History of Button-Down Shoes

By Lamonica Gomez

High-button shoes seem so tedious and difficult, but what they lacked in convenience they more than made for in style and their statement. A high button shoe was a design of shoe made of leather with a row of small buttons that fastened an extra flap of leather over the front of it. It usually had a small heel and was generally worn as a day shoe. It rose to popularity in 1870 and stayed there until about 1914, at the beginning of World War I.

History of Button-Down Shoes

Typical Wardrobe

Typical wardrobe of a late 1800's women

Button-down shoes were not exactly easy to slip on. However, as with many items of women's apparel, style trumps ease. The shoes were often paired with high-neck dresses and blouses, long, full skirts and sleeves so the only part of the woman's body that could often be seen was a glimpse of her shoes. The clothes were loose and meant to cover to ensure modesty at all times.

Shoes and Women

High button shoes were the biggest trend at a time when modesty was a woman's greatest virtue. The shoes replaced the "dainty boot" a flatter bootie made of suede, leather or silk, with a square toe. They generally rose to a little above the ankle. The dainty boots were fastened by laces on the side of the boot in contrast to the high button shoes' more secure buttons. With the invention of a new sewing machine that allowed for buttons to be attached with more ease, and at a faster rate, the high-button shoe quickly became the latest trend.

Button Hooks

High button shoes and button hooks

Due to the buttons being so small in size and many in number, a button hook was used to assist putting on and taking off the shoes. "Once the shoes were on the feet, the hook was threaded through each small buttonhole, then hooked around the button and pulled back out, buttoning the shoe," according to "Fashion Encyclopedia." The button hook wasn't just useful---when it first came out it was also a sign of prestige and sophistication, until it became so popular that it was then deemed common.

The Gibson Girl

Camille Clifford the "Gibson Girl"

Charles Gana Gibson created the image of the Gibson Girl at the height of the high-button shoes rage. The idea of the image represented women at the time as beautiful, independent and alluring creatures, while fully covered. The Gibson Girl wardrobe included her hair in a high coif, a button blouse, a full skirt, high-button shoes and a corset underneath her clothes to achieve an hourglass figure. Camille Clifford, a famous actress of the early 1900s, was the ideal Gibson Girl.

The Demise of High-Button Shoes

After World War I, people began to see the appeal of ready-to-wear apparel, especially after leather had been in short supply during the war. In terms of fashion, the "flapper style" soon overshadowed the Gibson Girl style, leading to the demise of the high-button shoe.