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A brief history of flat shoes
The flat pump or ballet flat is now a must-have item in every woman’s wardrobe. But back in the 1500s it was the men that were cavorting round in these ultra-comfy ‘pompes’.
In fact, until the 16th century, flat shoes had been the choice for both men and women through the ages. The wealthy women of ancient Egypt wore flat sandals made from braided papyrus leaves, and decorated with jewels for a bit of sparkle. And the flat Roman sandal, with its sturdy leather sole, was ideal for all those excursions across Europe.
By medieval times the flat shoe was still in vogue but had now morphed into the long and pointy, and rather impractical, ‘poulaines’. The length of the shoe reflected someone’s social standing: commoners were ordered to wear shoes no longer than 6 inches; a Knight was allowed up to 18 inches; and a Baron could sport a pair of shoes up to 24 inches in length. Imagine running for the bus in those?
It was the pint-sized Catherine de Medici who, in 1533, first kicked up her heels. On the occasion of her wedding to Henri Duke of Orleans, she asked her cobbler to add an extra two inches to her wedding shoes.
And throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, high-heels became the norm for the ladies and gentleman of the royal courts (giving us the term well-heeled). Ladies’ shoes would often be decorated with pearls, fur and jewels. And the actual heels of Kings Louis XIV and XV depicted miniature battle scenes.
The return of the flat shoe
At the beginning of the French revolution in 1789, the high-heel became synonymous with aristocracy and was thought to be vulgar and ostentatious. And when it-girl Marie-Antoinette stepped up to the gallows in her heels in 1793, the fashion moment had passed and heels soon fell out of favour.
For most of the 1800s, and during the industrial revolution, flat shoes, sandals and boots were a practical choice for both sexes. The heel didn’t appear again until the late 1800s but, this time round, exclusively for women.
Flat shoes in the 20th Century
In 1957 when Audrey Hepburn slipped on her ballet flats, Capri pants and oversized sunglasses in Funny Face: an icon was born. And we fell in love with flat shoes all over again. Jackie Kennedy reportedly loved the chic ballet flat so much – she ordered new pairs every month from her favourite designers.
Flat pumps today
The flat pump or ballet flat has now been a firm favourite for women of all ages for the last fifty years. But what makes them so loved in the 21st century?
The ballet flat is smart enough for the board room, practical enough for the school run, and sassy enough to wear out on the town. They’re comfortable in the country (think long skirts and wrap tops). And cool enough for the city (think skinny jeans, minis and opaques). Ballet flats are comfy but never boring. They’re sensible and still sexy. And they come in heaps of colours. What’s not to love?
Browse our online shop to see our full range of gorgeous ballet flats, slippers, evening shoes, and bridal pumps.