Women Shoe Trends & Perceptions

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Women Shoe Trends

This research will synthesize a comprehensive summary of women's shoe trends from the 1920s until the modern era. Each decade's shoe trends were "signs of the times," and reflected the social and cultural norms of their respective eras. There were some shoes, however, that stood out and became "iconic."

The so-called "Roaring '20s" began just a few years after the First World War, and were indicative of a time of celebration and fun. As the hemlines got shorter, the heels got taller, and the "flapper" was born.
High and wide heels were the most commonly worn at this time, whether on a pump or a loafer-style shoe.
However, the so-called "saddle shoe" (also known as the Oxford shoe) was also just as popular, and came in a variety of colors and styles for both men and women. Lace-up boots were popular at this time, as well.

In 1929, the stock market crashed, and the Great Depression began. These somber times were reflected in the more conservative shoe trends for women, and the high, chunky heels made way for strapped heels and pumps. In addition, laced leather leisure shoes for both men and women were extremely popular, and traditional high heels took the place of more fashionable choices.

The 1940s brought about a Second Word War, and as such, practicality took precedence over fashion, particularly as women joined the war effort. Because more women were going out of the home to work (and were, in fact, going to work in factories to contribute to the war effort), flat shoes became more popular than their higher-heeled counterparts. For women that did feel the need to wear heels, they were little more than slight wedges. In both cases, cork- and wooden-soled shoes became more popular.

The women's shoe trends of the 1950s can be divided into two halves. In the first half of the 1950s, the stiletto heeled opera, court, and pump shoes were all the rage. At the time, the stiletto heel (an extremely thin heel) was capped with metal. When "I Love Lucy" debuted on network television, Lucille Ball ushered a new trend of chunky ankle-strapped shoes which first gained traction from the so-called "pin-up girls" of the 1940s, but didn't really enter the popular zeitgeist until the early 1950s. By the late 1950s, however, bunnies (short for "bunny shoes," which were loafer-type shoes that had a two-eared "tongue" and a raised back that looked like a rabbit's tail) became all the rage.

With the Sexual Revolution came sexier shoes, and the 1960s women's shoe trends reflected more liberated mores. The birth of the iconic Go-Go boot, which was a knee-high boot paired with a mini-skirt or a mini-dress, best reflected these new, liberated views. However, black slip-on boots made of both leather and faux-leather materials were also popular amongst both men and women, as were thin heels.

Disco, hippies, and Studio 54 were all earmarks of the so-called "Decade of Decadence," and the women's shoe trends reflected these party-hearty times. The birth of the iconic platform shoe made both men and women look much taller than they were. But there were other shoes that were making their mark during this time, as well. As a reflection of a more "hippie" view on life, moccasins (and, more specifically, mocassin-style loafers with thick soles) became more popular, as did Birkenstock sandals and Earth shoes. Interestingly, too, sneakers started to make their way into the popular fashion consciousness, and they weren't just for athletics anymore.

The 1980s ushered in a decade of women entering the corporate workforce -- and as the "power suit" gained popularity, so too did shoes that matched the look and the message of corporate attire. Accordingly, many women would wear sneakers on their way to work (which, by now, were accepted for both their form and functionality) and change into high heels when they got to the office. (At this time, wearing heels was nearly mandatory. However, in recent years, this has become a PR disaster.) In the 1980s, an iconic boot was born that would be ubiquitous in the decade to follow: the Doc Martens boot.

The so-called "Seattle music scene" set the trend of "grunge fashion" in the 1990s, and the shoes were reflective of these times. The Doc Martens boot was ubiquitous, but while Seattle natives wore them for functionality, others wore it for the mere fashion statement. And while the pointed-toe stiletto heel was also very popular amongst more "feminine" type women, the 1990s also proved that everything old was new again as the platform shoe made a comeback (even though they were typically lower than their 1970s counterparts).

By the new millennium, women in the workplace was not only commonplace, it was accepted. As such, fashion (and, consequently, shoes) became much more casual. However, this "anything goes" attitude usually meant that the shoes available to women were much more eclectic, ranging from kitten heels to square toed boots. Even ballerina shoes started making their way into the office.

Finally, in keeping with the eclectic shoe trends of the new millennium, the 2018 women's shoe trends showed that anything could continue to "go" in the workplace, provided that it wasn't overtly obnoxious. Cowboy boots weren't just for ranchers anymore, and pastel shoes were perfect for the summer. As our understanding of gender identity changed, "Dad shoes" became extremely common and accepted, as well.

For many women, shoes are more than just a fashion statement; they're indicative of the times. Pop culture, television, and music all play a role in influencing the shoe trends, but as more women entered the workplace, functionality became more important than fashion. Conservative times showcased more conservative shoes, whereas more liberated times showcased sexier shoes. Today's women's shoe trends are more eclectic than ever before, especially as offices become more relaxed in their corporate culture, and especially as society becomes more accepting of flexible gender norms.
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Women Shoe Purchasing Habits

In the last century in the United States, there have been notable changes in women's shoe purchasing habits, mostly related to heel height and comfort-level. In the workplace specifically, variations of pumps, loafers and flats have been the most popular.

A search of online articles and blog posts that detail shoe trends for the past century revealed the most popular styles in each decade. An overview of each decade has been compiled, starting from the 1920s. It should be noted that very few hard statistics exist regarding women's shoe purchases, and there are no statistics at all for women's shoe purchases for the workplace, in the United States. Also important is that the female presence in the workplace was limited until the end of the 20th century. For earlier decades, day-time shoes that may have been utilized for work have been mentioned in addition to any specific mention of workplace shoe preferences.

1920 to 1929

The trend in this decade was to wear shoes that revealed the feet, as opposed to the trend of hiding the feet in boots that was common in the 19th century. The popular styles for day wear or working were T-strap shoes, Mary Jane Shoes, and Oxfords.

At the start of the decade, T-strap shoes featured thick straps, which thinned as the years went by. Leather was the usual fabric choice for day wear shoes, and heels were thick kitten heels of between 1 and 1 and 3/4 inches. While evening footwear began to appear in vivid colors, day time shoes, or those for working, remained in the older colors of black, brown, white, and tan.

1930 to 1939

The most notable trend from this decade, is that all women's shoes featured heels, even those dedicated for sports. Heels ranged in height from 1.5 to 2.5 inches tall, with those for work, sport, and more casual looks, being on the shorter end of the scale, and were chunky to offer more support. Two-toned shoes were a favorite of the decade.

Oxfords and pumps with T-straps were popular, and they often featured brogue, die-cuts, and cut-outs.

1940 to 1949

World War II resulted in restrictions on the use of leather, and so materials such as wood and cork were used for soles, and fake leather, canvas, and raffia replaced leather in uppers. This rationing of materials also resulted in the increased popularity of peep-toe pumps later in the decade. Popular colors included brown, black, olive, and tan.

Platform soles first began appearing by 1941, and they were popular because they elevated ones height, a fact that, when combined with padded shoulder suits, gave women a more imposing stature. Oxfords were still popular for every day and working, and many women who worked factory jobs during the war began to wear Loafers.

1950 to 1959

In this decade, shoes became more basic and lacked fancy adornments, bold patterns, and more than one color. Black and brown were the main color choices for everyday shoes. The most popular shoe fashions of the 1950s saw less chunky heels and featured slingbacks. For everyday wear, thicker, low-to-mid heeled pumps were still preferred. The Baby Doll pump was a popular style due to the rounded toe.

1960 to 1969

In the 60s shoe trends shifted away from the 50s high heel towards a more comfortable and flat style. In the workplace, the trend was the specialty designed orthopedic shoe (a take on the Birkenstock) and Pilgrim Pumps, with stacked heels being popular for everyday shoes. Moreover, the 60s introduced a greater variety of color and texture to shoes, and brought boots back with a variety of heel heights. Half boots with a square toe and low heel were a common choice for day wear.

1970 to 1979

This decade saw women wearing all kinds of shoes due to advances in comfort as well as the ever-increasing celebrity mass marketing campaign trend. Platform shoes and wedges became very popular, especially in the workplace where the female presence was growing. It was also becoming acceptable for women to wear "Earth" shoes -those with crepe soles and negative heels — in the workplace.

Vinyl boots, wide heeled loafers, wedge heels, and slip-on heels with leather cut-out patterns were all popular — a lower heel with a blocky square shape was in style for more casual or work looks. Platforms were popular towards the start of the decade, as women found them empowering. Throughout the decade, the toe gradually rounded to become almond shaped.

1980 to 1989

Flats became common for women in the workplace. The stiletto heel, low slanted heels, and upside down, triangular-shaped heels, were all fashionable choices. Many shoe styles were inspired by the 50s and 60s.

1990 to 1999

The 90s saw a revival of the low heel and square toed styles of the 60s, as well as 70s style platforms. Updated classic such as the suede loafer translated to the popular casual chic aesthetic of the decade. There was also an emphasis on personal style, so shoes were very diverse during this decade. An increase in environmental concerns saw leather substitutes become popular, as well as cork-soled sandals. Everyday shoe choices were mostly athletic shoes, or those with bulkier heels for comfortable walking.

2000 to 2009

Skinny stiletto heels were a go-to fashion choice, and moccasins returned to popularity. At the start of the decade, a major trend was to wear ankle socks with shoes or high heels. It is reported that on average, the wearing of heeled shoes has dropped 21% between 1986 and 2003.

2010 to present

Bold architectural styles are the shoe trends of the day. For the average American women, it is now becoming less common to wear heeled shoes in the workplace, with flats a more common option. Data from the Spine Institute, as reported by the Huffington Post, indicates that 72% of women report wearing heels occasionally, and of that only 31% of women who wear heels say they wear them to work.


Early in the century, Oxfords and T-straps remained the most popular option for everyday shoes for women, with colors staying in the black and brown range, and heels being thick. Mid-century saw heels thinning and lower heels being preferred, until eventually flats became the popular option. Towards the end of the century, women became more involved in the workplace and personal style became more emphasized, with shoe style choices.

The last century has seen a wave of new shoe styles entering the fashion world, and many have been incorporated in the work attire of women. Flat shoes, or those with low heels, appear to be the most common choice when working, while high heels are worn for the feeling of empowerment they create.
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Women Shoe Style Changes - Headlines

Women shoe style changes based on different events in the history. Unlike previous decades in the United States, since the 1950s the growing trend is that women’s workplace shoe preference is not just based on femininity and sexuality, but also on comfort and personal choice. High heels are no longer in the highest consideration or automatically considered the most professional workplace option. HISTORICAL TRENDS IN WOMEN’S SHOE STYLES INSIDE THE WORKPLACE Different events in history have changed the way women’s shoe fashion has evolved throughout time. These trends have also affected women’s shoe in the context of the professional world and what they purchase for the office over time. 1920s
In the 1920s, women's shoes would often have high and wide heels on a pump shoe or loafer style shoe. It was even common for women to wear heeled shoes with their swimming costumes, as a display of femininity. Oxford shoes of differing styles and colors were also popular with women. Lace up boots were popular during this time as well.
In the 1930s, strapped heels and pumps rapidly grew popular, while more traditional styles of heels were still worn. During this time, laced leather shoes were popular for outdoor exercise and activity. 1940’s -50’s
In the forties, as a result of the war, shoes became conservative and practical. Design styles changed in that shoes were usually manufactured with flatter heels and soles that were either cork or wooden. In the 1950s, after the war, the trend continued to flat shoes, sandals, heels and pumps with rounded toes and a combination of more feminine lines being worn by women. Suede shoes became popular during this decade as well. 1960s Women’s shoe trends took a major shift away from the 50s style high heel toward a more flat, comfortable makeup. In the workplace, the new specially designed “orthopedic shoe” took off. Pilgrim Pumps with stacked heels became popular as everyday wear shoes. During this decade, more color, texture, and variety was introduced to shoes. Boots came back into style with a diversity of heights. Common daytime wear choices were half boots, square toe, and low heels. Heels also became thinner on work pumps. 1970’s Vinyl boots, wedge heels, loafers, and slip-on heels with leather cutout patterns were all popular in the 1970s. Sandals were also popular with women. 1980s In the 1980s, flats became even more popular with women at work. At the same time, pumps were designed with thinner and higher heels than in previous decades, and also became more popular. Leather dress shoes were also popular. 1990s During this decade styles became more relaxed and casual looks became more important. Bulkier heels and leather substitutes became more popular. Brands also became a driving force of shoes sales. Overall during this 70 year period, there was dramatic “workplace attire revolution” that affected shoes as well. In 2011, 29% of workers thought flip-flops were appropriate at work. In 2012, 35% of workers thought that open-toed shoes for women were inappropriate in the workplace. HOW ATTITUDES AND PURCHASING BEHAVIOR FOR WOMEN’S SHOES HAVE CHANGED SINCE THE 2000s AND BEYOND Work environments in the United States have transformed to professional and casual. Most women chose to dress in business casual attire (unless company policy says otherwise.) Trends of work atmosphere have become flexible and informal. These trends have affected women’s work wear and shoes as well. Companies now must appeal to the preference's of millenials, whom prefer the casual look. According to Pathway USA, "American companies are now more results-oriented than process-oriented." There is a mix of requirements and expectation in the work code between professional and casual. For example in IT companies, "women wear jeans, casual pants, shirts, T-shirts, blouses, skirts, trousers, dresses, shorts, sweater sets, and blazers."

Today, conservative athletic shoes, sneakers, boots, flats, and leather shoes are fine at work for many women. However, women are still discouraged from wearing flashy shoes or open-toe shoes in office. In some industries, it is a must to wear closed toe and closed heel shoes. The influence of Silicon Valley, has transformed American culture. According to The Atlantic, life is much less formal, the concept of “going to the office has changed.” Women’s’ current preference on shoe style is simply based on femininity, sexuality and hierarchy in their workplace as it was in previous decades. This is because women's shoes now represent the perfect balance of sexuality and competency a reward. Instead of following major trends, women can now focus on choice. Shoe style is now seen as an actual choice for women. The friction between women’s appearances and workspace places that are male-dominated has always been a hot issue, but that tension is now staring to subside. According to Inc. Magazine, a growing opinion is that “wearing high-heeled shoes is not necessary to do a good job” and “there are more important things to worry about than how high a woman’s heel is.”



According to 2012 study from the University of Kansas, one can "judge 90 percent of a women's personality, including their emotional stability, simply by looking at her most-worn pair of shoes." The study reported that a women's relationship with her shoes can tell us about her personality type. "Agreeable people tended to wear practical, functional shoes, while aggressive personalities had an affinity for ankle boots." According to psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, MD, "wedges and low, wide heels—not flats—may indicate insecurity" and that "women sporting brightly colored shoes tend to be more playful, bigger risk takers, and more extroverted."
CONCLUSION Since the 1950s, the growing trend is that women’s workplace shoe styles and purchases preference are not based on femininity and sexuality, but also on comfort and personal choice. High heels are no longer a professional requirement.

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