1640s Shoes

Men's shoe

The shoe that was worn most by Civil War soldiers is widely known as the latchet shoe, though as far as I can tell, in the 1640s they were just called ‘shoes’. The word refers (naturally if you think about it) to the laces, as this quote from a book by the independent divine Henry Burton printed in 1640 shows:

“The Iewes would not so much as stoop to tye the  latchet of their shooe in the place, where an Image was, least their bowing might seem to be to the Image.”

Shoes may have been issued in their thousands during the wars, ideally three or four times a year, possibly in one of four sizes, which is a clue to the reason they had open sides. A closed sided shoe might seem more practical as it keeps the weather out, but the open sided style is better able to fit a variety of foot shapes, arch sizes etc. as it has a built in adjustment. There are good original illustrations of the kind of basic shoe I’m discussing here and here. The shoes shown above are the ones I wear, made by Sarah Juniper

When you are looking for shoes what you should first consider is exactly the same thing you would for modern shoes. Do they fit? TheyScreen Shot 2013-03-07 at 11.15.07 won’t wear in, they will not stretch, two pairs of socks are not really an option. Shoes will fit or not, some people chose to ignore this but a good seller would rather not sell bad fitting footwear. The sketch on the right shows the main parts of a 1640 style shoe. Drawing by Tod Booth of Re-enactment Shoes

Things to check with off the peg shoes:

Is the shoe made of leather? It sounds obvious but there are synthetic ones.

Is the stitching good or loose?

Does the seller offer a guarantee?

Are they knowledgeable about shoes or are they just a reseller?

Does the shoe feel like it flexes as you walk? If the sole doesn’t flex the upper will stretch and you will get a loose shoe and blisters.

What you need to look for first in a good quality latchet shoe is sturdy all leather construction. A hand made shoe has butt stitched side seams, whereas a machine made example will generally have overlapping seams. There are no inherent problems with non hand stitched shoes, but there are some pitfalls to avoid. Try to find a pair that has a reasonable thickness of leather, rather than multiple layers, and pay attention to the side seam positioning as this is an easy mistake to make in construction and can result in an unhistoric style


Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 14.43.39This is a picture of an actual 17th century open sided shoe from a book called The Romance of the Shoe as far as I can work out and is ideally what you should be looking for. Although this is not a cheap option, a well made pair of latchets should last you a long time if they’re looked after. The square toe isn’t necessary, in fact most shoes of the period had round toes and the theory is that they were more sturdy and harder wearing than square toed examples. The side seam is level with the fastening and also notice the shaping around the heel.


Here are two more repro shoes, both by Chris Thomas. On the left a pair made for a lady, though note there’s no real difference to the men’s shoes above and on the right a more practical close sided shoe that may be more suited for a labourer. As we have discussed, the more open sided shoe was probably more likely to have been army issue as it has a certain amount of size adjustment built in, but this style would be more weather-proof. Notice still that the side seam is more or less in line with the front of the heel.

This guy is a detail from the Shepeard’s Oracles by Francis Quarles, published in 1645. He’s wearing low heeled shoes with large side openings.

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Follow this link to a variety of images that show shoes being worn from the period.

And two pictures that show either end of the shoe spectrum. A pair of flat shoes worn by a melon seller from Cries of London 1654 and the King’s heeled shoe from the fronticepiece of Eikon Basilike.

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4 Comments to “1640s Shoes”

  1. Excellent, shared everywhere 🙂

  2. I want to make a pair of embroidered c17th mules. well, I want to do the embroidery and get kevin garlik to make the shoes – trouble is I would then have to make the rest of the outfit…

    • Contrasts are acceptable in the 1640s as far as I can tell. I’d go for it if I were you and I would love to add the photos to my gallery. Or you could always get the 1642 Tailor to make the matching clothes. 😉

      • oh, I’m quite capable of making the clothes myself – in fact I think my mother still wears the c17th outfit I made for her when I was 17 – it’s just the time. I’ve been itching to make something c17th again since jenni’s book came out a few years ago, but I have so many other projects begging for my time, and to be honest after work in the evenings I’m not really capable of garments, embroidery is about all i can do in the evenings cos its a bit more brainless.

        besides which, the kind of shoes I want to make would need some jolly expensive clothes to go with them, else I’d be a bit all fur coat and no knickers

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