What Kind of Shoes Were Worn in the 1950s?

During the 1940s, World War II caused many fabrics to be rationed and limited, causing the typical outfits of the 40s to be simplified because of the limited amount of material available. Because of this, it is no surprise that the end of the war and subsequent end of the ration caused fashion to change drastically in the 1950s.

The most significant change appeared in 1950s women’s dresses,  elaborately made with extra fabric and intricate gatherings and bright, bold colors. The rest of the clothing in the fashion world followed suit – keeping the theme of the decade with vibrant colors and patterns. However, as clothing became more and more daring, the shoes of the decade were turned into understated accessories.

So, what kind of shoes were worn in the 1950s? Many shoe styles were worn in the 1950s. Perhaps the most iconic of all 1950s shoes are the black and white, two-toned saddle shoes that are most known for being paired with poodle skirts. However, the saddle shoe was not the only iconic shoe of the decade. The following charts outline the other iconic shoes of the decade for both women and men.

1950s Women’s Shoe CategoryShoe Styles in Category
PumpsStiletto-heeled opera, court, and pump shoes, Winklepickers, Kitten heel pumps, Baby Dolls
SandalsEvening and daywear sandals
Flats (Flatties)Ballet flats, Ghillies, Espadrilles
Saddle ShoesSaddle shoes, White bucks or nubucks, Joyce shoes, Mary Janes and T-strap shoes, Bunny shoes, bunnies, or pixies
LoafersMoccasins, Penny loafers
Winter BootsRain boots or galoshes,
Tall rubber rain boots, Boot covers,
Tall lace-up boots, Western boots,
Ankle-high booties
Slippers and MulesSlippers, Mules
1950s Men’s Shoe Category
Shoes within the Category
OxfordLace-up dress shoes, Oxfords, Derbys, Bluchers, Slip-on shoes like shu-loks, snap jacks, flapjacks, and snap-latches
Saddle ShoesBlack and white saddle oxfords
Two-Tone ShoesTwo-tone oxfords, wingtips, cap toes, moc toes, penny loafers, tassel loafers, boat shoes, two-lace dress shoes, and some boots
LoafersPenny loafers, Tasseled slip-on loafers
Sports ShoesConverse or “Chucks”
Rebel ShoesRockabilly
BootsChelsea boots, Chukka boots
Blue Suede ShoesBlue suede shoes
House SlippersHouse slippers

Saddle Shoes: The Most Iconic Shoe of the 1950s

Saddle Shoe

You know the shoe – the black and white, two-toned shoe with a red rubber sole that you automatically place onto the foot of a teenaged girl wearing bobbysocks and a poodle skirt in your mind. Teenage girls may have memorialized saddle shoes, but they were worn by women, men, and children, as well. They debuted in the 1920s and initially intended for men.

During the 1920s, lovingly referred to as The Roaring Twenties, women pushing for gender equality wore pants, cut their hair short, and some even bound their chests to appear flat-chested. So, when the saddle shoe was introduced and marketed as “the new men’s shoe,” women immediately began wearing them.

The saddle shoes changed in the 1930s because of the Great Depression. Their sales dropped, but they still sold enough to stay relevant. Soles were now made from canvas and crepe rubber because the materials were cheaper – but the new soles ended up more durable and comfortable. New two-tone color schemes like tan and white and blue and white emerged.

It was in the 1940s that teenage girls began wearing the saddle shoe, and the trend at this time was to wear them scuffed and dirty. Teen girls continued to swear by the shoe in the 1950s, but the trend changed to keeping your saddle shoes as clean as possible. 

More information about saddle shoes (Source) in the 1950s includes:

  • The fifties introduced a new sole for the saddle shoe – the red rubber sole.
  • Cleaning and polishing saddle shoes was a daily ritual for teenage girls.
  • Teenage girls popularly wore the shoes with bobby socks, a specific kind of sock that was ankle-high and folded down. This look was so familiar that 1950s teenage girls became known as bobbysoxers.
  • Homemakers wore saddle shoes during the day to get their chores done comfortably. They switched to heels before their husbands came home, and most husbands thought that their wives wore heels all day.
  • The saddle shoe was the go-to gym shoe and sports shoe for girls. It was the shoe chosen for cheerleading uniforms until late in the 1980s.

The unfortunate decline of the saddle shoe’s popularity happened in the 1960s when young adults and teenagers began to go against the traditions of their parents and anything that reminded them of the establishment. Since saddle shoes were the shoes of their parents, they stopped wearing them, and sales dropped tremendously. Today, saddle shoes are typically only used for costume purposes.

Popular Women’s Shoes of the 1950s

When 1950s fashion began to emerge, the clothes were a direct result of leaving conservative war years that were plagued with limited supplies and fabrics and entering a new dazzling decade. Hairstyles became taller. Dresses became bigger. Accessories became richer. Shoes, however, became plainer.

Because there was so much emphasis on the rest of the outfit, shoes were understated. For daywear, most women chose black and brown shoes. More colorful shoes were reserved for the summertime or to wear around the house.  Additionally, in the 1950s, it was expected that your footwear match all other accessories of an outfit – purses, gloves, belts, and even jewelry.

We found 8 major categories of women’s shoes that included a variety of styles. The primary categories were pumps, sandals, flats (flatties), saddle shoes, loafers, winter boots, wedges, and slippers or mules.

Types of women’s pumps included:

Red Stiletto
  • Stiletto-heeled opera, court, and pump shoes – very high-heeled shoes that included a 4-inch ultra-thin heel
    • They were forbidden from some places at first because the metal cap on the end of the heel left dents in wood and other soft floorings.
    • They featured tall arches and a V-shape cut out from the sides of the shoe.
    • Red stilettos were the boldest of them all and used for formal wear.
    • They were impractical shoes, so they were saved for special occasions.
    • They were only worn for short periods and were the chosen shoe for fashion models of the fifties.
  • Winklepickers – an extreme version of the opera pump used for 1950s formal wear and semi-formal wear at home
    • They became widespread toward the end of the 1950s.
  • Kitten heel pumps – a version of a pump that had a small heel
    • They were much safer to walk in while remaining classy.
    • Most kitten heel pumps were made of soft leather or reptile skin; some from suede, velvet, and mesh.
    • Early production kitten heels sported very pointed tips while later styles had more rounded tips.
  • Baby Dolls – a more comfortable pump-style shoe with a low or mid-sized heel
    • Almost every woman in the 50s had a pair of black Baby Dolls that could go with most outfits.
    • They had very rounded toes and got their name because they resembled doll’s shoes.
    • They were available in lots of fun colors for spring and summer and sometimes decorated with patterns or ornamental designs.

Types of women’s sandals included:

  • Evening sandals – showed off most of the foot and featured the lowest and thinnest heels
  • Daywear sandals – had low chunky heels and featured a “slingback” strap around the ankle
  • Flip-flops – resembled the flip-flops of today; made with rubber soles that were loud, so they were often only worn outside by kids

Types of women’s flats (flatties) included:

  • Ballet Flats – flat shoes that featured small ½ inch heels
    • These were the trendiest flatties of the fifties.
    • Audrey Hepburn claimed that these were her favorite shoes, so they rose to popularity, especially among teenage girls.
    • They were most commonly black with a thin box adorning the top.
  • Ghillies – these shoes resembled a men’s oxford shoe combined with a ballet shoe
    • Capezio and Bernardo created them.
    • The laces were able to be tied in different ways, and the most popular lacing style for the ghillies was up and around the leg.
  • Espadrilles – another kind of lace-up flat that was more casual than the ghillie and typically laced around the ankle

Types of women’s saddle shoes include:

  • Saddle shoes – the iconic two-toned, black and white shoe of the 50s
    • They were worn by housewives and teenage girls often.
    • The white parts of the shoes must be kept in pristine condition.
  • White bucks – also called nubucks, another style of oxford shoes for teens that had to be kept entirely white 
    • They came with small bags of chalk powder to ensure they looked brand new.
  • Joyce shoes – another white shoe that had to be kept ghost-white at all times 
    • They looked like today’s nurse shoes or orthopedic shoes.
    • The nightly care routine for Joyce shoes included bleaching the laces, polishing the leather, and washing the soles.
  • Mary Janes and T-Strap shoes – young girl’s shoes that were flats with straps across the top
    • Mary Janes had a single strap across the top; T-Strap shoes had a T-shaped strap across the top.
    • Mary Janes were usually reserved for young girls because teenage girls felt that the strap meant you were too young to be able to keep your shoes on. Wearing a regular flattie with no strap meant growing up.
    • T-Strap shoes became trendy at this time, and teenagers and women wore them. Black and red were the most popular colors of this style.
    • Bunny shoes – also called bunnies or pixies, these were another teenage shoe trend that was flat leather slip-ons.  They came in white, red, or black; the tongue split down the middle to resemble two ears, and there were wings on the heels to resemble tails.

Types of women’s loafers included:

  • Moccasins – durable and casual, these shoes were a staple for all young women; they were easy to put on and came in many fun colors
  • Penny Loafers – a slip-on loaf shoe that got its name from the coin-sized slit in the leather strap across the tongue; it housed a coin that teens would use to call home

Types of women’s winter boots included:

Yellow Rain Boots
  • Rain Boots – also called galoshes; these were relatively unchanged since their inception in the early 1900s 
  • Tall rubber rain boots – precisely what the name said – tall rain boots made of rubber, much like the ones worn today; women’s rain boots in the fifties had a small to medium-sized heel to keep them ladylike 
  • Boot covers – considered the 1950s “rain boot,” thin rubber boot covers could be pulled over shoes and fastened closed 
  • Tall lace-up boots – a style of winter snow boot; tall boots that laced up the front, often lined with fur
  • Western boots – a style of winter snow boot; tall boots with western accents like tassels, usually lined with fur 
  • Ankle-high booties – a style of winter snow boot; ankle-high and often lined with fur

There was only one basic kind of women’s wedge shoe, also called wedgies. Wedges featured a chunky, thick heel. In the 1950s, the toe openings on the shoes were more prominent, and the wedge heels on the shoes were a bit taller. Additionally, the wedged heel was curved inward to give a bit different and more delicate look. Most had a ½ inch platform sole, so they gave even more height!

Slippers and mules were two other types of women’s shoes in the 1950s. House slippers were very casual and practical. Mules were a bit dressier than house slippers and could even be worn as bedroom slippers, which had to be more elegant than house slippers to match the husband-enticing lingerie.

Popular Men’s Shoes of the 1950s

In the 1950s, men’s fashion became more informal and caused all clothing items, accessories, and even shoes to “slim down, loosen up, and mix up color and texture.” (Source) Men’s shoes of this decade were made with thicker soles and a narrower silhouette. Sold in loud, primary colors like blue and green and classic textures like reptile skin and leather. New combinations led to the shoes’ “casual sophistication.”

There are 10 categories of men’s shoes we’d like to highlight comprised of many styles–oxford, saddle shoes, two-tone shoes, loafers, sports shoes, sandals, rebel shoes, boots, blue suede shoes, and house slippers.

Types of men’s oxford shoes included:

Mens Oxford Shoe
  • Lace-dress up shoes – namely oxfords, derbys, and bluchers; leather shoes with either leather or rubber soles that were smooth and found in black, dark brown, and medium brown colors
    • Sometimes, these shoes were decorated with toe caps, moc toes, and wingtips.
    • They were also available in two-lace designs.
  • Slip-on dress-up shoes – the most undecorated of fifties men’s dress shoes
    • Shu-loks, Snap Jacks, and flapjacks were all names for a slip-on dress shoe that had a tongue that snapped up to let the foot into the shoe and snapped down to secure the shoe onto the foot.
    • Snap-latches were slip-on shoes that had a single buckle on a strap over the top of the shoe.
    • Slip-on dress shoes were found mostly in black but also brown, black and white, and white.

There was only one type of men’s saddle shoe in the 1950s – the basic two-toned saddle oxford. However, it wasn’t just worn in the traditional black and white, basic two-tone color scheme. Older men were more likely to wear brown and white combinations. There were other color combinations as well, such as brown on brown and brown on tan.

The two-tone shoes that men wore in the 1950s included many styles in the two-toned color scheme of the decade. Two-toned shoes included oxfords, wing-tips, cap toes, moc toes, penny loafers, tassel loafers, boat shoes, two-lace dress shoes, and even some boots. The two-tone look was achieved by combining two different colored types of leather and also combined different materials, like leather and mesh.

The sports shoe for fifties men was Converse, also called “Chucks.” Not only were the shoes worn by 1950s male athletes, but they were also made popular by famous rebel James Dean – which inspired everyday rebels to wear them as well. Converse shoes were so incredibly popular that they comprised “80% of all sports shoe sales in the 1950s.” (Source)

The other men’s rebel shoe of the time was the Rockabilly. These motorcycle boots, marketed as “engineer boots,” were initially designed for firemen that shoveled coal into hot burners on the railroad to protect their feet and legs. However, they were perfect for motorcycle riders because of that protection and their lack of laces. Due to the opposite intent of these boots and who wore them, they became known as the “rebel boot.” 

Types of men’s boots included:

Chelsea Boots
  • Chelsea boots – formerly called the Australian bush boot; was a slim and smooth ankle-high boot without laces and two elastic side panels 
  • Chukka boots – inspired by the desert military boots of WWII; usually worn by young men; ankle-high boots with a few lacing holes made of leather or suede with thick rubber crepe soles 

Blue-suede shoes shot to popularity before Elvis ever sang about them! Blue-colored suede was used in oxfords, slip-on loafers, saddle shoes, and many other styles of footwear, and they all collectively became known as blue-suede shoes. Different colors were used, like hunter green, grey, and brown, but none as famous as the blue suede.

Men’s house slippers were commonly slip-ons that were made of smooth, plain leather and included deep notches down either side. They often featured elastic and were notably understated. Men would change into their house slippers when they arrived home each day from work.

In Conclusion

The 1950s were a very fashion-forward time that introduced shoe trends that have lasted for over half a century and inspired costume fashion that is still used today to memorialize the decade.

Even though 1950s shoes were intended to be simple, understated accessories that matched outfits, many of them have stood the test of time and are still alive – whether in our closets or our memories. 

Mark Plevyak

Thanks for reading! Throwing events can be overwhelming but to me one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences. Since we all grew up in different decades, we can't always relate to iconic time periods of the past. There is so much to celebrate so if you are thinking of planning an event, plan a Retro one. And, if you're attending a party, ensure you relive it to the fullest. Party Unique!

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