If the vintage shoes fits...then read these 11 shopping tips before splurging on a seemingly exclusive pair.
What girl doesn't have a bit of a shoe-shopping habit? From strappy sandals to Mary-Janes to impossibly seductive pumps, the shoe varieties out there are endless. Finally, you can indulge in all the shoe goodness you crave without breaking the bank. Vintage Shoes is a century-long journey through the key designs, technical developments, and cultural influences that shape shoe fashions. With its luscious photos and original sketches from luminaries such as Christian Louboutin, Vivienne Westwood and Manolo Blahnik, Vintage Shoes is a visual delight and an invaluable guide to the art of shoe shopping. In the excerpt below, fashion authority Caroline Cox explains where to buy vintage shoes and, more importantly, how to tell the difference between collectors' items and not-so-collectible ones.
Shopping and Collecting
In the early twenty-first century there has been a new consumer awakening as people have come to their senses and realized that collecting vintage is the most eco-friendly way of buying fashion -- it's a perfect example of recycling. The other beauty of collecting vintage is that you can get an item that no one else has and that's why it's become somewhat of an international pastime. Footwear designers unashamedly pay homage to designs of the past and consequently over the last few years there has been an increasing demand for vintage shoes, as they can sometimes be almost indistinguishable from their modern counterparts. Miu Miu's homage to Terry de Havilland's platform shoes in the early 2000s are an obvious example and had an added bonus -- they made the 1970s originals much sought-after and led to a resurrection of the original designer's career. De Havilland's gorgeous pop-art python skin heels now regularly sell for high prices at auction.
Where to Buy
There are obvious outlets for vintage shoes: specialist vintage clothing fairs; retro clothing markets like Portobello Road and Brick Lane in London and the Cligancourt flea-market in Paris; vintage retail outfits such as Exquisite Fashion in New York and Gray's Antique Centre in London; and of course the Internet. Charity and thrift shops are also surprisingly good for vintage shoes, despite having dried up as a source for most other forms of vintage, because the market is still relatively new and untapped and the names of couture shoe designers are far less well known than those associated with clothes. It is still possible to pick up a pair of original stilettos by Salvatore Ferragamo or a pair of 1940s wedges, for instance, because they have been mistaken for the modern version. There are several ways of recognizing a collectible vintage shoe:
• The very best -- including Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, Courreges and Beth Levine -- will have a griffe or designer label inside and these are the ones to collect. The vintage shoes that hold their value are by individual designers rather than mainstream manufacturers. So look for a designer's name like Seymour Troy rather than a corporate brand such as Dolci's.
• The most expensive designer shoes will be completely made of leather, including a leather lining and will say so: "all leather" if English, "cuir" if French, "vero cuio" if Italian.
• Look for leather that is stitched together rather than glued, as again, this suggests a higher quality and hand-made shoe.
• Remember that some synthetic shoes are still collectible, particularly from the 1960s when many of the top designers such as Beth Levine experimented with plastics.
• Original 1950s stilettos will have metal heel tips, not plastic ones.
• Many original manufacturer's labels before the 1960s are written in a calligraphic "signature" style rather than in modern typography.
To Wear or Not to Wear?
Collectors recognize that many vintage shoes are of a quality that is rarely found today. Techniques like hand-sewn seams and delicate detailing are too expensive to be incorporated into the modern processes of manufacturing footwear. Shoes from the past can also be in quite fragile condition, particularly if they date from the days of cobbling when investing in a pair of shoes was an expensive, long-term purchase and they would have been looked after and worn for many years. So should one wear such fragile objects or, like some collectors, use them to make a decorative statement instead? Many diehard collectors would regard putting on vintage shoes to pound the streets as a sacrilege and instead keep their special finds wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and out of direct sunlight, with a photograph stuck to the front of each box for easy recognition. It must be remembered that many women's shoes from the past were not designed for practicality and nineteenth-century slippers would fall apart if walked for the distances we expect today.
Another reason why vintage shoes remain unworn by many collectors is the question of fit. It is very difficult to find a perfect fit between a vintage shoe and a modern foot because forty years ago feet were considerably smaller -- or women pretended they were. Shoes tended to err on the small and narrow side because of the worship of the small and delicate female foot, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is much easier to find larger fitting shoe sizes from the 1970s onwards, as this was the era when the fashion for the clumpy shoe took off; there are bargains to be had from these decades that easily fit in with today's retro-inspired fashions. But if you are determined to collect vintage shoes that fit, the following steps should be taken to avoid blisters.
• Like any shoe, make sure there is enough space at the end to flex your toes. If your foot moves out of the heel when walking, buy an insole for a snug fit.
• If you are buying shoes from eBay or any similar Internet auction site, take no notice of the size that is quoted in the description -- shoe sizes from the past vary wildly. Ask the seller for exact width and length measurements and see if they match your feet before purchase. Some sellers also will accept returns so make sure you check their conditions of sale; you may be able to send a pair back if you‘re not happy with your purchase.
• If the shoes are a little tight, don't despair. It is possible to stretch them a little. For leather, take the shoe and dampen the pinching area with a 50–50 mix of water and methylated spirit or specialist leather lotion and then insert into a shoe stretcher or shoe tree where it should stay until it has dried. If the shoe is synthetic, place it on a shoe stretcher or shoe tree and warm carefully with a hair dryer while pulling it into shape.
• It's very difficult to track down pairs in unworn or very good used condition because shoes, unlike other kinds of retro accessories, were worn, mended and re-mended until they were worn out. As a result, it is fairly unlikely that a collector would find an unused, pristine pair in their original box, but it does happen, especially with 1980s shoes when designer shoes were displayed as trophy items and sometimes hardly worn.
• Finding shoes that date from before the twentieth century is a pretty rare occurrence, but a tip for dating a rare early shoe is to look at the soles. Before the mid-nineteenth century there was no clear distinction between the left foot or the right; shoes were interchangeable and had identically shaped soles.
Despite recent interest in all things vintage, there are bargains to be had out there. For example, it's much cheaper to buy a pair of Chanel shoes than a blouse or belt, and there is a specific cultural reason for this -- people are squeamish about other people's feet. A vintage dress can be easily cleaned, but shoes less so, and many bear the imprint of the previous owner's feet, which can be off-putting to some vintage clothes enthusiasts. Shoes tend to have a bit more wear and tear than other items of vintage clothing and it's sometimes difficult to disguise. But a suede brush, a shoe shine kit and a pair of insoles can work wonders, and remember that buying vintage is the best way to stand out from the main street crowd.
From Vintage Shoes: Collecting and Wearing Twentieth Century Designer Footwear. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. copyright text © 2008 Caroline Cox. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.Article