Fancy feet: Stylish shoes for women are big business (1938)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

High style and low style: Americans spend a billion dollars a year on 400 million pairs of shoes

Of the 417,000,000 pairs of shoes sold in the U.S. last year, 172,000,000 pairs were women’s shoes, and 50% of them cost less than $3 a pair. Per capita consumption of women’s shoes in 1937 was 3.7 pairs, against 2.2 pairs for men and 2.4 for children.

Most women’s shoe styles originate in Europe. Top-notch U.S. designers adapt European styles to U.S. taste. New designs sell first in the highest price brackets, from $16 up. Within three weeks, copies appear in the $3.98 to $10 price groups. But profits in the shoe business come not from fancy new styles, but from accepted staples.

The chart shows the different styles in the different price classifications in such a way as to indicate how the styles are repeated in all groups. Note how the Valkyrie-front shoe in the first down column appears in all price classes from $2.98 (top) to $150 (bottom).

The most popular shoes in the U.S. are: first, the low and medium-heeled oxford (down columns 4 and 5): second. the strap sandal (down column 6), and third, the opera pump (down column 8).


>> Love classic footwear? Check out our book, Vintage Shoes: Fashionable Women’s Footwear from the 20th Century


Extreme shoe styles

Extreme styles in women’s shoes are represented in the rectangle [below]. Only one woman in a thousand can afford these shoes. The slipper (lower left) costs $150. Evening slipper (lower right) costs $38. Insignificant in volume, this group is of great style importance. Notice how evening-slipper pattern is repeated in the three price groups to the right. Likewise, thick-heeled sport shoe in column 2 ranges from $12.75 to $2.98 in the cheapest class.


Why women wear high heels can be understood by studying this high-style model which orthopedists deplore. High heels make the feet look shorter and the ankles more slender.

Regional shoe shows

From early January to mid-February, American shoe merchants are busy dashing around the country to attend regional shoe shows. On Feb. 13 to 15, the mid-Atlantic shoe retailers will meet in Philadelphia. In January, shoe shows were held in Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, Fort Worth, Indianapolis. Greatest and most important of all was the Shoe Fair in Chicago.

There the National Boot & Shoe Manufacturers Association joined with the National Shoe Retailers Association to put on the biggest show ever staged by the industry. Present was William H. Moulton, whose International Shoe Co. of St; Louis is the biggest producer in the U.S. Over 14,000 buyers and manufacturers viewed the 1.050 exhibits of more than 5200000 pairs of shoes.

ALSO SEE  And they're off! Look back at the history of the Kentucky Derby

No exhibit stirred more discussion and speculation among the mass manufacturers than that of the Bat’a Shoe Co. of Czechoslovakia, presided over by Hugo Vavrecka, a Bat’a director. The Bat’a company is not only cutting deeply into the cheapest American shoe market but is also under-selling U. S. exporters in the foreign market. Twenty years ago, U.S. shoe exports totaled $75,000,000. By 1936, they had dwindled to $3,000,000. Bat’a exported more than 2,000,000 pairs of shoes to the United States in 1936, while total exports of all U.S. manufacturers were little more than 1,500,000 pairs.

Americans spend a billion dollars a year on shoes. In 1937 this sum bought them 417,000,000 pairs about three pairs per capita. Of this total, women got 172,000,000 pairs, men 103,000,000 pairs, children and infants 70,000,000 pairs.

If you liked this, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Check out our books!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Because the fun never ends:

Join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.