Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Does a Newbie Need? Let's start with Shoes!

Getting started in 18th Century re-enacting, what do you really need? That is a frequently asked question as new people enter the re-enacting world.  Let's start from the bottom up with shoes!  The focus of all newbie posts will be the Rev War time period.


Shoes are one of the biggest expenses a newcomer makes when starting out.  It is part of the outlay of entering the hobby and it can be expensive to provide shoes to an entire family when first starting out.  It is one of the items that you must purchase and cannot make for yourself without training.

 This pair of shoes was sold at the Karen Augusta Auctions, dated to the 1770s,  it is one of those rare common shoes that survives.  Simple leather shoes are not in abundance for study, so it is especially helpful to view this pair with such good closeup views.
This heel is described as an Italian heel as the style of heel is progressing from the earlier Louis heel which lands more to the back of the foot.
The Female Bruiser,  c1770

The Female Bruiser, c1770
The above images are details from several British Satires online at the Lewis Walpole Library, if you follow the links you will see the full image of the print.  Notice that the lower class woman waiting to be hired as a servant has a lower clunkier heel than the others, but it still is a higher heel than a man's shoe.  Most of the shoes have rectangular buckles, one has a ribbon rosette in lieu of a buckle.

Sources for Shoes!

There are vendors for historical footwear online and sutlers at Revolutionary War Events.  If you have extremely hard to fit feet, it might be advantageous to wait for an event that you will attending and try on the shoes if at all possible.

Sarah Juniper
Sarah is well known in the re-enacting world for her custom made shoes.  Located in Great Britain, she takes custom orders via mail (not email) and her prices reflect the labor and materials of hand made shoes.  Prices begin at 178GBP

Advantage: High Quality, Custom Fit, Choice of fabric or leather uppers
Disadvantage: Expensive, Currency Exchange not favorable, Overseas Transaction

Burnley and Trowbridge

Offers an excellent choice of leather heeled and low heeled shoes and slippers for women.  These shoes are high quality leather, very well made and durable.  The price is extremely reasonable for such a fine quality shoe. Prices  $90.00 -$120.00

Advantage: High Quality, Choice of Leather Color, Excellent Customer Service, Timely Delivery
Disadvantage: Not available in half sizes


An online vendor with a variety of historical footwear Fugawee offers machine made shoes that are well made and durable.  The Connie style is the best choice for the Rev War time period, with the Debbie as the next best choice.  Prices begin at $85.00

Advantage: Available in half sizes, Good Quality
Disadvantage: Internet sales

American Duchess

New to the marketplace, American Duchess is now offering a satin shoe with a choice of custom dye colors known as "Georgiana".  A good option for fancy dress and indoor events, since up until this time only expensive custom shoes were available in any sort of color besides brown, black or red.  Shoes will be offered in leather in the near future.   Prices begin at $100.00

Advantage: Custom Colors, Available in half sizes, Excellent customer service and return policy
Disadvantage: Internet sales

Flying Canoe Traders
These sutlers will not sell shoes through the mail unless you have already had the opportunity to try them on for fit.  Low heeled and rubber soled, these shoes work for lower class impressions.  Prices begin at $160.00

Advantage: Extremely durable and comfortable, Sizes available for trying on
Disadvantage: Rubber soles,  Available only at re-enactments


  1. Do you know if/when G. Gedney Godwin's women's shoes will be available again? Their women's dress shoe looks especially tasty.

  2. Virginia, I will ask them next time I see them at an event. Will post if I find out any good information.

  3. Another question: I've recently ordered some silk shoes from American Duchess. Where can I see original 18th century shoes online so I can decide what color and trims will be appropriately documentable for them? Most of the fabric shoes I've seen on museum sites are brocades, not silk habotai or satins, so I'd like some guidance for this type of shoe. I'm also curious about whether such a shoe would typically have been buckled or tied, and would love to see some examples of shoes with rosettes. Any pointers? Thanks!

  4. One more noodge: The Flying Canoe shoes have a rubber *heel*, not a full rubber sole. The main sole is heavy leather, tres authentique.

  5. Virginia, virtually every large museum with an online collection has 18th century shoes. There are several examples of satin shoes, which is what the American Duchess come closest to imitating.

  6. I am just beginning this fascinating hobby and am concerned with shoes. My issue is my feet hurt all the time due to a past foot injury and surgery. What would someone suggest for comfortable shoes?

  7. Mary Jo, of all the shoes, I have heard that the flying canoe are the most comfortable. Low heeled and sturdy, for someone with foot issues, that might be the best bet. They are always at large national events and often at smaller ones, I would contact them and ask them where they will be, since you must buy them directly and not online.

  8. I have found no colonial shoes that are comfortable for me with swollen feet and a bad knee. My Fugawees won't go on over the swelling, the Flying canoes, which fit, really hurt the knee, as they are stiff and *heavy*. Super heavy! Even though they are quite well fitted to me. If my feet de-swell, the Duchess shoes will fit, and we will see. Even Robert Land, who does custom shoes, couldn't fit me, although he does a great job with many people!

    As can be seen, without custom services, shoes are hard! And, most don't do custom shoes. I'm sure I'll eventually find someone who can make me lighter shoes to actually fit....

    I have fallen back on wearing black stockings and black walking shoes, plain as plain can be, with a velcro monk strap. They are nubuck, and are as close to invisible as I can manage. I only wish that they had a separate heel, rather than a wedge sole. Sometimes one can find them. This is definitely a last choice solution. It requires me to try to keep my feet out of site.

    1. PERFECT advice for the newbie!

      I have had great results with the Burnley and Trowbridge low-heeled shoes and Fugawee Connie. Connie was my first reenacting purchase (after fabric and patterns)and are still in heavy rotation even after being re-soled.

      Colleen I feel your pain about finding well-fitting shoes with complicated feet and knees. I know I will eventually also have to move into something less appropriate.

  9. Hello, I am just getting started. When is the next event where I might be able to try some on?

  10. I have Flying Canoes, American Duchess and I am awaiting Smiling Fox custom made. My dear daughter loves her Burnley and Trowbridges! Of those I own I would most highly recommend Flying Canoe for a FIRST pair for a newbie- Fort Frederick Market Faire is their first event in April. John and Judy ( + sometimes Louis) will custom fit- you- all sorts of manipulations to accommodate corns, bunions crocked toes etc. will seperate a part for 1/2 sz foot differences they'll fit you, tie them on and insist you walk around for a full day- or longer and only then they will they add the buckles for you. You may return as needed to make any adjustments- even years later. Cannot beat that sort of customer service. Only the heals are rubber- and have been great when trying to grip the pavement while taken a cannon downhill! Several in our unit slipped wearing other brands and it was quite dangerous. The American Duchess are comfortable enough but I don't think will last well with in heavy wearing like my FC's. I also think the toes are a bit too rounded looking- but fit is good enough- I am still tying them with ribbons as I have not worn them enough to buckle yet. IMHO