The slipper in the East actually dates back to the 12thcentury, where the earliest recording is that of a dynasty officer in what is now known as Vietnam, singing the virtues of slippers and describing them in their primitive form of a thong of leather between the toes like a ‘flip flop’ with an outer leather sole.
Slippers also hide a darker story of captivity. The chosen woman of a Sultan’s harem would each be given only slippers to wear for they were easy to slip on and off, so not to damage the expensive Persian rugs. But more importantly, they prevented the women from considering an escape, as the flimsiness of the slipper construction would not enable them to travel far over outdoor terrain.
In Japan it is customary to remove shoes and wear slippers when entering any property. They even had designated toilet slippers that were only ever worn when nature called! (My Japanese friend reliably informs me that this tradition is practically redundant).
In the western world, slippers were first recorded around the latter part of the 15thcentury and by the mid 16thcentury they were commonplace amongst the rich. Men in particular liked to have slippers made to match their outfits, which were often in bright silks and velvets. Not to be outdone, women adopted the ‘chopine’. This impractical slipper was mounted on a 30cm high platform making it virtually impossible to walk in.
Slippers were highly decorated with ribbons, bows, silk flowers and faux jewels and only ever intended for wear inside the home, so overshoes called ‘pantofles’ or ‘pattens’ were invented to slip over the slippers should the owner decide to nip outside!
When we move on to the Victorian era it is the gents’ slippers that once again gained fame. The Prince Albert Slipper, named after Queen Victoria’s husband, was the quintessential English gentleman’s attire. Worn by the aristocracy, these velvet slippers, with a quilted silk lining and leather outsole were matched with velvet smoking jackets and a cravat. These so-called ‘smoking slippers’ were durable, comfortable and soon became fashionable to wear outside the home by both sexes.
In 1881 a young innovative American travelling shoe salesman, Daniel Green, started to produce felt slippers after seeing factory workers make their own from off cuts in a felt mill. In the first year he sold 600 pairs, two years later he was selling 24,000. He experimented with different colour felt and styles to be worn both inside and outside the home. Later, the company diversified into making some of the most adorable and stylish slippers. The Daniel Green Company is still thriving today.
In the 20thcentury, slippers became available to the general population through mass production. In the 20s and 30s, slippers had cute little Cuban heels and could easily be mistaken for regular outdoor shoes. The late 1940s and 1950s (particularly in America), saw sex siren slippers made from satin and silk, with high heels and open toes and fur or feather embellishments. The 60s and 70s saw towelling flat slippers and the popularity of the moccasin and the 80s and 90s were the decades of the novelty slippers in which you were unable to navigate any stairs.
So, for lovers of vintage slippers, it is a travesty to keep those little ‘darlings’ under wraps – weather and terrain permitting, go forth and showcase your foot attire. When you slip into them, spare a little thought for their colourful history. I doubt if they will fetch the million pound price tag at auction like the red ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, but they will make you feel like a Goddess.
Model: Amelia Belle
Images: Pin Up Academy
Words: Genista Davidson
Art & Fashion Historian