What is it about a pair of shoes that so enchants women of all ages, demographics, political affiliations, and style tribes? Part social history, part fashion record, part pop-culture celebration, Women from the Ankle Down seeks to answer that question as it unfolds the story of shoes in the twentieth century.
The tale begins in the rural village of Bonito, Italy, with a visionary young shoemaker named Salvatore Ferragamo and ends in New York City with a fictional socialite and trendsetter named Carrie Bradshaw. Along the way it stops in Hollywood, where Judy Garland first slipped on her ruby slippers; New Jersey, where Nancy Sinatra heard something special in a song about boots; and the streets of Manhattan, where a transit-worker strike propelled women to step into cutting-edge athletic shoes. Fashion aficionado Rachelle Bergstein shares the stories behind these historical moments, interweaving the design innovations and social changes that gave each one its lasting significance and appeal.
Bergstein shows how the story of shoes is the story of women, told from the ankle down. Beginning with the well-heeled suffragettes in the 1910s, women have fought for greater freedom and mobility, a struggle that exploded in the 1960s with the women's liberation movement and culminated in the new millennium with our devotion to personal choice. Featuring interviews with designers, historians, and cultural experts, and a cast of real-life characters, from Marilyn Monroe to Jane Fonda, from Gwen Stefani to Manolo Blahnik, Women from the Ankle Down is a lively, compelling look at the evolution of modern women and the fashion that reflects—and has shaped—their changing lives.
One thing I was reminded of while reading this book: I really need a new pair of classic black pumps.First of all, Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us by Rachelle Bergstein is really a book about women’s shoes. There are mentions of men’s shoes, but not many — let’s face it, men’s shoes are boring. Most of this book is about women’s shoes and how they evolved and what influenced them.There is a lot of interesting information in this book about modern shoes. If you’re looking for ancient shoes, for the history of foot-binding, look somewhere else. This little book starts with “Ferragamo and the Wartime Wedge (1900-1938)” and runs through Sex and the City (“Shoes and the Single Girl (1998-2008)”). Lots of detail about how certain styles evolved and how shoes go in and out of style, along with some interesting bits of shoe lore.I love shoes! Sadly, my work requires mostly sensible shoes now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t drool over the latest styles (although I cannot wait for the hooker-platform fad to pass — can’t happen soon enough). I enjoyed getting a bit of insight into what was fashionable and what was controversial in different generations (who would have thought of ballet flats as rebellious?). I also didn’t know that shoes were actually rationed during the war:“As it was, the ration stipulated not only how many shoes consumers could buy but also what kind of shoes the footwear industry was permitted to produce going forward…For women, the shoe ration instantly outlawed flourishes which had become the quintessence of a varied shoe collection.”The American government even limited the colors that could be used in shoe production to 4 — black, white, town brown and army russet. Heel heights were regulated and so were the height of boots.Bergstein covers the rise of Birkenstocks, the influence of the movies on shoes (and vice versa) and Girl Power, Saturday Night Fever and the battle between Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. What she doesn’t do is provide a single photograph! Unless photos were added in the finished version (mine was an uncorrected proof), I think it’s a huge gap.read more
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This history of (mainly) women’s shoes pretty much starts in 1900, the point in history when women’s skirts became short enough to show their shoes, and when the making of shoes changed from a craftsman’s job of creating one pair at a time to factories that made hundreds of pairs in a day. This lowered the price of shoes to the point where the average person could afford more than one pair of shoes, and shoe obsessions could begin. The author intersperses biographies of famous shoemakers- Ferragamo, Choo, Blahnik, Louboutin- with tales of how war time rationing affected shoe designs and materials, how Hollywood influenced shoe design, how changes in society required different shoes, how Jane Fonda made athletic shoes acceptable as everyday wear by adults, and how different subcultures need different footwear. She also connects shoe height with both the economy and the status of the wearer. It’s a fast, interesting read, combining fashion history with social history. I really enjoyed the book – I just wish the illustrations had been in the advanced reader copy!read more
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The evolution of women's shoes since WWII becomes the story of women's self-empowerment in this engaging, toe-to-heel study by editorial consultant Bergstein. Aside from some fluffy conclusions about shoes offering women the requisite "incomparable opportunity for self-expression," Bergstein takes some iconic styles over the decades, such as Salvatore Ferragamo's cork-soled wartime wedgie, and provides minibios and fascinating informational tidbits: e.g., Ferragamo's 1938 sandal ingeniously employed material readily available on the eve of war, such as foil and cork, combined with a style dating back to ancient Greece, to create a shoe that was wonderfully comfortable and modern-feeling for new women on the go. Shoes can help women achieve their dreams, or so Dorothy Gale via Judy Garland learned in The Wizard of Oz by clicking thrice her bowed ruby slippers (changed from silver in the book), while Wonder Woman, first appearing in her own comic book in 1942, wore high-heeled red boots designed to be assertive yet still feminine. Or shoes seduce, like Barbara Stanwyck's pom-pom satin pumps in Double Indemnity. From flats a la Audrey Hepburn, Keds and white go-go boots, Tommy-era platforms, and Jane Fonda's Rebok Freestyles, to Sex and the City's pricey Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choo's, Bergstein ably runs the gamut of styles over the decades, high and low, and women's eager embrace of "personal agency." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.