Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ladies Riding and Walking Boots...

18th Century ladies riding boots, do they actually exist? I have been researching this topic for quite some time and so far I have found next to nothing on the subject. Most of the equestrian paintings either hide the shoes beneath the skirts of the rider, like the painting below.


Or they show the ladies in dainty slippers like this painting of Lady Worsley. 


Now, I have a hard time believing that they really wore such delicate slippers to ride horses and participate in other country sports. They may be beautiful, but they are completely impractical for wet and muddy conditions that one would surely find in the English countryside. Even in our outdoor events, I find my walking shoes impractical whenever mud and water is involved. I usually end up with muddy and soaked stockings, not exactly the most comfortable feeling. So, I can imagine an 18th century aristocrat would not appreciate wet stockings either.

Now, the riding habit below shows very heavy duty boots; they almost look like Hessians to me. However, were these accurate to the time period or were they added by the curator to complete the look of the riding habit for display purposes? 


Now if you look very closely at the plate below, you can see a boot peaking out from under the skirt. Her boot seems quit practical. It has a bit of a heal to it, it clearly extends above the ankle, however we're not sure how high it actually goes, and it is still quite fashionable. 


In fact there is a reproduction of a similar boot made by Sarah Juniper.


So, this leads me to ponder a few things. Firstly, these type of boots must have existed; so, how come it is  seemingly impossible to find an extant example of them. Secondly, are there so few remaining because they would have been worn and not have lasted the test of time, unlike the dainty slippers in every fashion museum? Thirdly, how come we have so little documentation on them? I am researching so I can find some practical boots for walking and possibly riding that are period correct. I would love to hear your thoughts and finds about this subject. Please share :-)

Love Lauren


15 Witty Sentiments:

An attempt at life... said...

I think that looking at paintings for the shoes is the last place you are going to find them. Since they were staged most of the time I believe that they wouldnt be wearing the proper shoes but more of their everyday shoes. What about books written in the period? You wouldnt get a visual but possibly a description.

Kleidung um 1800 said...

There's a photo of a fairly high cream colored boot dated to the very beginning of the 19th century in the catalogue of Vigevano Shoe Museum (Italy) on page 42 (the catalogue was published in 1979 under the title "Schuhkunst")...I'm sorry I don't know how to attach pictures. To me it very much resembles an late 19th century/early 20th century boot, but their catagories seem otherwise to be quite reliable.

Hungarican Chick said...

I have a sense that a pair of simple paddock/jodphur boots (lace-up) would be accurate and suitable. they don't have a heel, which is dangerous when in stirrup irons, and they are quite appropriate for regency walking dresses and such.

Something comparable to these:
http://bit.ly/cgZwxa

Kay said...

I have been reading The Lady's Strategem, translated from several 1820s French sources by Frances Grimble. Chapter VIII says, "Boots do not appear to me to be very becoming foot-wear. Your should wear them, I think, only when the bottom of your leg is too stout; they are a means of concealing this fault a little. But be careful never to tighten them too much, for your leg would swell." So, apparently boots were available but not stylish enough for the French ladies!

Lauren said...

@ Kay: Why does that not surprise me.

Kay said...

The Lady's Strategem also recommends gaiters, "which can be extremely dear bought ready-made." Apparently they were made of canvas and the original author recommended them in "dust-grey." She provided a pattern so ladies could make their own at home. She recommended that the "gaiters must look as if glued to the foot."

MrsC said...

I recall Elizabeth Bennet striding through muddy fields in a pair of stout, lace-up, brown ankle boots in the BBC TV series, but not sure how much notice we should take of such things. :)

Mme. du Jard said...

There is a painting from the 1770's by Canaletto showing a polish noblewoman riding and having her petticoat so high drawn up that one can see that she wears breeches and lowheeled boots under it! I will try to scan it.

Mme. du Jard said...

I have just uploaded the scan on flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/8666432@N04/5183849367/

Isis said...

Perhaps they haven't survived because they were suitable to hand down to servants? A pair of pretty slippers wouldn't be very practical for a maid, but the mistress not sot so pretty leather boots could very well have been. After all, it's often the pretty that gets saved. Anothe rthought- what is left when it comes to men's boots? Could it be that ladies boots that have been saved have been thought to have been worn by men, or boys? Might be interesting to see what can be found there. :)

Lauren said...

@ Cecilia: That makes perfect sense! Thanks for posting the painting.

@ Isis: I have also thought the same thing; that the boots may have been gender neutral and passed along as they were worn. Which would make sense. As we know, very few working class garments survive because they were used till they fell apart.

Our Heroine said...

I had a similar idea: perhaps the slippers are like Empire dresses, not something that would be worn later in the century so have survived. But boots are boots and would be worn out.

Beth said...

Women's Regency Boots! Wish this post had more info, it's frustratingly sparse.

http://yeoldefashion.tumblr.com/post/2342098802/the-late-18th-century-also-saw-the-advent-of

Penny said...

My mother bought a pair of leather "riding" boots from the Spanish fashion chain Zara last winter. ( http://www.polyvore.com/classic_leather_riding_boots_from/thing?id=30517807# ) The general model of the would be, out of a practicality, an appearance point-of-view, probably what I would recommend.

I have a classical training in art and art history, so I may be able to illuminate some suspicions. (I also have some anecdotal evidence, that similar things have happened through the days...)

Portraits of the day were staged. So if a picture shows a lady mounted, odds are, she posed in her parlour, seated in her saddle on a barrel, while the artist sketched in her facial features and posé, after which he (or she) had access to the Lady's outfit on a mannequin for reference. This means that both the billowing of the skirts can be "liberté artistique", as well as the shoes, which could be either imagined by the artist, or provided by the lady. Which leads me to suspect, that the lady may have offered her daintiest shoes to the painter, to promote the illusion of having dainty little feet.

A great great great grandpappy of mine was featured in a portrait in full military attire, and some young whelp in the family used to practice his aim with a BB-gun in the attic, aiming for the heart of the painting of the dignified old General. Years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, my great great grand auntie painstakingly restored the painting. Because the medals on the General's chest were gone, she used her husband's as reference. Which lead to the fabulous misunderstanding, of what decorations he did or did not have. I think the painting was hung back up in the attic after the debut, to the chagrin of the restorer.

Perhaps this little story will help imagine, what artists were commonly doing in their day. :)

ColeV said...

I know I'm a bit late on commenting, but there are at least three extant pairs of ladies riding boots from the 1780s. A green pair at the Royal Ontario, a black pair at the Met, and a red pair at the Powerhouse Museum. They are all very close in style and very feminine.