Summer is approaching fast and for me, that means a trip to the shoe store is in order. I eagerly look forward to wearing a pair of sandals all summer long and when possible a pair of retro sandals or vintage sandals to go with my vintage inspired outfits. Over the past few years, I have found some wonderful wedges, cork heel sandals, and strappy flats. What will I find this year? I can’t wait to find out.
In the meantime let us take a look at women’s vintage sandals from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to see what the trends were and how to find that style again today.
You can also skip the history and shop for sandals here.
Retro Sandal History: 1920s to 1970s
1920s Sandals: The first record I have of sandals from my catalog collection is in the 1920s. The main difference between a sandal versus a low heel oxford was the number of cutouts around the toe and vamp. These were not open toe sandals at all but with all the cutouts they were breathable and ideal for summer days. They were also made of leather, suede or canvas and featured a very low rubber tip heel. They were worn at the beach or by teens on their summer breaks. Men had sandals too with cutouts although they were not very popular yet.
Most sandals were T straps or Mary Jane straps. They looked like low heeled shoes worn with all other clothing. The difference between them was only in the materials and with a slightly more sporty look. However, with the Mah Jong trend, some sandals had Asian prints embossed on leather or unique cutouts. The idea was they looked like Chinese house slippers. They paired well with the emerging Beach Pajama outfit.
There were separate shoes made for swimming that was canvas or rubber. Some looked like tall lacee up boots while other were simple mary janes shoes or flat rubber oxfords. Read more about swim shoe here.
Going into the 1930s cutouts on shoes were all the rage! They were the signature element of nearly all shoes in the 1930s. Cutouts came in all shapes and sizes and in all types from walking oxfords to high heeled pumps. A true 1930s “sandal” was still a very low heeled shoe. By the end of the 1930s a small cut out in front of the toe started the “peep toe” revolution. It was the first time women’s toes were visible in the 20th century. It was also a time when it was still acceptable to wear socks with sandals. They looked best with skin tone socks or light colors that match the shoes.
The laced up ghillie shoes was a shoe that wanted to be a sandal. They were favored in summer but they were still made of leather and sometimes straw.
The 1940s continued expanding the tiny peep toe into a much larger open toe. Thcutoutsts grew less dainty and more chunky to go with the entire ’40s movement of utility and function over beauty. Straps were few and wide. The wedge and platform heel were common soles for both shoes and sandals. Heels were at least 1.5 inches but usually taller. Colors were neutral brown, black, grey and white in the early years with bright primary colors popping up in the later years. Yellow, red, green and blue made the sandals stand out at the beach. Some sandals took inspired but nautical life an came in striped patterns. Blue and white, red and white, rainbow or pastel stripes were all nice alternatives to plain colored shoes.
The new 40s sandal look was the espadrille which had a straw wrapped wedge heel and ties that laced up and around the ankle. The fun was in figuring out all the different ways to tie the laces.
The 1950’s saw an explosion of colors and strap designs on sandals. The popular wedge heel of the 1940s continued into a trendier platform wedge. Straps were wide or narrow with many or a few buckles. There wasn’t a single defined style. Variety was everything in the 1950s included textures. The trend for tropical vacations meant a wave of sandals being made of woven straw, raffia and textures weave. They often had embroidery on the vamps that coordinated with an outfit.
Beach sandals were best when flat, very flat with many straps crisscrossing over the vamp and around the heel. Thick or thin leather straps were both offered in vibrant summer colors. Other flats took on a futuristic look with a single bar across the toe or one strap up the center. Flat sandals were usually worn with beach /pool clothing, capri pants, and shorts.
For general wear with a summer dress, many women still preferred heeled sandals in either platform or wedge styles. Wedges were especially trendy with multiple colored straps or large cutouts and a crepe rubber sole. Many sandals were being made of sporty sneaker materials like canvas, denim and cotton twill which made them washable.
The flat sandal was the only kind of trendy sandal in the 1960s. SOme had a scant 1/4 inch heel but that was about as tall as they came. Less is more was the mod style of the decade. Sandals had thinner straps and less of them. Straps around the heel were no longer necessary although still an option. “Flip flops” and slip in mules were what everyone wanted to wear. Flip-flop sandals with the toe wedge were available but the cross strap, t-strap, and multiple sandals were preferred. They came in bright fun colors like sunshine yellow, lime green, hot pink and retro orange as well as earth tones. Just like everything else in the decade sandals were made of synthetics, especially vinal and patent leather with a high shine factor.
The late 1960s and into the 1970s saw flats go away again and the platform came back. Taller and chunkier than the 50s style, the platform sandal quickly became an iconic shoe of the decade. Large block heels and wide straps were typical designs for daywear. Evening sandals such as those worn to disco dances were thin and strappy.
Gladiator sandals were flat with thin laces that wrapped up and around the calf and was another classic 70s style sandal. Colors were reduced to natural and earthy browns, greens and black. The current boho movement is copying 70s style shoes today. Chunky platform sandals are everywhere this year.
Retro Sandals for Today’s Woman
For the retro-loving gal heading into summer, it is imperative that you find a pair of sandals to wear. As I found out on my recent shopping trip retro style sandals are easy to find. Here is what I bought:
Both sandals were moderate heel wedges (which I can walk in without falling over) and between the white and my favorite color blue they go with any retro or modern outfit in my closet : )
Here are many more retro style sandals for sale now. Even more, are coming as spring and summer lines keep rolling out:
Shop Retro Vintage Sandals