Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Florentine gentleman

The Shoes.

The Achilles Heel

One of my pet peeves with most on-line costume diaries is that I wish they went into more detail about hair, makeup, stockings, shoes...all the unglamorous but necessary, often frustrating details that can make or break a costume.

Shoes are probably the weakest point of most of our costumes. Let's face it, no matter how accomplished we may become as tailors or seamstresses, cobbling is a whole different ballgame. And paying someone else to do that work can be very, very expensive.

So, one way or another, we usually compromise. I'm no different! With time crunches invariably driving my costuming, the shoes often fall to the bottom of the costuming to-do list anyway.

With this costume, for the May deadline, I may very well fall back on something like black cotton Chinese flats, also known as "kung-fu shoes." The shape isn't too awfully far from period ones, and at least they're not attention-grabbingly shiny.

However, I would really like to make a pair, if I can possibly find the time. They wouldn't be welted, vegetable-tanned, cobbled hard-soled shoes like the ones Marc Carlson explains how to make, but I've gotten some remants of soft black leather from the local Foam & Fabric outlet and I'd like to make what I think of as "cheater turnshoes." I made a pair of these in a workshop once. You make a pattern by tracing your foot onto muslin, and then draping two other pieces of muslin around your foot until you get something about the right shape. You then cut the pieces out of relatively thin leather, sew them right sides together on a sturdy machine, and turn them right-side out. They're not terribly sturdy, but they look moderately convincing and can be made more comfortable with modern insoles.

Below are two views of a 1530-45 shoe in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Although it's earlier than my period, it shows a flimsy shoe similar in look and weight to what the method outlined above produces.

David is actually the perfect candidate for such shoes, because he won't be walking on them and thus won't really care what the soles are like. And I could have a field day with slashing them like the groovy pair shown in the portrait above!

If you'd like an eyeful of the real thing, there are some rather interesting examples of shoes from the Mary Rose here and here.

If I don't make them in time for the 15th, I still hope to make them for future use. Stay tuned.

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Copyright 2004 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.