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Shoes for the Discerning Indian Woman

Shoes in 18th Century Europe (1700’s) October 26, 2009

I had once picked up a beautiful coffee table book from Landmark in Calcutta (it is now called Starmark), which traced shoes since as far in History as known, in Europe to date.

What was remarkable while browsing through the book was that shoes have barely changed since their inception. Sure, today there are computer-generated ergonomic and machine made shoes with material unavailable in the 15th, 16th of even 19th Centuries. But, the shoe in-principle, has remained the same.

To talk of not too far a past, I thought I will mention a little about the shoes worn in the 18th Century, or 1700’s. This was the era when Europe was still united and society was divided into the rich and poor. The rich aristocracy wore every possible type of grandeur, dresses were grand and stiff and the shoes matched the flavour of the day!

Women’s Shoes

18th Century Shoe Painting

In the 18th Century, shoes with heels were very much de-rigeur. Typically, the shoes were covered with cloth, and these were embroidered intricately with flowers, and usually women wore them to match with their outfit (as today!). The cloth was backed by a stiff material giving the shoe its characteristic shape.

The rich also wore shoes embedded with precious stones and wearing a gold shoe with red rubies along with a dress of golden lace and rubies was but natural.

The toes of the shoes were extremely pointed, and the heels were wooden, curving inwards. The heels too were embedded with jewels and sometimes embroidered. These shoes were usually known as Clogs.

!8th Century Italian Shoes

Most times the shoes were covered on all fronts, thereby helping the wearer brave the cold weathers in Europe (it was afterall the Little Ice Age, and the weather was much colder than today). The shoe top was then embellished by buckles which were made as pretty as possible using the materials allowed by the social status of the wearer. A rich person would wear precious stones, diamonds and so on, while a peasant’s would probably be un-embellished.

Since the shoes were meant to accompany the dresses, and made with specially dye-ed cloth, their colours were spectacular and varied. It is a pleasure to look at these shoes. The dresses were made of the height of the person, so when wearing a stiff brocade gown, the hem would be till the ankle of the wearer and the shoe would be clearly visible to another person, making it important to wear matching (and pretty) shoes for important social functions.

Yellow silk shoes with buckles, French, c.1760s

Yellow silk shoes with buckles, French, c.1760s

I do not think they are as comfortable as shoes available in the market today, but one must give credit to the pretty specimens that are available in museums and antique shops.

Mid-1700s Silk Shoe

Towards the end of the century however, with the Napoleonic war and French Revolution as well as the advent of Muslins, and reduction of the number of jewelery and colours worn, as well as the movement of womens dresses from the stiff brocaded and hooped versions to soft, flowing lines, shoes also underwent a change. Heels and stiff shoes seem to have lost their popularity. The trend seen in early 19th Century made its appearance, with flat ballet-like shoes, tied with ribbons around the ankle. These were made of soft silk and muslin and though very pretty, they were delicate and needed replacements pretty soon. The advantage of these shoes however was the fact that they could be repaired at home – much cheaper!

Political Evolution

Satin Slippers

Satin Slippers lined with Linen

Heels seemed to signify social status, as people in the higher social strata did do any manual labour and did not to walk too much and hence wore very high heels to signify the same. The lower strata poorer people did not wear very high heels as most of their work had to be done themselves, and the could not afford carriages for short distances. Considering that most streets were cobbled at the time, wearing even 5-inch of such inwardly curved heels and walking in the elaborate clothes fashionable at the time was definitely a feat! With the French Revolution, heels reduced in size and as they tended towards vanishing, they signified how everyone was of the same social status.

In fact, in the 18th Century, the first Ballet slippers were made, and they had  high heels! The toes were padded so one could dance on the toes. It was only later that flat ballet shoes evolved.

While the shoes with heels made walking difficult because of the high and difficultly balanced heels, the flat shoes (called slippers) that came up after them also made walking difficult on the often muddy and slippery roads, especially in the country and in England. Also, since their soles were thin, the wearer was often subjected to cold and it was definitely not a healthy fashion trend!

Shoes over the Century

Shoes over the 18th Century

Mens Shoes

18th Century Man with Red Heels

Men in the 18th Century were as, if not more flamboyant than the women in their clothing. To go with this, their shoes too were flamboyant. Though men usually wore black shoes with white buckles, it did not stop them from embellishing them with precious stones to match with the rest of their attire. Rubied heels for red-lined coats, emeralds for green lined coats and diamonds if the wearer was decked out in silver lace! The elaborateness of the dress as well as the number of jewels worn showed the social stature of the person and hence was an important indicator.

While the poorer people wore plain shoes, the aristocrats wore extremely high heels making them walk ‘mincingly’ so as not to lose their balance. The

Working class shoes

high heels apart from showing the social stature by making it impossible for the wearer to do physical labour, also balanced the outline of the person. With dresses that balooned around the waist with stiff materials and multiple ‘skirts’, and head covered by towering wigs, it was essential that the human outline be maintained and that was achieved by the high heeled shoes.

However, men indulged in many more activities than women and these primarily comprised of hunting/ riding and the Army. While the heeled shoes were alright for wearing to parties, it was a practical necessity to have shoes which could be worn for riding horses and walking and running. These were the Hessians or Boots, as we know them.

French Military Boots

18th C French Military Boots

The hessians were knee high riding boots made of leather, without heels, and definitely useful while riding a horse as they would help when the leg chafes against the horse. However, in this century of extreme fashion, they were confined only to wearing in the Country, which meant not in society. They were worn when men went for out-door activities, but were a definite no-no in polite circles or when meeting guests at home.

The shine of the hessians were a matter of pride to the wearer, and they were frequently adorned with gold or silver tassles or lined with fur.

Political Evolution

1786 Mens Fashion

With the war, the heels of men’s shoes also went down. However, more drastic to note was the advent of Hessians into every-day acceptable wear. By the early 19th Century Hessians were worn by men in Town (i.e. London or Paris or equivalent cities) though not worn for evening events.

In the late 1700’s, the dressing had reduced in grandeur to signify democracy and the shoes too had sobered down. Boots were still making an entry into society, but calf length boots allowable in town-wear. The shine on the shoes determined the wearer’s status and the style of the top of the shoe  -tassles, fur or embroidery- determined his style quotient!

For this post I have sourced information and pictures from: Wikipedia, Encarta, Doubledeckerbus, Lousiana State Museum, Shoe Blog, Bata Shoe Museum, Canada, Tongue in Cheek, The Costumers Manifesto, Colonial Williamsberg, Humanities etc. Thanks! 🙂


Clarks and Future Group JV for India October 21, 2009

In October 2005 when Clarks first entered India, they had grand plans. As per this press release, they planned opening about 300 stores by 2006. It does not take an in-depth study to know that this did not happen.

In the light of this failure to expand, it is heartening to note that Clarks has entered into a joint venture with Future Group, India.

Future Group is an extremely successful retail group controlling impressive retail chains like Pantaloons and Big Bazaar, shopping malls like City Center, clothing brands like John Miller, and even consumer finance and insurance under Future Money.

The JV plan seems to be to roll out the brand in 2011. So there is still a wait before the shoes are available more easily in the country. They plan to make it a premier international footwear label. From the press release it seems like the design range will increase, and more ladies sandals will be available. Also, the manufacturing might be outsourced to some local names.

“There are some excellent manufacturers in India making this product and we are excited about working with them”

-Andrew Martland, Head International BD, Clarks

However, I just hope that the original designs remain along with new ones, and the strict quality specifications and customer care practice of the footwear company dont change much when launched by the Indian-UK JV.


My Walking Shoes October 12, 2009

The Shoes
The Shoes

I bought this pair of pretty looking heels from TresMode early last year, and have worn them on a number of occasions. However, what stands out the most in my mind is the fact that whenever I have worn them, I have not usually planned a day filled with walking around. Quite the reverse.

Since these pumps have a decent amount of heel height and are pointed towards to toes, I usually reserve them for occasions which involve more sitting and less walking. Like going for dinner or a movie rather than going shopping.

But, every time I have worn these shoes, my quiet outing has been converted into one where I have ended up walking around a lot!

So I call them my walking shoes.

With Pink Dress
With Pink Dress

With Multicoloured skirt

With Multicoloured skirt

A pair of pretty cmfortable pumps, they are well balanced and a colour unusual enough to match grey, blue and green pretty well, as well as compliment colours like pink with which I have worn them as well.

I especially like the small bow made in front with the faux leather, with rivets at the ends, which gives it its unique look.  The detailing on the front and sides are thread-work in a clever design which gives the shoe the look of a cowboy accessory, yet be feminine and anything but thanks to its one and half inch heel and pointed toe. The sole is also very pretty, black with the same  intricate design etched onto the hard material. I often have the urge to walk over sand or soft soil, just to see how the imprint of the shoe sole looks!

Let me give a few distinct examples of the shoe’s effect. There was this wonderful day when I was supposed to meet someone for a movie, and then that person would drop me back home after dinner. Not a chance of walking more than the required few steps in the theater and the adjoining diner. However, as luck would have it, we found the diner closed, and then proceeded to walk all the way around the area, chatting and having a good time, and yes, we ate something for dinner. But we walked kilometers!

Then there was the time I went on vacation. This particular day we were supposed to go on a cruise, so I expected a relaxed day on a boat, and really, no walking. So I wore the heels. And then we landed in Evian-les-Baines, and had to walk around that delightful town, through its uphill mountainous roads. Good fun, but walking for more than 10 hours is something this shoe was not designed for!

Yesterday, I was supposed to meet someone for breakfast, and I did not anticipate anything more than an hour in a restaurant. It ended up being a three hour walk through an extensive mall with cobblestones after the meal!

Walking Around Evian

Walking Around Evian-les-Bains

However, though every time I have worn these shoes anticipating a quiet time, I end up having a lot of wandering around and meandering through all types of streets. But it has always been good fun and I have enjoyed every moment of it. So, in a way I also look at them as the shoes I have fun with.

I must say, after all the walking I have put this pair through, they look very well, without a scratch or any other complaint. The only complaint that comes is from my feet by having to walking in heels over terrain definitely not meant for them (hilly areas etc) – so its not their fault at all. However, to that my shoes have a response. Recently I went to a mall and got a free foot massage the day I was wearing these shoes!

Walking Shoes

Walking Shoes

I must say, Tresmode has made a very pretty and sturdy pair of shoes, but they hold special mention in my shoe closet because of the special connection they have with me. They always give me a good time, lots of walking around with friends and even free foot massages!

They are indeed, my favourite walking shoes now 🙂

PS – I would like to thank Tresmode once again for the great quality, fit and endurability of their shoes which has enabled me to complete all my impromptu treks!


Shoes for Salwar Kameez (shalwar kameez) October 8, 2009

Patiala Salwar
Patiala Salwar

Salwar Kameez is a ubiquitous dress in India and neighboring countries. Consisting mainly of a bottom and a top, it has many variations and is often colourful. Uniquely it is something women wear and when men wear the equivalent it is called by other names (eg. kurta-pajama).

Salwar typically means a baggy pajama, a little constricted at the ankle. They can be with lots of pleats (gher), i.e. Patiala style, or much more streamlined, as worn regularly.

However, loosely the term is also used to denote churidars. Churidars are tight legging type bottoms made (usually) of cotton or similar material, with length greater than the leg. So it bunches up near the ankle. The more the cloth near the ankle, the better it is supposed to be.

A well fitting Churidar

A well fitting Churidar

So, what should one wear with this attire? The decision of shoes with salwar kameezes is pretty much second nature to those who have been seeing it since childhood, or wear it often. But to those who are new to the dress, there can be some trauma associated with the choice. So here I am, your angel in disguise (OK dispute that if you want! humph!) to help you.


Flats go very well with Salwars, as opposed to Churidars. Kolapuri chappals look very nice, as well as any Indian sandal type. Flip flop style chappals are also a good bet.  You can look at the  post on Indian sandals I had written about earlier for a pointer on the types available. You can choose any type from there.

When wearing flats with salwars, do ensure that the pajama is not too long for your leg, and does not curl up under your heel. Not only will that be a nuisance while walking, it also looks bad and spoils the show of the salwar. Afterall, the salwar looks best when it has a good fall from the waist, curtailing in the bakram of the ankle.

Kolhapuri Chappals

Kolhapuri Chappals

With churidars, flats can be worn (especially with short kurtas), it does not look as elegant. When wearing flats with churidars try and stick to jutis rather than any other type of flats. Jutis make the overall look nice and old-fashioned elegant. Kind of like what the men wear, yet also a little 1930’s type.

Stilettos / Pencil/ High heels

High heels go extremely well with any type of salwar kameez. With patiala salwars and kurtas, the high heel streamlines the figure and gives length to the silouhuette. The patiala tends to make people look shorter, so unless you are tall, a medium to high heel is recommended. A pencil thin heel makes you look more chic than a regular high heel. Platforms or wedges can also be worn.

Churidar with matching heels

Churidar with matching heels

A churidar kurta makes a person look thin and taller because of its streamlined outline. With a high heel, the posture is improved and the overall effect is that of a tall, thin, elegant person. Platforms can also be worn, but with caution as every platform shoe does not compliment all the styles of kurtas.

Medium heel sandals

For regular daily wear, medium heel sandals work best. (The type I outlined for short skirts in my earlier post). They are comfortable, while at the same time giving a slight elevtion making the legs look longer and you slimmer.

Indian Sandals

Indian Sandals

Indian chappals with the little block heel that they have work the best for this outfit at any given time. When the sandals have embellishments on the top straps, they can be worn for formal evenings out as well.

Colour Choice

Salwar kameez, as anyone knows are typically very colourful. It is typically expected that the  shoes match the oufit. If you don’t own sandals in matching colours, brown and dull bronze or gold are pretty universal. Black can be worn as well, but they stand out a little, because in most probability the dress will not have black in it. The same goes for white, though strappy cream sandals or very plain black sandals can work. Red slippers and shoes do very well, unless the dress is of a totally contrasting colour. However, unless wearing high heels, it is best to avoid the shiny shades of the colours, or patent leather. The emphasis then is on the feet rather than the overall look or outfit.

Indian chappals with gold embellishments or kolapuri chappals are pretty neutral and can be used with almost any outfit without worries. Kolapuris by virtue of their neutral brown shade make the outfit look good and very ethnic.

Style of Shoe

Like a friend of mine mentioned, Salwar Kameez essentially a feminine dress. and pretty ethnic.  The shoe chosen to be worn with it should thus either be ethnic, or feminine. I would suggest to wear open toed sandals as far as possible when wearing high heels with this outfit. The only type of closed shoes that work with salwar kameezes well are jutis. However, if you are confident that your pumps are the perfect accessory to your outfit, you can give it a try. On the safer side though, shoes with two straps (like typical Indian chappals) or a couple of horizontal straps holding your feet in, or peep-toes for your high heels work best.

So go ahead, make you salwar kameez/ churidar kurta look better than it does with the correct pair of shoes and be ready for all the complements!

Photograph source: All photos have been sourced from Google, special mention has to be made of designersalwarkameez & bollywoodbridesmaid for the pictures used.