Manufacture and Materials

The greatest changes in this period came with new inventions. Patent leather comes into general use in the 1790’s. This innovation coincided with craze for high gloss. This was a time when secret recipes for blacking and rumours that Beau Brummel’s valet cleaned his master’s boots in champagne circulated throughout Europe. America had not yet caught up to Europe’s level of technology, so patent leather did not begin North American manufacture until the next period, in 1822.

The second major innovation comes toward the end of this age. Heels are abandoned in about 1800, and right and left shoes are reintroduced to the world. With the development of the pantograph later in the century, the idea of right and left shoes has remained unchanged since this time.

Leathers for men’s shoes became lighter in the 1780’s. Colours such as red, white and yellow emerged. The whole shoe, in fact, became lighter in construction and appearance. Patent leather was manufactured, giving the ultimate high gloss finish to leather.
Heels were abandoned for shoes, and right and left shoes reappear. With the return of flats, it became less difficult to make a mirror image pair of lasts. Rights and lefts gradually ousted straights, though women were slower to adopt them then men. In the United States, rights and lefts are said to have been “invented” by a fashionable bootmaker, William Young, of Philadelphia, in 1800. Though he may have been the first to manufacture them in North America, they are certainly seen in Europe before this time.

Steel tips and heels are used for the first time for boots of Dandies.

Women’s shoes were primarily of soft kid leathers, rather than cloth.