The Swing Era
The Swing Era is often referred to as the period of time (1935–1946) when big band music was popular in the United States. But we swing dancers like to think it started in 1927 with Shorty George Snowden being asked by a reporter what they called the dance they were doing. Lindbergh had just crossed the Atlantic and all the papers had some variation of “Lindy Hops Atlantic” as headlines. The dance was pretty hoppy and legend has it that he said, “Well, I guess they’re doing the ‘Lindy Hop’!”
The Vintage Shoe Archive is dedicated to celebrating the footwear of this era and, as we love the history and styles that contributed to and were influenced by that footwear; distinguishing Swing Era Shoes from that which came both before and afterwards.
Still being influenced by the styles of Swing Era, shoes of the early Fifties stayed pretty innocent-looking as their owners witnessed the beginning of rock and roll (and the death of swing) and a jump into the “childing” of American dress. A departure in footwear, fashion, dance, politics, etc. from doing what your parents did before you to reveling in leaving it all behind. It truly heralded the beginning of what swing dancers had been doing all along: Bucking the trends and looking for something that truly was “not your father’s Oldsmobile!”
Wartime footwear straddled dressy and practical since anything other than austerity was pretty much frowned upon due to the fact that our boys were being slaughtered overseas. Anything beyond the bare minimum was looked at as an excess that could be directly related to Jimmy from next door not getting the supplies he needed as he battled Jerry on the front lines in Europe (and elsewhere).
Deep in the thick of the swing era, Thirties shoes took the panache of the flappers and married it with a desire to look a little less gothic. The styles of that decade; bosomy tea-length dresses, glamorous bias-cut gowns, spade-soled men’s shoes and the like were the last stand of European influence on American styling that would continue as long as they had better things to do (than worry about fashion) because of WWII. And even after the war, as Europe struggled out from under having been bombed back to the stone age, heavy European influence on American fashion was kept at bay for a good 2 decades.
Once you get started curating a cool swing shoe collection it’s hard to stop at the beginning of the period when you see the fantastic deco designs of Jazz Era flapper footwear. The first toe in the water of what was to become a wild ride that, to this day, changes everything in everybody’s closet at least twice a decade.
And before that: watching as bizarro foot-shaped shoes of the first part of the century gave way to sleeker, sexier styles as people, for the first time, expected to own more than one pair of shoes for everything (work, home, play, sport, church, and, to be buried in!).
And before that – the slight step into modernity that was Edwardian footwear – away from insanely pointy boots and into a world of bulbous-toed military-looking sensible shoes.
And before that, the effect that the bicycle boot craze of the 1890s had on popular styles.
And before that the just-starting-to-be-ready-to-show-our-ankles look of 1880s boots and shoes.
And before that the suddenly left-and-right shoes and boots of the 1870s (before then almost shoes were only one shape regardless of which foot you were going to put them on).
1860s and before
And the excitement of finding a pair of straight-soled slippers from the 1860s. Slippers? Yes – proper ladies and gentlemen spent quite a bit of time sitting inside and being waited on so there was an awful lot of slipper wearing back then! We can thank that era for many things… one of them being that there was so much damned marching in the Civil War it became obvious that straight-soled shoes were out and specific left and right shoes were in!
I hope you enjoy our collection of photos from both the Swing Era and the footwear history that came before it as much as we do, and please feel free to leave some love!