Shoeing for a New Play – Theatrical Footwear: 1901

SHOEING FOR A NEW PLAY.

Footwear a Big Item in a Stage Production—Cost from $1000 to $1600

Some Trials of a Theatrical Bootmaker.

Through some oversight the manager of a theatrical company that is soon to “try” an elaborate costume play upon an Eastern city has neglected to make arrangements to have the company shod, and the anxiety into which the cast has been plunged by this carelessness gives some idea of the importance which attaches to the matter of shoeing for a modern stage production. The actors who have been engaged for this one took it for granted that the usual arrangements had been made with the usual bootmaker for providing them with the proper footgear, and all that they would have to do would be to drop in any day and leave their measurement. That is the way they have been accustomed to buying their stage shoes, and they have been dropping into a little shop in Union Square, which has practically a monopoly in theatrical bootmaking, every day for the last week. The woman who is in charge of the shop during the proprietor’s absence says: “It will teach them all a lesson.”

A man, who from dress and manners was obviously from stageland, entered the shop and with an air of easy assurance took a chair and announced that he had come to be measured.

“For what?” asked the woman.

“For what?” repeated the actor, “why, for the shoes I am to wear in -—,” mentioning the title of the play.

“We know nothing about the boots you are to wear in that piece,” said the woman; “but possibly if you will leave your order we can get them out for you in time—what style is it you want?”

The actor’s easy assurance gave way instantly to bewilderment, and from bewilderment to mental stampede. “Style,” he echoed, gazing helplessly around him, “why, classic, Spanish, Louis XIV.—I don’t know, how should I know? Something like that thing there in the show case,” and he pointed to a black satin Spanish slipper with high heels slashed with yellow and trimmed around the top with silver, “that’s what I want, isn’t it? something on that order, anyway.” The woman told him that it would be impossible to fill an order from so meagre a description, and advised him to go around to the costumers’ and obtain details. The actor humbly promised to do so.

When he had gone the woman turned to another customer. “That man,” she explained, “would have known all about the boots he is to wear, if he had seen them; that is, if we had made them for him he could have pointed out where they were historically and otherwise wrong. As it is, you can see for yourself how ignorant he is, and how helpless. It is customary for a manager, when a new play is to be put on, to leave the order with a bootmaker for all the footgear that are to be worn by the cast; the style and the designs are sent to us by the costumer, or in some cases, are left to our own judgment,”

“What does it cost to shoe a company for a first-class production?” inquired the customer.

“From $1000 to $1600 dollars,” the woman answered. production will cost about $900.

“And who pays for all that?”

“Why, the actors themselves. It costs each one from $80 to $100, according to the number of changes he or she has to make in the course of the play. The supers, of course, do not have to pay for the shoes they wear—they are included in the company’s property.”

The popularity of historical plays has made the high kid boot extending above the knee, and known to the trade as a “knickertaur,” in greater demand than any other style. They cost from $10 to $18 a pair. Other costume boots vary in price from $8 to $40 a pair.

“How many dancing shoes,” said the woman in the shop, “do you suppose that young woman there (pointing to a photograph of a woman balancing airily on one great toe) how many shoes do you suppose she ordered here yesterday? Two hundred pair. Almost as many as some people wear in a lifetime, isn’t it? She’s going to Australia, and she doesn’t want to run short of shoes.”

The shoes which the young woman had ordered and which are kept in stock were quite shapeless and heelless affairs. A pronounced box toe explained the ease with which ballet dancers pose for minutes at a time on them. “And all the glittering tinselled sham,” continued the shopkeeper “which you read about as ‘existing behind the footlights, does not apply to these wares. They are of the best material and best workmanship, and cost more than any shoes of any sort sold in this country.”—[N. Y. Evening Post.

Boot and Shoe Recorder: 4 September 1901: p. 29

pink boots

Bejewlled satin boots worn by music hall variety artiste Kitty Lord, 1894-1915 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-91634&start=34&rows=1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has shared information about theatrical costuming and some unusual special effects such as stage thunder and lightning, sandstorms, and giant dragons. Theatrical footwear, despite the “sock and buskin” being shorthand for the profession, has received much less attention than its costumes and special effects. Yet where would our chorus be without ballet shoes? Where would high-kicking music hall artistes be without tall satin boots? Where would our leading men be without their discreet lifts to allow them to tower over their leading ladies? For example:

“There is the raising of the actor’s shoes. We can make a man two inches taller, without spoiling the shape of his foot; this enables many an artist to hold positions that he could not fill without these raised shoes. Some of our leading artists wear them. The giants in the museums wear them to make them still taller. I remember once a friend of mine, an actor, came to Chicago to join ‘The Burglar’ company. The manager noticed at rehearsal that he was shorter than the leading lady—that would never do. He came to me and told me his troubles. I told him to cheer up—sit down and let me take his measure, and explained to him the process of raising shoes. On the opening night he was one inch taller than the leading lady, and every one was happy. It may be remarked that many people resort to this device in their street shoes.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 12 April 1897: p. 8

Smaller feet were also part of stage wizardry and this “Cherman” shoe-maker [Mrs Daffodil cannot do the dialect] also elevated actresses with what sound like chopines:

“I suppose,” said the reporter, “that it’s part of a theatrical shoemaker’s art to make women’s feet appear smaller?”

“Women?” he said. “Vy do you say only women? Let me dell you dat men are shust as vain as women. I make de feet look smaller for both. Don’t ask me how, for dat is a secret of de craft. Most beople dink de high heel does it. But it’s more dan dat. You must get de heel shoost so. I also make bedple taller. Dere’s Janauschek—I fill her up mit cork and sawdust.”

“Fill her up with cork and sawdust?”

‘‘Dat is, de shoes of her. I make her two or tree inches higher dan she is.”

Time 26 September 1885: p. 102

slap stick shoes

Music Hall “slap-stick” shoes worn for the “Big Boot Dance” by Sammy Curtis. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1114606/theatre-costume/

Mrs Daffodil is reminded by the shoes above of the host of a vintage variety television show, a Mr Edward Sullivan, who used to announce that his viewers were about to witness “a really big shoe.”

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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