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Shoe Buckle

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on March 16, 2016 at 6:39:21 pm

Shoe Buckles 

shoe buckle  n. a fastening for a shoe, in the form of a buckle, also an ornamental buckle worn on the front of a shoe.

1482   in York Myst. Introd. 40   [Those that] maketh ffisshe-hukes or shobakilles.

1847   Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xxxix. 359   A large pair of paste shoe-buckles.



Apparently only a tool used to fasten one's shoe, shoe buckles have been identified as having been used as early as 450 BC, and can be tracked through history to the modern day. However, it is during the seventeenth century, after the civil war, that the shoe buckle industry began to flourish, conforming to the fashion of King Charles II, his having returned from exile. This is illustrated through Samuel Pepys dirary entry on Sunday 22nd January 1660 in which he states "This day I began to put buckles on my shoes", thereby, through the mention in his diary, representing the impact of such an item had on his every day attire. 

However, it seems that Pepys was ahead of his time, endorsing them, perhaps, before shoe buckles could be considered a fashion statement. Until the end of the Seventeenth Century it was still considered a difficult fashion choice tto choose between laces and buckles as a way of securing the shoe to one's foot. It was not until after the Revolution of 1688 that shoe buckles became truly popular, and their being worn considered essential to modern day fashion. 

The popularity of the shoe buckle expanded quickly from this period onwards - those producing them becoming very wealthy, and the craft of shoe buckles becoming ever more elaborate and skilled. It is as a result of this that during the eighteenth century the shoe buckle evolved from having a purely stylish and functional role to performing both social functions as well. 


An item that could be highly prised, the shoe buckle was one of the few fashion items worm by both women and men. The eighteenth century marked both the rise and the fall of the shoe buckle, therefore involving the huge developments in design and value of the shoe buckle, until its demise in the 1790s. 



Shoe Buckles in Literature


The popularity of the shoe buckle in the eighteenth century was reflected in popular literature of the time, often being referred to in passing, as expected with such a commonplace object, or referenced due to its value. Richardson's "Pamela" illustrates this when Pamela is given "three pair of fine silk shoes, two hardly the worse...the other with wrought silver buckles on them" amongst other items of clothing from her master, and she is "astonished, and unable to speak for a while". Throughout the story of Pamela it becomes clear that she has formed an association between what she wears and status, and as such it is evident that the gift of "silver" shoe buckles is more than that of a pretty item - it enables her to feel superior due to the superior metal they are made out of. Thus it is evident that, whilst worn by people from all classes, valuable she buckles represented a class divide, and as such such valuable buckles enabled Pamela to cross class boundaries. 


However, the shoe buckle continues to be used in well known children's literature even in the modern day. The nursery rhyme "One, two, buckle my shoe" has been well known since the nineteenth century, but is believed to have been initially used as early as 1780 in Wrentham, Massachusetts. This not only shows how common the concept of a show buckle was in the late eighteenth century - common enough to be used in an easily comprehensible children's nursery rhyme - but also the extent to which the shoe buckle became an international object. In America it took longer for the shoe buckle to fall out of fashion than it had in Europe, their popularity continuing throughout the eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century. By this time the use of the shoe buckle had become truly international, particularly popular in Europe and North America. However, by the mid nineteenth century they had been predominantly been replaced by laces and it seems it is only through the medium of children's literature that the use of "shoe buckle" in everyday language has survived, as due to the repetition of the phrase in the use of a nursery rhyme, no one has questioned the use of such an object as an archaic term rarely referred to in the modern day.



Whilst at the height of their popularity shoe buckles were also found to be satirised in works outside of the literary field. Throughout the 1770s, when shoe buckles were at their largest, artists such as Matthew Darly took full advantage of this. Darly illustrated a Fop - a man overly concerned with his attire and sense of fashion. The Fop is wearing disproportionately large shoe buckles, illustrating the foolishness of the fashion of overly large shoe buckles, and questioning the true value of the buckle given it's size and effects it had on fashion which could not be considered practical. However, it is not only the shoe buckles in the image that illustrate this foolishness. The buttons on the coat are half the size of the man's head, and the flowers found in his button hole are the same size. The stick he is carrying is so thin that it could be put to no practical use, and the man is totally inappropriately dressed for the environment in which he is standing, which appears to be an area in the countryside. This is clearly making a strong political statement about the perspective of fashion in the eighteenth century, but this illustration also tells us more than that. It is the accessories the Fop is wearing that invite the ridicule of the viewer, and as such one can extrapolate an important understanding of the shoe buckle's role in society from satire such as this. It is thought the accessories that someone was wearing that they could affect their appearance and form an image for society to judge. As such it is apparent that the shoe buckle played a huge role in the image of the person wearing them and clearly the increase in size was to make the buckle more noticeable. 



Other eighteenth century texts which mention shoe buckles in various contexts include:

Montagu's "The Reasons that Induced Dr. S - to write a Poem called the Lady's Dressing Room"

Richardson's "Pamela"

Cleland's "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure"

Sterne's "Tristram Shandy"

"One, Two Buckle my Shoe" - Henry Bolton, collector of counting rhymes in 1885 said the rhyme was used in Wrentham, Massachusetts as early as 1780 p333





Due to the fact that the shoe buckle was an every day item there was understandably much criminality surrounding them as they were an easy item to access and to sell. 

The value of the buckles taken ranged dramatically, reflecting the variety of buckles available on the market according to what a  consumer could afford. Old Bailey record show buckles stolen commonly throughout the eighteenth century ranging from a value as low as 1d (equivalent to 27p in modern monetary terms) to those as high as 2l (£149.58) for a single pair. 

Many thefts of shoe buckles are found amongst a list of other common household goods taken, such as clothing and shoes, indicating that, unlike the pick-pocket culture prevalent in the eighteenth century, the theft of shoe buckles was as a result of breaking and entering into a property, as it would have been very difficult to take whilst being worn. This distinguishes the shoe buckle from other thefts such as pocket handkerchiefs as these could taken easily as a result of pick-pocketing, and as such was less opportunistic and had to have much more planning surrounding their theft. 


Catherine Simpson's theft was from one person - Mary Clancey - indicating that, although it is not explicitly stated, her theft was made on the grounds of breaking and entering. However, there is a long explanation into the robbery of John Andrew Martin. 

"John Andrew Martin was indicated for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Valentine Knight, on the 17th of Oct. about the hour of two in the night"

Followed by the considerable list of items he stole. 

There is also testimony from Mary Knight, the wife of the house owner who illustrated the events of the theft, giving a little more insight into how events such as this took place in the eighteenth century:


"When I came into the parlour, I found the flap of the cellar window was torn up, and a padlock torn from the cellar door, that opens into the street upon the cellar stairs; the door shuts on the flap, and was padlock'd on the inside. There is a window seat like in the parlour, which was a head-way front, the top of that was wrench'd off, and the top of it lay upon the ground; by that means a passage was opened into the parlour, close to the bureau where our goods were locked up: I locked them up myself, about eleven o'clock over night; I am always the last up, and know the cellar door and flap were safe at that time. The bureau is a bureau and book-case, but instead of books there are twenty-four drawers that hold our work: there is an iron bar that goes cross and fastens the two doors, and is padlocked. The padlock I found torn to pieces, and the bar torn off; the shutter taken down, and the flap of the bureau had the lock torn off, the keys were in there; by which they unlocked the top where the other drawers were; there was a lock to the top besides the bar; the middle drawer the lock was broke off. There were three locks of the buffet broke also, and a case of tea-spoons moved out and put into a chair; but we believe, by the alarm of the bell, the thief made off. The next day I observed there were some drops of wax in the bureau: the goods mentioned in the indictment were taken away; some we have found again, but not all, nor near all."


This illustrates the effort to which someone had to put themselves to be in a position to steal such a large amount of property, and it is events like this which would have have an effect on the degree of punishment that the thief received - the value of the robbery also having a large effect on the intensity of the punishment. Both the thefts cited here had a remarkably different value and were in conjunction with other items, and thus whilst they do not reflect what the theft of a single buckle might have resulted in, they do reflect the value of the thefts which therefore indicates the extent to which the value of the shoe buckles had an effect on the proceedings. Whilst Catherine Simpson was fined 10d (£3.58) John Andrew Martin received the death penalty for such a considerable robbery. In conjunction with this it is worth noting that whilst the shoe buckles stolen by Catherine Simpson were the the item of lowest value which she took, the most valuable shoe Buckles Martin took were of a comparatively much higher value in his collection of goods. 


The fact that two prime examples of the theft of shoe buckles in the eighteenth century includes both genders illustrates what a gender diverse crime theft was in the eighteenth century. Women formed over 50% of the defendants at the Old Bailey in the first half of the eighteenth century, a percentage which thereafter went on to decline. This was probably due to the fact that, unlike other roles in society which had gendered stereotypes attached to them, theft did not undergo such role assignment, as only those who were financially unstable participated in it. Records also reveal that the kind of crime women participated in the most was that of pick-pocketing, theft from lodging-houses, and theft from masters amongst other things such as kidnapping, keeping a brothel and coining. Stereotypes of women's crime seem much more basic, as it was generally men who were accused of crimes of a more serious nature such as breaking the peace or robbery as well as more basic crimes such as theft. From evidence such as this it is evident why both men and women were associated with the theft of items such as shoe buckles, and illustrates how theft was one of the few gender neutral roles in eighteenth century Britain. 







As illustrated through this table, there was a dramatic and steady rise in the use of the phrase "shoe buckle" in texts reflecting the increased popularity of shoe buckles as fashionable objects. The table clearly reflects how shoe buckles became a more common object of interest throughout the eighteenth century, from having very little recognition at the beginning of the century to being much more popular by then end - the phrase being mentioned in several texts. However, the table also illustrates that towards the end of the eighteenth century the popularity of shoe buckles began to decline. By 1800 it is evident in that the number of times "shoe buckle" is mentioned in texts begins to decrease, thereby illustrating not only the increase but also the decrease in popularity of the object as a statement of fashion. 


The fashion of wearing shoe buckles beginning in the mid-late seventeenth century, the popularity of the shoe buckle was well established by the eighteenth century - its popularity only increasing over the later years. Works of the period illustrate such an increased use of the shoe buckle to the point where it is considered a normal item of clothing. The works of William Hogarth clearly demonstrate this through his art as both characters of high and low status wearing shoe buckles. In the third print - "The Inspection" - of his series "Marriage A-La-Mode" both the doctor and the Viscount are clearly wearing shoe buckles in the image thereby supporting this claim. It is also relevant that Hogarth emphasises the gendered ambiguity which exists with the shoe buckle - both men and women wearing them regardless of class or gender. This not only made the shoe buckle a very unusual fashionable item, one of the only to break both class and gender barriers, but also by default increased their popularity as they could be sold to the majority of members in society. 


Other works by Hogarth such as "The Rake's Progress" which reflect his "modern moral subjects" illustrate how the shoe buckle may be used in satirical works. "A Harlot's Progress" - the illustration of a young girl whose innocence leads to her into the world of prostitution, and ultimately her untimely death, illustrated through the subtle and symbolic in his prints uses shoe buckles consistently throughout. 



The popularity of shoe buckles was reflected in both literature and publications of the time advertising them as fashionable and desirable items. Articles describe them as both "elegant" and "fashionable" illustrating the desired qualities evident in a shoe buckle and also often referred to the material the shoe buckle was made out of such as "silver" or "copper", the metal thereby showing the quality of the buckle and giving a suggestion of price, and they were not always evident within the advertisement. This not only tells us about the shoe buckles available for sale in the eighteenth century, but also represents advertising techniques used to create the shoe buckle as an appealing object. Shoe buckles were also often advertised under the heading of "Jewellery" representing the role the shoe buckle took in relation to other items in the wardrobe. Whilst an accessory which was considered necessary by many, it was that sort of role that was its place in the wardrobe - a necessity that could be altered into a fashionable item thereby being construed as an item of jewellery. 


The fact that shoe buckles can be recognised as accessories in the eighteenth century means that they may be considered in a similar regard to HandkerchiefsSnuff Boxes and Parasols.


However, it was both in England and France that politics had an eventual effect on the wearing of the show buckle. In 1789 the French Revolution began, and due to the decorative nature of the shoe buckle, shoe buckles were used as a political statement to show support for the monarchy. To wear a shoe buckle, especially one of particular decoration or value was to act in direct disobedience of the revolutionary cause as the revolutionaries  had declared that all buckles and silver adornments should be donated towards the support of the revolutionary movement. It was in this way that the uprising was able to gain the materials needed to pose a significant threat to the monarchy. After the end of the French Revolution in 1799 all fashions associated with aristocracy including high heeled shoes "louis heels" and shoe buckles  were rejected for less extravagant wear. In this sense the shoe buckle was able to survive as a utile item as, whilst it could no longer be worn as an item of fashion, its original purpose of fastening shoes without any other purpose remained. This is shown through texts of the era illustrating that after the revolution it became a requirement for each man in the revolutionary infantry to provide "1 pair of shoe buckles" amongst other elements of required uniform. 


It was during the 1780s and 1790s that the popularity of the shoe buckle began to decline in the UK, and therefore took a political turn. What until this point had been a promising business was now beginning to fail. In an attempt to stem this drop in popularity and the resulting effects on their businesses, in 1792 the Buckle Trade of London and Westminster sent an appeal to the Royal Conductors of Fashion including Prince George, the Prince of Wales, in the hope that they would be able to use their power to protect the trade. Whilst an attempt was clearly made by Prince George to support these manufacturers and halt the change in fashion away from shoe buckle towards the shoe lace, his endeavours ultimately had very little effect on the lapse of the popularity of the shoe buckle. George's attempt to encourage the wearing of shoe buckles through the example set by his court lacked the effect he wanted to as the shoe had fallen completely out of fashion by 1793 except in court where George had required his courtiers to wear them. 





Design and Production


The value of the design of a shoe buckle initially came down to the fact that the shoes of both men and women, but especially men, had very little design or aesthetic value to them. They were made with primarily practicality in mind needing to be both sturdy and weather proof, and as such did not fulfil any design ideas to make them any more fashionable, the shape and framework of the shoe remaining relatively consistent.

Early in the Eighteenth Century the popularity of shoe buckles had become very much embedded into society due to the fact that they had begun to be associated with gentility. Whilst some still did wear laces it was considered unseemly and inelegant on the foot. However, it was not until the 1720s the design of the shoe buckle was relatively small, reflecting its practical value over any fashion statement it might be performing. The buckle only began to have any form of considerable design added to it in the 1740s when production began to extend outside the mere practicality of the shoe buckle and consciously make their buckles more saleable by adding stones of varying value to them. The size of the shoe buckle grew with its popularity until it reached its height in the 1770s. This allowed much more scope when it came to the design of the shoe buckle, allowing for variation in shape and colour. 

The design of the shoe buckle became a valuable addition to the wardrobe. Unlike the modern day, changing fashion did not affect the whole of one's wardrobe, but was confined to certain aspects of it that could be easily altered. This came down to items which were small and easily removable from one's overall ensemble such as ribbons, buttons, scarves and, of course, shoe buckles. As a result of this the designs of shoe buckles became ever more outlandish.


Expensive buckles were made in silver but the less expensive ones were made of shiny steel cut to resemble diamonds.

clothing as identity

Throughout the late eighteenth century paste stones became popular decorations for shoe buckles as they were not only cheap, but also easy for the designers to cut them to produce their maximum potential without fear of damaging a valuable stone. 

copper, shffield plate, pinchbeck, silver, gold set with stones pastes or marcasite


As shoe buckles began to fall out of fashion towards the end of the century, buckle makers began a desperate attempt to save their trade by altering the traditional buckle to incorporate new designs or methods to make it more appealing and modern in order to fit the tastes of their consumer. The "Brunswick Spring Shoe Buckle" was a prime example of this adding a spring to the design in an attempt to increase demand through this new feature. The nature of the advert is very different to that of the advert referenced previously in this page. It is keen to distinguish itself from other buckles on the market stating that it is based "upon an entire new principle". The advert focuses on the science behind the design of the buckle and how it is durable yet retains style and will be worn by the fashionable consumer. There is no emphasis on the metals used or the aesthetic design on the buckle itself and more focus on the ease of use and functionality.





This cross section of the Brunswick Spring Buckle illustrates how it works differently to the typical eighteenth century buckle shown below in the video. It seems that the spring is incorporated in the top section of the buckle causing the shoe to be tighter over the foot. Whilst an interesting idea it is apparent that, due to the fact that modern buckles no longer make use of this design, the original shoe buckle design is the most apt to fulfil its function. 


This video illustrates how shoe buckles in the Eighteenth Century were designed to fasten, so once done up the shoe fitted well and retained style:



The video also clearly shows the functional design of the shoe buckle. It is apparent that once a shoe buckle was fitted to a shoe, the fitting could not be changed without re piercing the leather, and as such it was not only important to fit the buckle well first time, but one is also able to recognise the expected reuse of the buckle on the shoe. 




Primary Sources

Old Bailey Proceedings Online. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2. 8 January 2016), December 1768, trial of John Andrew Martin (t17681207-9).

     This case emphasises how shoe buckles could be stolen as part of a large range of objects within a property, and were seen as a common household item. The buckles stolen in this case was the most expensive example of the theft of a shoe buckle that I could find, illustrating to me the top end value of shoe buckles that would be found in the home. The detailed description of the theft also gave me an interesting insight into how thefts of such a large scale   were carried out and why an object such as a shoe buckle was a natural object to take. 



Old Bailey Proceedings Online. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2. 8 January 2016), June 1738, trial of Catherine Simpson (t17380628-6)

     This case interested me, partly due to the minimal value of the shoe buckle, and partly as a result of the limited attention and space the case was given in the records. Unlike the trial of John Andrew Martin, there is no description of what Catherine Simpson did in order to carry out her theft, just that she had stolen the items, and that she was guilty. It was this distinction which led me to consider the gendered roles within the theft of objects such as shoe buckles and how this would have affected the Old Bailey's records. 



Buckle Makers and Traders of London and Westminster. Appeal from the buckle trade of London and Westminster, to the royal conductors of fashion. London, 1792. Historical Texts. Web. 6 Feb. 2016. 

     This was one of the earliest sources that I found, and it fascinated me that such an attempt had been made to save the popularity of the shoe buckle. It illustrates the dependence by which the buckle trade relied on their profession, and the huge effect the decline of the buckle had on certain members of society. This text brought out the financial side to my research, and added the alternative perspective of the production of the shoe buckle in relation to their role in the eighteenth century. 


Calcutta Chronicle; and General Advertiser. Calcutta. 6 Sept. 1787. Web. Eighteenth Century Journals. 7 Mar. 2016. 

     This particularly fascinated me as it illustrated the effects of the British Empire on the importance of fashion and the effects the empire had on the international trade of western items. It also indicates how shoe buckles were considered as part of the wardrobe, an accessory much more than a necessary item of clothing, yet unusual in the respect that it had become an accessory out of the original value of their utility. I was also able to see how common it was to sell the shoe buckle and the format in which adverts were written in the eighteenth century. 


"Advertisements and Notices." World 6 Mar. 1790.  17th and 18th Century Burney Collection. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

     This was the paper which held the patent and advert for the Brunswick Spring Shoe Buckle. It clearly illustrated the progression in the design of shoe buckles, and also the way they were advertised within popular news. I also found it interesting how this patent is published in a newspaper - a clear change since the eighteenth century. 



Gyford, Phil. The Diary of Samuel Pepys. 22 Jan. 1670. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

     Pepys diary is a hugely valuable account due to the unreserved account of living in the seventeenth century. It is fascinating that shoe buckles got a mention in this, and this truly illustrated to me the revolutionary effect they had when they were first introduced into the UK. 


Secondary Sources

"shoe, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press March 2016. Web. 15 Mar 2016. 

     This was a good starting point to my research as it gives a brief description of the purpose of the shoe buckle and the function it has played throughout history. I was able to see that in the later reference to a shoe buckle, it was referred to within the context of the size and material of the shoe buckle, giving early indications that it was a more recent development in the history of the shoe buckle that it became more than a fastening object, but also a fashionable item. 



Crowdy, Terry. French Revolutionary Infantry 1789 - 1802 (Men at Arms). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004. Print. 

     I only looked at a very small part of this book but it gave me an idea of the use of the shoe buckle in France after the French Revolution. Their purpose was clearly still important, and they were  clearly still considered more valuable than laces given that they were required as part of the uniform of the French infantry, but this was purely for practical reasons, and a far cry from the use that they had been put to before the start of the French Revolution when they were considered as an important item of fashion by the aristocracy. 


Victoria and Albert Museum Collections. Shoe Buckle, 2016. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. 

     This took me by surprise as I was in the process of searching for an image to use on this page. However, whilst the image was not available, the description gave me an idea of the materials and skill required in the manufacture of the shoe buckle, and as a result I was able to research more fully into the value of the shoe buckle based on its size, extravagance and the materials used to make it. 



Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Historical Background Gender in the Proceedings, 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. 

     Whilst not directly related to the topic of shoe buckles, this gave me an insight into the criminality of objects such as shoe buckles and the gendered associations with that form of theft. This page gave an idea as to why the most expensive shoe buckle I could find in the criminal records was stolen by a man whilst a woman stole the cheapest. 



White, Carolyn L. American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680 - 1820: A Guide to Identification and Interpretation. Oxford: Altamira Press, 2005. Print. 

     This book very much looks at the design of the shoe buckle, and how it was at the beginning of the seventeenth century that the shoe buckle gained the shape and base design that is present in the eighteenth century shoe buckle. White illustrates that the fashions for the shoe buckle in Western Europe were similar, and as such one is able to understand why the popularity of the shoe buckle was lost in the whole of Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, to be replaced by laces. 


Riello, Giiorgio. A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century. New York: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

     This text was hugely useful in my research of the popularity and design of the shoe buckle in the eighteenth century. It outlined the value in a buckle that could diversify the standard shoe design of the day, and the dates associated with the change in style of the shoe buckle itself until its decline. 





Shoe Buckle. 1770-1800. Photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 23 Dec. 2015. 



Darly, Matthew. Buckles and Buttons: I am the thing. Dem-me. 1777. Etching and Engraving. The British Museum, London. The British Museum. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.


 Historical Texts. Date Range Table. Generated at historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.



Shoe Buckle. ca. 1790 (made). Photograph. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. 



Hogarth, William. Marriage a-la-mode: 3, The Inspection. 1745?. Oil on Canvas. The National Gallery, London. The National Gallery. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.



Brunswick Spring Shoe Buckle. 1794. Illustration. Repertory of arts, manufactures and agriculture, London. Repertory of arts, manufactures and agriculture. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. 



Lauren Stowell. "How to Use 18th Century Shoe Buckles." Online video. Youtube. Youtube. 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. 



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