The Game's Afoot: the story of shoes

The Game's Afoot: the story of shoes

Saturday 21 March 2020

Please be aware that due to concerns about the current coronavirous outbreak, this event has been postponed to the 20th March 2021.


Historically shoes have always been a signifier of status and wealth and the more decorative and difficult to walk in the less functional they become. Today our desire for comfort in shoes, as in clothes, helped along by advances in textile technology, has led to function and fashion becoming more closely aligned.

Who would have thought that today virtually everyone from children taking their first steps to octogenarians trying to stay mobile would be wearing the same type of shoe, the trainer, which started life as a sports shoe. This study day will look at the history of fashionable shoes from Roman times to present day.

A great opportunity to wear your favourite, most outrageous sparkly trainers, impossible heels, or charity shop moccasins!

Hilary Freeman will start the day with ‘Edward Green Shoes’. Worn by Ernest Hemmingway and Edward, the Duke of Windsor, their shoes, the company claims, embody the timeless elegance of quintessentially English style. As Fred Astaire once wrote, “If you want to know if a fellow is well dressed, look down.”

Established in 1890 by the 12 year old Edward in Northampton ‘Edward Green Shoes’ is still thriving with sixty skilled artisans making around 350 pairs of shoes a week, many for export to the world’s leading boutiques and department stores and to their our own shops in London and Paris.

Thomas Turner is an historian and an expert in the histories of consumption, product design and popular culture. His latest publication ‘The Sports Shoe: A History from Field to Fashion’ will be the basis of his presentation focusing on the invention of the Victorian Tennis shoe to the emergence of the desirable fashion trainer, or sneaker as the Americans call it. This is a story of social change, sport, fashion, industry and technology.

After lunch we go back further in time with Rebecca Shawcross, Senior Shoe Curator at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Followers of Shoe Fashions will look at shoe fashions from the Roman times to the present day. Encompassing the distinctly lewd medieval poulaine, the delicate flats of the early nineteenth century and the 70s platform, this talk takes in all the highs and lows of shoe fashions. It is illustrated with images of shoes from the Designated Shoe Collection at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

Rebecca Shawcross has worked with the shoe collection since 1998 and is responsible for management, exhibitions, research and enquiries, talks and advising other museums and the media. She has published various articles on shoes and her book Shoes: An Illustrated History was published by Bloomsbury in 2014.

Alison Fairhurst, a freelance textile conservation consultant and researcher, will conclude the day with Shoes and Shoe Shopping in the Eighteenth Century. An examination of how women’s shoe styles and production varied over the century, not only according to fashion but also to societal, economical and industrial changes. The process of buying shoes also changed with the introduction of shoe warehouses, off-the-shelf products and the ready availability of the second-hand market.

Alison lectures on textile conservation at the University of Lincoln. Her PhD thesis “The Materials, Construction and Conservation of Eighteenth-century Women’s Shoes” shows how shoes can be used as an historical source and the important role the conservator has in the management of shoes as heritage assets.

No report available.