Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How and Why I Make Historical Shoes

Stratford Renaissance Shoes by American Duchess
"Stratford" Elizabethan Shoes - a collaboration by historical cordwainer Francis Classe and American Duchess
I realize lately that many of you may not know my story of how I got into making historical footwear.

Back in 2010, my now-husband Mr. C and I were both freelance creatives - I did illustration, and he did photographer. Not a whole lot was going on with, y'know, getting paid for those services, and the electricity was turned off more than once because we were struggling badly.

At the same time, I was costuming and blogging. Each time I finished a dress, I would stress over what shoes I was going to put with it, because nothing I had was really correct. I was worried about what others would say, and I personally felt that my hard work on the dress itself was tarnished by my poor shoe choices.

I thought that others were surely having this problem with shoes too, and wondered if I could find a way to get some made. So I started asking my blog followers what they thought, and looking for manufacturers, finally finding someone who would make these weird, old-fashioned shoes for a decent price.

The original satin "Georgiana" from 2011
It was important to me that these were shoes that were both beautiful and comfortable, historically accurate, and available nowhere else. There seemed to be a huge lack of pretty-pretty-princess shoes, so that's what I set out to design, starting with just one dyeable satin 18th century pump, which we called "Georgiana" after the Duchess of Devonshire.

The day we opened the pre-order, I was gobsmacked by the response from the costuming community: through our own crowd-funding website, overnight we sold enough "Georgianas" to do the production run. By the end of the 3-week pre-order period, we'd sold 230 pairs. I remember thinking that first night, "this is what I'm going to do with my life now."

Claremont Art Deco 1930s Shoes by American Duchess
Claremont, the "youngest" shoe we've made - from the 1930s
Fast forward three years, and I'm astonished still at the wonderful support of the community. We've certainly had our trials - factory changes, design improvements, trips across the world - but I could never have imagined being able to offer over thirty styles of historical shoes, a line of 18th century shoe buckles, and a selection of beautiful silk stockings.

From day one, the mission has always been the same: to design historically accurate shoes that are gorgeous, comfortable, and exactly what YOU want. Your shoes should make you feel glamorous and irreproachably correct in your period impression, while not inhibiting you from enjoying your events.

Dyeable Georgiana 18th century shoes by American Duchess
The latest version of the dyeable "Georgiana," which has been improved in silhouette, materials, and durability.
We will always strive to create grace and beauty for you, and allow you to explore the past through clothing, keeping history alive one step at a time.

With Much Love and Gratitude,

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Virginia" Renaissance Shoes GIVEAWAY!

Virginia Renaissance Shoes by American Duchess

Today's the day, my darling dears - "Virginia," our new Renaissance shoe, has opened for pre-order, which also means it's giveaway time!

Here's the lo-down on Virginia:

  • All-leather construction: upper, lining, sole
  • T-strap latchets adjust with metal-tipped lacing.
  • Period slashing pattern (topical only, does not go all the way through the shoe - keep the dirt out!)
  • Slightly square toe
  • Period correct for c. 1580 - 1630
  • Available in two colors - dark brown oiled leather -or- tan buffed leather
Renaissance Fair Shoes by American Duchess

Virginia was developed with the help of Jamestown head costumer Chris D., and input from you, our followers. It's a unisex style that works with a variety of Elizabethan and Jacobean clothing, and will keep you comfortable and looking swell all day.

Pre-Order runs October 17 - November 3. Get a free pair of stockings ($25 value) or a $10 cash discount when you place your order during this time. Pre-orders placed also count for 5 points in our giveaway, which means you could get your pair totally free!

Virginia Renaissance Shoes by American Duchess

Now for the giveaway. It's easy as pie, and there are lots of ways to enter. You can do any and all of these, to up your chances to win. The winner will be announced October 24.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget, we DO take EasyPay Layaway orders for pre-order items! Order now, enter the giveaway, and pay it off while your shoes are made and shipped.

Read more about EasyPay here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How One Fugly Loafer Became the Gorgeous "Virginia" Renaissance Shoe

The development story of our new "Virginia" Renaissance shoes is rather a long one (but I'll keep it short, with lots of pictures, promise!). We've been working on the design since March, after I met with Chris D., the head costumer at Jamestown Settlement.

Renaissance Shoes
"Virginia" Renaissance shoes, in oiled or buffed leather
Chris told me they had a need for a flat, unisex Jacobean style that was lightweight, comfortable, and nice to look at it. This lined up with what our customers and followers had been saying on Facebook, so the time was right to create our own. I set to work researching and sketching up some ideas that Chris and I bounced back and forth:
My sketches for various designs, toe shapes, and slashing patterns
Slashing patterns derived from original examples
As usual, though, the first prototype wasn't exactly what we were going for:

Eegads, what is THAT!? Ew!

It was butt ugly.

Though the wedge sole construction is period, to our modern eyes, it just looked like an orthopedic shoe, not at all nice to look at! So it was back to the drawing board:

I don't normally share my factory worksheets, but here's one, to show how I tweak designs. This was a middle iteration, and in the next iteration we did away with the wedge completely, and changed the material.

We eventually did away with the wedge altogether, due to fugliness, and construction weirdness.

Another point of contention was the materials. The smooth leather just didn't have the look and feel we wanted, and contributed to that awful loafer look, so I spent quite awhile hunting for a more suitable leather, and found the lovely oiled leather for the dark, and a buffed leather for the tan:
"Virginia" in brown oiled leather - keep it looking awesome by oiling it further, which will help with water resistance too

"Virginia" in tan buffed leather. Experiments with dyeing are in the works
The final result is a very pretty yet practical shoe that can be worn by both men and women, with a variety of costume. The oiled leather will just look better and better with age, and the all leather construction means comfort as well as historical accuracy.

I'm really proud of "Virginia," and I hope you like them too! It took us awhile, but the results were worth it. Remember, the pre-order for these lovelies opens on Friday!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Quick Look At Late Elizabethan/Early Jacobean Shoes

Today we kick off a series on European footwear at the end of Elizabeth I's reign, and beginning of James I's, culminating on Friday with the pre-order release of our latest early-period shoes, "Virginia."

What better place to start than by looking at originals?  Those of you familiar with our Stratford shoes will be interested to know that flat shoes and heeled were contemporary, and that the aristocracy wore flat shoes as well as heeled, but heeled shoes for classes further down the food chain did not come into common wear until later in the 17th century.

For "Virginia," I worked with the costume designer at Jamestown to develop a unisex style that was similar to a shoe that was excavated from a well at the settlement, seen here:

Shoe leather from an early Jamestown well, with a sketch of the original design
This type of shoe was nothing new. Similar, simple shoes were found on the Mary Rose, dating from 1545, and brought up from the Thames, some exhibiting slashing, cow-mouth, round, or softly square toe shapes, slippers, strap closure, tie closure, and latchet closure. There was quite a variety.
Shoes from The Mary Rose
Mary Rose shoes - via
Mary Rose shoe

Moving towards the end of the 16th century, both men and women start wearing open-sided shoes that are either flat, wedged, or with a short, blocky heel. Toe shapes, slashing patterns, and colors varied:

Sir Jerome Bowes, by an unknown artist, c. 1584
Sir Anthony Mildmay, by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1585 - he's got quite pointed toes
Elizabeth I, by an artist of the English school, c. 1592
The Browne Brothers, by Isaac Oliver, 1598 - you can see not all shoes were white (that was a very aristocratic/royalty/court thing)
Round about 1600 is where we get our closest "Virginia" ancestor:

V and A, English origin, c. 1600
And after 1600, folks of all classes were wearing some version of this shoe (but not exclusively this type, remember!). The side openings gradually got larger later into the century:

Prince Henry, sone of James I, c. 1608
Charles-Alexandre de Croy, Flemish, 1610
Sir Thomas Pope, c. 1635 - still flat, square-toed, quite large opening on the side, and black. Love his jaunty pink stockings, too!
There are still some stragglers later in the 17th century, but by about the 1670s, shoes started to change significantly, and we're moving into high, French-heeled territory.

So there's a basic primer on this particular shoe style of this specific time period. Next time, I'll share more about Virginia's development, with tantalizing photos, and enticing reasons why you simply must have them for your next Renaissance Fair!