Friday, March 25, 2011

The Elusive 50s-Style Shoe

I've been thinking a lot about shoes lately. (Nothing new there, I guess.) It strikes me as interesting that when we talk about retro shoes, we often seem to mean those influenced by the 30s and 40s: t-straps, babydoll pumps, wedge sandals, etc.—even if we favor fashions of the 50s. I personally tend to pair 50s inspired clothes with 40s-style shoes, like platform pumps. But the most popular shoe of the early to mid 50s was the pointed-toe stiletto, a shape that strikes me as very modern. (And sometimes, unfortunately, very 80s.)

But the research I've been doing into 50s stilettos has turned up some real beauties, like the pink satin pair above. They were designed by Roger Vivier for Dior. According to the V&A and this excellent article, Vivier is credited with inventing both the stiletto and the comma heel, pictured below.



The comma heel is quite unusual even to the modern eye, but isn't it amazing that the stiletto heel didn't exist until the 50s? The silk pair below are from Herbert Levine, another classic and coveted brand of the 1950s.


The shape seems so timeless now. Interestingly, though, it's quite difficult to find shoes that emulate that curvy stiletto shape of the 50s (believe me, I've looked through pages and pages of shoes looking for something similar). Our heels are much more straight and columnar now. The closest I could find were these:

See the curvy shape of the heel?

I do love this look, though I can't say I see myself wearing something like this regularly. I love round-toe pumps with a bit of a platform for comfort. And if I'm doing a moderate amount of walking (which is pretty much everyday since I live in New York and don't have a car), I opt for flats to get me to and from the office.

What do you think of the 50s stiletto shape? Any recommendations for comfort and where to find a good modern equivalent? Please share!

41 comments:

  1. I personally love the 50s stiletto. I always think of them as "lady shoes" and feel as though they make any look more ladylike and lovely. Unfortunately I don't have another source for you to go to, though I do like the ones you linked to.

    (Also, not sure if I've ever commented before, so hello!)

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  2. I hope I never encounter those comma heels in person...because I fear I might take a human life for them.

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  3. i second what parisgrrl said!!

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  4. For me, those types of heels would not be a flattering look. My ankles and calves are too substantial, almost like those of an R. Crumb girl. So the contrast of my legs atop those delicate little things would look ridiculous. That's why I go for the sturdier vintage look of forties' footwear. Also for the ease of walking.

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  5. Stunning, that is my word for 50's stiletto heels. I remember the ladies in my family wearing these all the time with no moaning about comfort. Now I am not talking about June Cleaver, with the heels and pearls, cleaning the oven! But, church, charity events, shopping etc. were all times to dress up. They also wore girdles, seamed stockings and armor plated bras. In our time I feel that comfort has to over-ride the look but for short term wear (particularly if a lot of sitting is involved:) is great. What I find most appealing is the ability of the fashionable ladies of our time to blend styles to achieve a personal look, to make it their own.

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  6. I do wonder how much walking the ladies did in these shoes back in the fifties. Surely not all housewives were wearing them?

    Even if not for the comfort but the maintenance of these items. I know I can't wear my spiky heels out on the hard concrete and cobblestone streets of my city without wearing down the heel to the metal very quickly.
    Replacing those tips is a pain - even if they were better quality back then.

    I wonder if they wore similar styles with a slightly thicker heel? Or just flats?

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  7. I remember finding a pair of vintage stilettos while thrift-shopping with my grandmother, and her telling me that she wore shoes like that when she met my grandfather. I was only ten or so, and hugely impressed when she said she could run in them. I've wanted a pair ever since but they're always so teeny-tiny!
    I've been looking for something similar to Re-mix, but with 50's and 60's styles, but to no avail. The earlier styles are cute, but I don't really want to wear them with my 50's dresses - i'd rather go for some girly flats (or boots if I'm feeling punky)

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  8. I really like the 50's kitten heel, because I fall a lot...

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  9. I, too, love the comma heel. The closest I've ever seen is by Irregular Choice:

    http://www.overstock.com/Clothing-Shoes/Irregular-Choice-Candyfloss-Pink-Suede-Gold-Braid/3560786/product.html

    http://dresseduplikealady.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-it-strange-to-dance-so-soon.html

    I lovelovelove this brand - so ridiculous and over the top. I have both of these shoes and I bought them specifically because I love the heel.

    As for the 50s stiletto, I absolutely love the look but it's soooooo uncomfortable to wear. I found a pair in a vintage shop in the 80s (faux velvet with cutwork around the vamp) and only pull them out for special occasions because I almost die every time I wear them.

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  10. I think they are a gorgeously classy style and I have always adored looking at how well they matched a woman's outfit in old photos, movies and the like. It's not a style I've ever enjoyed wearing, I must admit. Mostly because I just don't find stilettos comfortable (I do a ton of walking), but probably also in part because it is indeed very hard to find modern equivalents that don't feel, well, decidedly modern. But they are definitely one of the most iconic shoe styles in existence.

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  11. I have worn "heels" as we called them in the early sixties. I wouldn't have worn them in the fifties, because I was too young. Man, they hurt my feet. I couldn't wait until the styles changed! I adopted a chunkier "set back" heel as soon as I found it in the stores.

    I did wear what we called 6" heels at some point, but preferred a shorter heel height. There were available 7" and 8" heels. This would have been in the early sixties, when I was still in h.s. The first shoe, the Dior, looks very familiar. It must have been copied and sold for 10 years after it was designed for haute couture. Older women held onto their high heels for longer than younger women. By the late sixties and early seventies I was so out of high heels, as were my peers by and large.

    The thing is, those shoes hurt. They caused bunions, they squeezed your toes and stretched your arches. Yes, they are beautiful shoes, and yes they had a devoted following for over a decade. But I wouldn't go back to them.

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  12. I love the 50's stiletto! Reminds me of playing in my great grannies attic and trying on all the vintage clothes and shoes. I'm glad to say I own all the dresses now BUT unfortunatly I recked all the shoes when I was younger, Which is a huge bummer as I have the same size feet as she did :(

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  13. I just got THREE pairs of my mother's stilettos from the 50s. Where else would I find them in my size? :)

    Now I'm hoping a trip to the cobbler will get them in tip-top shape. Any suggestions?

    PS. 1950s stilettos are really great for playing the harp, FYI.

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  14. I just shudder when I see those shoes. Because of the way they deformed my mother's feet. They also hurt her and she was not happy. I had a short stint in pointy toed flats and started to have feet like my mother and I was done. Thankfully, the styles changed to square and round toes just in time, and I never looked back.

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  15. I was a teenager in the 50's and yes I learned to walk in the "high heels" and could run in them as well. The biggest dangers were being taller than your "still growing" teenage date and getting the heel caught in a sidewalk grate or in a crack in the sidewalk. In the latter case you would pitch forward and fall in a heap with ruined hose and a bruised ego. Oh we thought we were great women wearing those shoes! Never again. Too many hurting feet and legs.

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  16. I graduated from high school in 1962 so I did wear girdle, seamed hose, (no need for the armor-plated bra or me) slips, crinolines, etc. I had heel of varying heights including stilettos when I needed to dress up, which was often in those days. Because nearly all shoes were made in the USA at the time, one could purchase a C/W width shoe so the toe squeezing wasn't too bad. My favorite pair of stilettos was made of woven 1/16" strips of leather in 5 pastel colors over a white lining. I fell in love with them when I saw them and had to have them even though I had nothing to wear with them at the time. Momma said OK.

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  17. http://remixvintageshoes.com/index.html carries vintage styles, but sadly not 50's. Still, worth taking a look.

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  18. My Grandma has shoes like that (she still might in the back of a closet - next time I visit I may have to steal some!) and tells me stories about how she used to make matching outfits. Stilettos are one of my favorite styles to wear. My mom thinks I'm crazy but I'd kill for some of the vintage pairs of shoes!

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  19. While 50's era clothes are my favorite, I personally really dislike both pointed toes and stiletto heels.

    I've found Talbots has been carrying some basic retro-esque shoes since their redesign:

    Leather Pointy-Toe Pumps (also in Patent)

    Slingback Kitten Heels w/ Bow

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  20. Of course stilettos were designed in the 50s--the decade dedicated to making women suffer! The damage wearing heels does to your posture alone is criminal.

    My grandmother has the crumply toes and bunions thanks to wearing heels. Subsequent generations wore more practical shoes. I only wear heels to dress up when I don't need to walk, 1.5" max.

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  21. I love the 50's stiletto, but being kinda short and with thickish legs, the 40's styles with almond or round toe just balance my figure out a little more. I guess they're more flattering - and less extreme and a little softer when paired with 50's clothing. The whole look can become quite severe sometimes. That said, I have a couple pairs of stilettos that I pair with more basic cocktail dresses, and they seem to work well there.

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  22. When it comes to shoes, I'm completely hooked on Fluevogs. They are so comfortable. And I just realized that these ones look like they may be based on that comma heel.

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  23. Herbert Levine is the best. I have several pairs. In fact, I wore a pair of black velvet HL stilettos for our wedding. Of today's designers, I like Weitzman and Blahnik. They both have well-structured and comfy lasts.

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  24. Heh Gertie - my answer to wearable stilettos is to convert ballroom dancing shoes by getting a cobbler to Topy over the suede souls. Works like a dream! I buy plain black pairs and then wear them to work and gigs and anywhere I need to be on my feet... So comfortable! And they cope with the cobblestone laneways in my City. They don't look 50s, but the heel shapes are just as sexy!

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  25. I've bought several pairs on eBay...check there!

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  26. I love the look of these shoes - but like you... the comfort factor is an issue. So I am more likely to go for a chunky 40s style shoe :)

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  27. gosh, I love that comma heel! I love vintage stilettos, but I have already to many of them, although I wouldn´t say no to a comma-heel pair.

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  28. Those comma heels reminded me of some shoes I saw years ago in an exebition at the "nordiska museet" in Stockholm sweden, they have the heel set back under the foot and are from the 1800s, a bit sturdier in consruction but they were said to be difficult to learn to walk in as the heel was so offset.

    http://www.nordiskamuseet.se/publication.asp?publicationid=2650

    http://www.nordiskamuseet.se/Publication.asp?publicationid=1336&cat=148&catName=utstallningar&topmenu=148

    Hope someone finds these interesting, though they are in swedish!!

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  29. Hi Gertie! Happy I discovered your blog:) We have lots in common and I look forward to following you!
    ~Cindy

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  30. I have tried these on, and for what they are, are surprisingly comfortable. The curve of the heel is even a little more extreme than the 50's shoes you posted. I love the sexy, elegant curve.

    http://www.vincecamuto.com/Shoes/High-Heels/VICKIY-BLUSH-PATENT.html

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  31. Oh thanks so much for sharing this. I loved the comma heel. Yum!

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  32. I agree with what has been said about the comma heel; I love them!

    I have a few pairs of heels from the 1950's, but only wear them for short periods. They are murder, and several of the women in my family that wore them have to wear orthopedic shoes now. Since I plan to still wear heels as an old lady, I pamper my feet with shoes that are made for walking, like Cole Haan.
    As for finding them, there are several pairs on Etsy and Ebay. I just bought a great pair of Springolators that fit like a glove!
    Good luck! xo, A.

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  33. Well, I've owned a lot of vintage 1950s shoes. Wore them to death at one point in my life. Now though, no way. My earlier obsession was related to being 20 years old and with a lot of parties to go to. Kid yourself not, pointy high heels are painful even when they fit well. I had numb toes for a couple of years after wearing them one day in the (N. Calif.) winter. Shoes of that era also had very little padding in the sole, if any. They do look pretty, and I think that 50s styles really need them sometimes, but I just can't do it. Maybe only if someone makes *new* ones with that air sole technology or whatever it is...

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  34. I'm with Jaime on this one - the heel on those Fluevogs is brilliant. I find it so much easier to walk with a heel that curves to place it right under the center of the heel. Modern heels seem to be placed more straight off of the back of the footbed, which throws the wearer's balance forward onto the ball of the foot, creating that familiar pain....

    I had a wish to wear vintage '50s shoes back in middle and high school when I was heavy into vintage wear in the mid '80s. The problem is that I never could find them wide enough to fit my feet! I did find a beautiful pair that were red satin with black leather straps that almost fit. I find the styles with the rounded toes so much easier for my wide feet.

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  35. I love that style...like everyone above, usually walk too much to wear them, but tend to favor kitten-heel kinds of things more simply because I am tall (and, more concretely, taller than the Boy even wearing flats!)

    I found a really nice pair of 80s-does-50s black ones at my local Goodwill a while back and wear them for special occasions, though.

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  36. My favourite ever shoes are my treasured 1950s stilettos. I picked them up in a charity shop, they are olive green velvet with cup-set glass rhinestones all round the front, the slightly curved in heel and the pointed toe.

    They are ridiculously comfortable compared to modern heeled shoes, the construction was just so much better back then.

    They had the same pair in cream, obviously donated by the family of a careful and stylish old lady... I really regret not buying them at the time. I feared getting them dirty, but now I wish they'd have come home with me and my green stilettos.

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  37. Hi Gertie,
    It is interesting in the vintage circle, '50s shoes are kind of ignored. I personally like '40s shoes better as well, just because I find the platform flattering, but I have always loved a "pointy toe" heel.
    As far as a modern look alike for comma heels, check out these:http://www.tn29.com/collection_details.php?shoeID=346&next=347&prev=351
    They are different that's for sure, but I really like them!
    The designer Tracy Neuls has some other great designs as well...

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  38. invisiblezipper75March 28, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    I've been a lurker for a while and love your blog Gertie! I just have to chime in on this conversation. Being a size 9, I have a tough time finding vintage shoes but wear lots of 50s/60s dresses. I have several pairs of Enzo Angiolini's "Maylie" heels. They are quite comfortable, affordable and have the lovely shape of a 50s heel. The company has been making them for years and they come out with new colors and textures (faux alligator) each year. The only drawback is that they're open toed. Check them on Zappos. http://www.zappos.com/maylie

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  39. I wear heels every day and can run for the train in them. I don't have any vintage shoes, my Euro 39 feet are just too wide for them. In Australia we have a shoe designer Alan Pinkus whose modern shoes are very much like the 50s stilletto. As for comfort, well, fashion knows no pain...

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  40. I LOVE the stiletto heels!!! I worked and walked in them for YEARS in my 20's, 30's, even into my 40's. Now at 60, I carry them in a bag and wear flats.

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  41. Can I guy comment here? My mom is 91 and wore stilettos heels 1958/1967 and she never suffered...She has about 40 pairs in the closet still in near mint condition size 7 1/2 B...Chandlers, Saks 5th, Bonwit Teller etc. The workmanship, even on inexpensive pairs, is far superior to those of today...colors, details, all amazing...she never suffered but was splendid in white high heel sling backs, the tight waisted, full skirt summer cotton dress, supported by petticoats, shortie white gloves, clip on pretty earings, hosiery even in August! And the perfume was Estee Lauder Youth Dew...a gliding grace of femininity long gone...
    ps/you are so right, the curve of the heel was much more elegant than today, and women did not look like their shoes were gaping at the sides, coming off the back, or worst of all, a vamp too small that revealed the lines in between toes..most unattractive indeed.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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