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We all love a bit of style in our shoes. As it turns out, the Georgians of the 18th century loved shoes as much as the next guy. They loved to make a statement with their shoes as much as they did with their clothes, even if the shoes were, for the most part, hidden under the extremely long gowns. The making of these shoes definitely required them to be very skilled. The shoemakers, for the most part, lived their lives in their workshops, laboring to make great works of art. Their history is quite fascinating, but there are also lots of misconceptions about shoemaking in the 18th century. That’s what this article is going to be about. We’re going to debunk some of those misconceptions. 

  1. They operated alone in small workshops

Many think that shoemakers often spent their time working alone in their little workshops, working on one pair of shoes at a time, from the heel to the toe. This has been perpetuated by popular stories like The Elves and the Shoemaker, or Pinocchio, or a bunch of other stories I’ve read during my career at AssignmentGeek. The truth is that such shoemakers in the 18th century would have run their businesses into the ground long before they made any profits.

A typical shop in Virginia, for example, had up to 20 shoemakers. There is even a particular shoemaking shop in London in the 18th century that 160 shoemakers. There was extensive division of labor, with the master cutting the leather of the shoe, someone sewing the leather parts together, and then the rest putting everything together. The rest were mostly journeymen, and each journeyman could put together a single pair in about 12 hours. With this synergy, they could make many dozen pairs of shoes every week. The truth is, however, there was never a shoemaker making a single shoe at a time until the end.

  1. They weren’t just cobblers

 There is a common misconception about 18th-century shoemakers that they were simple cobblers and nothing more. This may partly be due to the musical from the 1970s, 1776.

I remember watching it when doing some research for some online assignment help. In a particular scene in the movie, we see the members of the committee tasked with the responsibility of writing the Declaration of independence. They all try to decline the task, one by one. When it’s Roger Sherman’s turn to speak, he breaks out in a song and says at some point “I am just a simple cobbler from Connecticut”.

The truth is that Roger Sherman was a very skilled shoemaker and he wouldn’t have been very happy with anyone calling him a simple cobbler. Back then cobblers weren’t the most respected members of society. They never made any shoes, and even when they repaired shoes all they could do is take old shoes and repair them with mangled old leather. Americans have, over time, misattributed the term to include shoemakers as well, which simply wasn’t true.

Shoemakers also weren’t quite simple. They were very well educated. Roger Sherman himself was very educated and shoemaking was counted among the most literal trades. When I did some work for Assignment Help UK, I read about Samuel Lane, for example, who was a shoemaker from New Hampshire, had a library with hundreds of books that most people would have been wowed by. For these reasons, a shoemaker would not have been happy about being compared to a simple and illiterate cobbler.

  1. Shoes were only for luxury

Shoes were no more luxury items back then than they are in the modern-day. Everyone wore shoes. Everyone needed shoes. In fact, most people bought at least 4 pairs of shoes a year. The variety in shoe quality and variety was pretty much the same kind of variety you see in shoes today. There was even a large market for secondhand shoes from London that had been reconditioned for sale. The truth is, there was a shoe for every budget. If you didn’t have much, you could get functional shoes that at least protected your feet from the ground. If you had plenty of money, then you would also find some very expensive shoes on the market.

There were custom made shoes for the richer members of society. They could make them exquisite and therefore expensive. It really boiled down to consumer preferences, just like in the modern-day. Moreover, you could buy shoes on credit, especially in Virginia in the 18th century. Lots of people back then bought things they couldn’t afford, just like lots of people do even today.

Back then a pair of shoes would cost anywhere from a crown to more than a pound. For riding boots, you would have to cough up 2 pounds. The median price for shoes was 5 shillings and sixpence. That’s about a day’s wages for the average journeyman. That means no one actually had to spend more than a day’s wages for a pair of shoes. So 4 pairs of shoes a year was quite doable.

  1. Shoes were always custom made

The shoe industry was not really driven by custom made shoes. Instead, it was driven by ready-made shoes, both wholesale and retail, since the 1770s, when the making of shoes wasn’t even mechanized. Machines were actually first introduced to the shoes making process in the time between 1860 and 1880.

Shoes were a huge industry back then. The American colonies imported hundreds of thousands of pairs every year from London. Any shoemaker who decided to base their business entirely on well-heeled (pun intended) customers to come and order custom made shoes would eventually find themselves going out of business. So most shoemakers stocked their shoe shops with shoes in the most popular styles of the day in a variety of sizes that they could sell immediately.

  1. People only had one pair of shoes at a time

This may be from the myth that all shoes were custom made for customers. Or maybe it’s because of how today’s bespoke or custom shoemakers market themselves. They will charge thousands of dollars because they did the stitching on the shoes by hand. This may lead some to believe that the custom made shoes of the 18th century were durable enough to last a lifetime and so people used to own a single pair at a time.

The truth is that hand-sewn shoes are a huge luxury today. They can easily cost more than $10,000 a pair. Back then, all shoes were hand-sewn, and so there was really nothing special about them. In fact, back then, just like today, you needed to have different pairs of shoes to serve different purposes.

The average person back then owned a pair or two of shoes that they would wear every day. There were also slippers that people would wear indoors, and dress shoes for formal occasions, or for going to church. There were dancing pumps in some cases, and those weren’t considered luxury items like they are today.

The only major luxury shoe type was the riding boot since horses were also a luxury. Wealthier people who could have afforded it would probably have had a lot of different pairs of shoes.

Orphans, apprentices, soldiers, and even slaves were offered 2 pairs of shoes every year. It was very hard to find someone on the streets barefoot. People knew that you could get worms, just by walking barefoot, so shoes were considered a necessity.

  1. The shoes were uncomfortable

 So you might be wondering if the shoes were comfortable if they didn’t even last forever. They were made of hard leather. How could they possibly compare to modern padded sneakers employing the latest technology?

18th-century shoes were actually pretty comfortable. People today so rarely wear shoes made entirely out of leather that they forget just how comfortable they can be. People assume that just because there are so many new styles, the old styles were always bad. From my research for nursing assignment help, I would say modern shoes are worse. The truth is that modern synthetic footwear doesn’t breathe, doesn’t conform to the shape of your foot, and is hot. Even the fitting isn’t great. They are heavily padded shoes that rob your feet of their natural momentum. They fatigue your muscles and may even have a role to play in causing joint disorders.

The natural leather shoe of the 18th century would have conformed to your foot and provided a natural bed for it. They were very comfortable.

  1. Before the civil war, there were no right and left shoes

This is actually a pretty widespread misconception. The assumption that shoes had the same shape for both feet is probably from the same kind of thinking as the assumption that shoes were uncomfortable back then.

True, most shoes back then had the same pattern as a way to save time and costs. However, they were also quite flexible and, as soon as the wearer wore them, they conformed to the shape of the foot and kept that shape for their lives. They also weren’t made to be interchangeable, as that would have ruined them. Feet would be pained if they were put in the wrong shoe shape. People would have a shoe for every foot in a pair and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the shoe’s life.

 

Conclusion

And with that, we have explored a good number of myths about 18th-century shoemaking. As you can see, they are myths that anyone can understandably fall for. However, shoemaking back then was just as sophisticated as it is today, and there is a lot to learn about how it worked. By knowing the truth, you can develop an interest and appreciation in the shoemakers of long ago.

 

Author Bio

Scott Mathews is a writer who offers research paper help at Essay Writers. He writes about technology, education, and history, and sometimes writes college papers about his favorite topics.