If there is one thing that can make or break an entire vintage style, it is the shoes. Modern style shoes worn with a vintage dress or suit can ruin the overall vintage feel of your outfit quickly. The best solution is to buy vintage shoes. The materials, the colors, and the design can’t be matched by modern shoes. However the disadvantage of vintage shoes is a lack of comfort, durability, and size availability. Modern shoes have evolved to fit modern feet, made with more comfortable materials, and come in a wide variety of sizes and widths that were unavailable in the past.

Fortunately for us many new shoes today are either reductions of past shoe styles or have enough designs elements of old styles to still look vintage. With a little bit of shoe history research and a keen eye, you may be able to find a pair of vintage style shoes at your local shoe store.  Online the wealth of shoe options is even greater but it requires a lot of looking for the right pair.

Here are some tips on what shoe styles to look for:
The roaring Twenties were all about t-strap and Mary Jane shoes for women. Black or brown were the most common choices for daywear with pastel or jewel tone colors for evening wear (must match your dress!) Heels were low with 1-3 inches high being standard. Avoid open toe shoes, thin tall heels, or strappy sandals. T-straps were will very common in the Thirties with even more brogue, or punch out, details all over the shoe. The more casual Cuban heel oxford shoe for women is what really screams Thirties! They came in a variety of light and dark colors to coordinate with your day dresses.

By the Forties more shoe styles became available for women. With the restrictions during the war in place, shoes were made of synthetic leather material, reptile skins, and fabrics. The popular wedge shoe with or without a peep toe became very popular. Low and thick heeled strapless pumps were also common every day shoes. Colors were rich browns, greens, and grey. The overall look of Forties shoes was very sturdy and chunky. Avoid tall or narrow heels or shoes with think soles. Wedges will be the easiest to find just don’t go overboard on the height unless you want a pin-up look.

The Fifties were when shoes started to look more like the classic modern shoes we still wear today. Gradually heeled pumps became taller and thinner. Sandals became more open and strappy with a wide variety of color combinations. Women owned more pairs of shoes to coordinate with their many  outfits. Casual flat sneakers were a big trend along with black ballet flats with cute little bows on the vamp. The classic Fifties saddle shoe was also popular with teens and kids. Into the Sixties dress pumps were what every woman wore. Short, thin, kitten heels lasted the entire decade.

For the gents popular men’s shoes were lace up cap toe oxfords in a medium brown. Black in winter or white in summer were other popular colors. Punch out holes around the seams or across the vamp in a wingtip design became common in the later Twenties and early Thirties. Two tone black and white, brown and white, or brown and brown shoes were started in the Twenties and remained in fashion through the Fifties.

Boat shoes and penny loafers picked up interest in the Thirties and Forties as fashions became more casual. By the Fifties men were wearing Chelsea boots, monk straps, and fancy pointed winkelpickers in addition to the standard lace up dress shoe. Men will have an easier time finding new shoes with vintage style then women, with the exception of two tone shoes which are less common in local stores. For the best vintage styles look for classic brown, black and white  or two tone leather lace ups with brogue detailing and wingtip patterns. Avoid rugged soles and very pointed toes and stick to smooth soles and rounded toes that are more common with formal shoes.

Wearing a new pair of vintage style shoes will be a breath of fresh air for your feet. Save you vintage shoes for light, occasional wear, and help them last a few more decades.






The Vintage Dancer is Debbie Sessions, a vintage fashion, dance and history buff with an eye for seeing vintage style in new fashions. She teaches practical fashion history on her blog and in her books, 1940s Style Guide and 1920’s Style Guide. She also helps shoppers find vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories from all over the web.