An industrial revolution in the mid-1800s meant that footwear could take a giant, fashionable step forward. In addition to the invention of the sewing machine, contraptions that could manipulate leather were invented, leading to the first innovations in cobbler tools since ancient times. Another very basic but key footwear advance occurred in the mid-1800s -- the beginning of a distinction between "left" and "right" shoe.
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Metal eyelets for laces were first developed in 1823 by Thomas Rogers, and an "eyelet setting machine" showed up around 50 years later, popularising the use of laces. The invention of the sewing machine in the mid 1800s meant that shoemakers had an efficient way to attach soles to uppers. "The Rolling Machine" was the first major development in shoemaking during this period, however. It was used to pound sole leather and replaced the more primitive lapstone and hammer.
Due to innovations in creating eyelets, laced up shoes became popular for men during this time. Men started wearing overshoes, or leather galoshes during this time. They were especially popular in the 1830s and 1840s. Heels for men's shoes were only used on dress shoes and maxed out at one inch. Shoes for men were conservative during this century, with most shoes in a basic black.
The 1800s heralded the beginning of greater variations between men's and women's footwear, with women's shoes starting to come in a wider array of styles and colours. Shoes were also becoming more comfortable for women, often made of soft cloth uppers in feminine colours such as pink and lavender. Toe styles changed almost with each decade during this century, with a rounded toe popular in the 1840s, pointed toes in the 1860s, and a broader toe showing up in the 1870s. Heel heights varied as well, from flat slippers to a relatively high two and a half inches.
Men's shoe fashions haven't evolved much since the 1800s. A black laced up oxford with a heel no higher than one inch is still a classic choice for men. Women's shoes today echo the variety of styles, fabrics, heel length and distinctly feminine appearance that first came into vogue during the 1800s.
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