Last year I didn’t make it to the fashion museum. I’m not even sure that they had a new exhibition. But with a day off and some time to myself, I jumped on the train to Bath for a day of museum mooching. This year’s exhibition is called Shoephoria and as the name suggests is all about shoes. Do check it out if you get a chance.
The curators have taken two approaches to the exhibit. First, shoes have been included in the permanent exhibition of 100 objects which traces fashion through the centuries. Then, there is a second exhibition totally dedicated to the shoes which are grouped in themes such as Walking, Dancing, Sport and so on. They have also done of fantastic job of including plenty of interesting local details in the exhibition.
Do you remember the TV series Sex and the City? Of course you do! And Carrie’s favourite brand of shoe? Manolo Blahnik, of course! I never knew that Manolo Blahnik is a Bath resident and many of the shoes in this exhibition are from his private collection.
Manolo is particularly influenced by the fashions of the eighteenth century: “I definitely belong to the eighteenth century…The eighteenth century is the most feminine and remarkably elegant period in history. Even men had heels!” This is definitely something that I can see here with this collection of high-heeled shoes in brocade fabrics and adorned with buckles, beads and embroidery.
There are also a number of shoes which are exhibited with the original design drawings.
Must admit these striking boots caught my attention:
In the museum the first rooms feature A History of Fashion. The oldest shoes in the museum are the red velvet slippers on the left from around 1690. The petticoat pictured behind the shoes is from the same time period and is embroidered with crewel embroidery. The petticoat would have been visible at the front of the dress.
The fabric for the dress and pair of shoes below was woven around 1740. As is the case with many period dresses made of expensive fabrics, the dress was remodelled in a later style in the late 1700s. I’m impressed that the shoes still survive along with the dress, but perhaps they weren’t worn with the dress once it was remodelled.
These are pattens. They consist of a wooden sole raised on an iron ring. The wearer would have worn their normal shoes and strapped the pattens on top, so that they were lifted several centimetres above the ground, protecting their shoes and hems. In Persuasion, Jane Austen writes
“the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens…these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures”
These boots date from the early nineteenth century. At this time breeches have given way to trousers and so men mostly wore shoes. But of course, going riding still called for boots.
These boots, from the 1840s have elasticated sides. They were a very popular design at the time, as they didn’t have fiddly buttons or laces. The use of elastic was the invention of Joseph Sparkes Hall of Regent Street, London in 1837. He presented his prototype to Queen Victoria who was apparently delighted with the design.
The Shoephoria exhibition itself starts with a Wearer’s walkway. Each photo is a record of a local person and their life during the lockdown winter of 2021, such as Anthea below.
In the Walk section, these Roman sandals feature with the other sandals. They were found in an archaeological excavation in the city.
Among all the walking shoes, there are these purple blades. They belong to Harmonie-Rose from Bath, who lost her arms and legs to meningitis as a baby. She has had lots of prosthetic limbs and these were her first blades. Apparently she loves walking on blades.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, flat shoes such as these lace-ups were becoming popular. They were ideal for Regency ladies going for a country walk.
Another part of the exhibition shows shoes for parties and celebrations. These party shoes are both from the early twentieth century. The ones on the left were worn for a presentation. This is where debutantes were presented to the sovereign in a ceremony to mark their entry into society.
These tiny slippers were made in China as wedding slippers and were for a bride with bound feet. The red silk has phoenix designs embroidered on them.
Next, there are all the different types of shoes for sport. Here, we can see the evolution of the football boot. In the top left-hand corner is a pair of boots from 1947 in sturdy brown leather. They were hardly worn as they were outgrown quickly.
And for roller-skating….
The dance shoes below were worn by Ginger Rogers in the musical Mame at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London.
Then returning back to the every day, the slippers on the left were made at a Make Do and Mend class run by the Womens’ Institute in the 1940s. They have a crochet sole and rabbit fur lining. It’s hard to believe that the brown Oxford shoes in the middle of this photo were bought in 1933. They were polished and repaired impeccably by their owner.
The final entry, as usual, in the museum is the “Dress of the Year”. For 2019 it is this pink confection by Giambattista Valli. The trend was further popularised by the the pink tulle dress worn by Villanelle in Killing Eve.
This outfit represents fashion in 2020. According to Professor Webb, the fashion writer conversations surrounding fashion weren’t just changing, “the entire landscape had shifted.”. This outfit is created from khaki-coloured scrubs, and features a Black Lives Matter slogan; definitely marking a moment in time.