finding plain ones without glitter/ thick soles/ fancy designs is not always easy today. Matte black is best, patent leather for fancy occasions is ok. You can use canvas instead of leather shoes, too.
For more Victorian era shoes and clothing for kids, look at this page. If you need help finding any part of your attire, just ask!
Kids Victorian Boots and Shoes
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.