Monday, December 26, 2011

Shoe Buckles: A brief history

At the time of the American War of Independence men wore shoe buckles. Often these remain the only surviving artifact of the shoe when buried in the ground for years. Now shoe buckle collections have become highly prized by collectors but also are used by historians to date military campsites and battlefields. Distinctive workmanship, even in military style can pin point origin of source. The majority of buckles were made in England and exported to the colonies. Buckles became coveted trophies of manliness and were displayed with pride as they were handed down through families. Sometimes made in semi precious metals they were often displayed on belts, like horse brasses. Later these were worn around the waste. The belt buckle developed from the large shoe buckle and incorporated military design. These were impractical for working drovers but eventually found a prominent place in modern cowboy outfit. The larger than life style was popularised by the celluloid heroes of early Hollywood. Manufacturers eagerly catered for the growing vogue by producing fancy sterling and gold buckles for both men and women. The fashion zenith for glamorous belt and shoe buckles was in the 1930s. Shoe buckles were originally worn by monks in the Dark Ages, but flamboyant cavaliers looked to wear ostentatious footwear they rediscovered the buckle. Sartorially this starkly contrasted with Puritans wore plain clothes including footwear without decoration. The plain look lasted for the duration of Oliver Cromwell reign but a resurgence of finery came during the Restoration brought the buckle back into fashion. Initially shoe roses replaced these, about 1675. Made of the finest materials, trimmed with gold lace, pearls and spangles, roses grew to enormous proportions. Finally the buckle returned and although sober by comparison these were made from the metal titania and soon became the symbol of wealth. The shoes of men of distinction of the 18th century were found on the end of tights, during this time shoe jewellery reached its zenith. The demand for shoe buckles was enormous and the industry was centred on Birmingham, England, where it employed thousands. Dandies openly boasted of owning fifty or more different types of buckles. Silver or gold gilt buckles were popular everyday wear with bejellewed fasteners kept for special occasions. Jewelers and shoemakers were challenged to keep up with demands for novelty designs. Street robberies were common and many men took to wearing costume jeweled buckles. Marconis continued to sport precious metal trimmed buckles and had their heels fitted with metal tips to give an audible click as they fearlessly strolled along the cobbled streets. The demise of the buckle for men coincided with the French Revolution when conservative laces (shoe string) replaced ostentatious buckles, bows and roses. Ironically lacing shoes had been considered too effeminate for the macho, mincing Dandies and Macaronis but now the style became ubiquitous because to wear anything else might suggest privilege. Meantime women's shoes which had been simple heelless slippers made from sumptuous materials began to be decorated with semi precious stones and buckles.

References
Ball JD Costume Jewelers: The golden age of design
Western Buckles (http://www.buckles.com/)
Calver & Bolton History Written with Pick and Shovel.
Grimms J L Archaeological Investigation of Fort Ligonier Fort Ligonier Association, Ligonier, PA 15658 (724) 238-9701.
Neuman and Kravic Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.
Western Buckles (http://www.buckles.com/)
Wright T 1922 The romance of the shoe being the history of shoemaking London: Farncombe & Sons.

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