Shoes of the 1920s were greatly influenced by the Modernist, Cubist and Bauhaus aesthetics popular in this era. As the Art Deco movement (known for is use of geometric shapes and lux materials) prospered in art circles, it found its way to the design and silhouette of shoes of the time. Shoe designers began to focus on simple lines in conjunction with exotic, luxurious fabrics in bold colors. Gone were the overly decorated buttons and lace of the past, replaced by single buttons and T-bar silhouettes. In addition, as societal norms and expectations began to change with the appearance of shorter hemlines, “flapper fashion” and the Charleston dance craze, shoes followed suit.
As women began to embrace the new, energetic dance styles found in ragtime and jazz music, their shoes had to keep up. Sturdier shoes with lower heels and buckled straps became all the rage. The lower heels and secured fitting of these new designs allowed women to dance with confidence. Designers also adapted to the low lights of the smoky speakeasies popular in the time by adding bright beadwork and metallic threadwork to their designs, perfectly matched to the beaded and fringed dresses preferred by women in the 1920s. For even more panache, shoe clips came along in the forms of such varied images as scarabs, butterflies and birds, all designed to create what was known as “party feet.” Hand painted fabric, steel beadwork, and heels made of Bakelite, Wedgewood and Jasperware also made their debut during this time, allowing women to turn their day shoes into sparkly, night time fashion.
As these new flourishes and designs began to appear on the fashion scene, traditional Edwardian boots began to disappear and be replaced with Russian boots, similar to today’s Ugg boots. The Oxford shoe and Mary Janes also took off in the fashion scene in the 1920s as they fit the functional yet feminine design aesthetic of the decade. Many of the most desired bottiers (shoemakers) of the time were in Paris where the devalued Franc allowed foreign customers to spend more. Most notably, Charles Hellstern shoes were highly sought after, so much so that Hellstern shoes were mentioned in novels by Nancy Mitford and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Practically, manufacturing processes improved during this time making shoes less expensive and allowing women to buy for style instead of function.