Shoes are important. They are, like all clothing, a kind of code or visual language. A pair of shoes is a statement of intent: I will run in these, I will fall over in these, I will walk all over you in these. They are a way to defy height (or lack thereof) and to define oneself as an individual or as part of a crowd. They are practical and they are also, sometimes, terribly, terribly impractical. They are also a kind of cultural relic or signifier in particular for female characters in film, TV and popular lore. Shoes are, at times, iconic, even definitive (what that suggests about female character development is another story entirely). Think: Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers, Carrie Bradshaw’s closet full of Manolo Blahniks, Cinderella’s glass slipper… The culture industry, it would seem, has a foot fetish. Then again, all shoes are not created equal. Some are works of art, and some are…birkenstocks. The shape of shoes changed dramatically over the course of the 20th Century (as did the shape of human feet, they’re getting bigger!). Heels started out small and curved and then got bigger and thicker and wider and then progressively smaller and skinnier and then bigger again and then skinnier…The SVA Pictures Collection boasts a mammoth folder on Shoes (FASHION - SHOES), and those willing to examine its contents are rewarded with an expansive and eclectic approach to the visual history of footwear.

A woman's lower legs and shoes are visible. She is wearing strappy pink sandals with stiletto heels on a tennis court.
advertisement for Charles Jourdan (Paris)
A woman wearing very high red platform shoes while sitting on a yellow car.
advertisement for Uppity Shoes (1972)
advertisement for Prada
advertisement for Red Cross Shoes, March 1963

platform shoes by Greca, 1970-72
Ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz
image of Macy's New York, advertisement for Brown Shoe Company
advertisement for Smartaire Shoes (1968)


advertisement for Manolo Blahnik, W Magazine September 2005