In the 1950s, the shoe industry was breaking production records nearly every year. In 1955 there were 576,000,000 pairs of shoes produced in the U.S. alone, which, at the time, was a record. New lasts, constructions and techniques were employed during the fifties to ensure better flexibility and fit, while achieving a lighter weight and softness.Innovations included molded sole constructions that brought the shoe bottoms over the foot. In women’s shoes styles, silhouettes, leathers and heel heights played important roles, and also the relatively new phenomenon of having a “shoe for every occasion” were an integral part of increased consumption.
In June 1956, fashion designers revived the 1912 Poiret-period clothes with all their elegance, refinements and luxurious materials — and women’s shoes reflected this influence. Closed shoes were also gaining in favor, particularly in pump styles. T-straps, spat and gaiter types, reminiscent of pre-WWI days, were rebooted into modernity.
Men’s shoes designers focused their efforts on lighter weights, slimmer silhouettes, new leathers, textures and colors.
In children’s shoes, the demand continued for styles resembling adult shoes such as pumps and one-strap shell silhouettes.
Casuals in men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes — for sport or leisure — were more popular than ever. The U.S. led the world in the production of leather footwear, and from 1950 accounted for almost 40% of world shoe production.
Women’s Shoe Styles in the 1950s
The 1950s saw the astonishing rise in popularity of the stiletto heel. Designers competed with one another to see who could make the skinniest heel. Women loved how the shoes made them taller, but they weren’t very comfortable.
But as time went on, stilettos were more known for the sex appeal than for the practicality as walking devices. Women wore a whole lot more shoe styles than stilettos in the 1950s.
For the schoolgirl, most often she wore penny loafers, vamps with notches and kilts, saddle shoes or ballet shoes. Women, young and old alike, also enjoyed a wide variety of sandals and slippers.
Colors ranged from earthy to obnoxiously loud. Women could buy shoes that were literally any color in the 1950s. Some shoes had prints and patterns, others were solid colored.
A couple other popular shoes styles from the 1950s include squaw moccasins, wedges and boots. But the boots weren’t the high, tight, leather kind. They were the fur-lined work boots style boots. Either that or galoshes.
For the most part, in the 1950s, women preferred their shoes to be small and petite.
Men’s Shoe Styles in the 1950s
For men, shoe styles didn’t change much from the decades preceding. Basketball players still wore Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars and businessmen wore wingtips. Many men’s dress shoes did not have shoelaces.
Men liked to wear moccasins around the house and some shoes had zippers. Penny loafers were also a popular around-the-house choice.
Because western TV shoes were so popular, boys loved to wear cowboy boots. No boy’s wardrobe was complete without a pair of Roy Rogers boots.
Most men’s shoes were made out of leather and they didn’t vary much in color. Black or brown was the common color of the day. Every once in a while you’d see some really flashy shoes with bright red in them, but they were more often Italian and expensive. Men’s shoes became more colorful in the late 1950s.
Designers loved to adorn shoes with tassels in the 1950s and some shoes had fancy patterns on the inside.
For both men and women, slippers were a very important part of daily life. A large amount of families depended on the fireplace for warmth in the homestead and a lot of those homes were quite drafty. Not having slippers meant having ice cubes for toes.
Check out the catalog scans below to get a glimpse of exactly what shoes people bought in the 1950s.