J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2023

“Buckles grew larger and more elaborate”

The English Historical Review is sharing Matthew McCormack’s article “‘So Manly and Ornamental’: Shoe Buckles and Britain’s Eighteenth Century.”

I suspect this article could be of particular interest to reenactors, especially those portraying the upper-class and striving members of society.

From the abstract:
At the time, shoes were manufactured without fastenings and the buckle was purchased separately. This offered opportunities for decoration, particularly for men, whose shoes were otherwise plain and unchanging.

Over the course of the century, buckles grew larger and more elaborate, reaching their apogee in the ‘Artois’ style of the 1780s. In the wake of the French Revolution, buckles came to be associated with effeminacy and the excesses of the aristocracy, so fell from fashion.

This article explores the roles of gender and class in this story, and will challenge the usual association of the buckle with foppery, demonstrating that they were consistent with mainstream masculinities until the 1790s.
About that point, McCormack writes in the conclusion, “the buckle trade was done for.”

And even if you’re just not that into clothing, there’s some snazzy historiographical content:
The shoe historians Bernard and Therle Hughes deployed an extract from The London Spy (1698), in which city beaus wear ‘Shoes black as Jet, which shin’d by much Rubbing … displayed Buckles preserv’d bright in a Box of Cotton, that they dazzled the Eyes of each Beholder like a piece of Looking-Glass in the Sunshine’. This passage has been re-quoted by subsequent shoe historians, since it conveniently reinforces the image of buckles as showy and excessive, but it is in fact a misquotation: the original passage instead refers to black boots (which did not have buckles) and shiny spurs.
For more along the same lines, Routledge is ready to share McCormack’s chapter from the essay collection Everyday Political Objects, titled “Wooden Shoes and Wellington Boots: The Politics of Footwear in Georgian Britain.”

[Shown above: Jeremiah Lee’s shins and shoe buckles, by John Singleton Copley.]

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