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1930s golden evening shoes (French or Belgian). Yes, please.
1930s golden evening shoes (French or Belgian). Yes, please.

Bata Shoe Museum

I love a niche museum. It’s marvellous how one seemingly narrow subject (like brands or fans or clocks) can lead to insights on a greater whole. Bata Shoe Museum is a perfect example. As the museum’s “About Us” page says:

Shoes are an indication of personal taste and style. Yet shoes can also tell us much about the world’s technological development, and can mark shifts in society’s attitudes and values.

Footwear illustrates entire ways of life, reflecting climate, religious beliefs and the development of trades, and how attitudes to gender and social status changed through the ages.

The current exhibit, Want: Desire, Design, and Depression Era Footwear, is a feast for the eyes. Contrary to what one might expect – austere no-frills footwear during a time of economic downturn – the exhibit highlights how, “The desires born from want drove an explosion of cultural creativity from film to fashion.”

Take, for instance, the gorgeous golden pair at the top. The accompanying text notes that:

In the 1930s, women seemed to heed the advice of fashion experts to have one pair of metallic evening shoes in their wardrobes because metallics functioned as a neutral and went with everything. Many extant evening shoes from the period are indeed gold kid and the majority show evidence of heavy use.

The owner of this pair seems to have reattached the buckles, and if she had wanted to revive their gold finish, she could have purchased a Cinderella Gold Slipper shoe polish kit specifically designed to return the sparkle to golden footwear.

One thing I’m noticing from all these museum visits in my 2019 #100museums challenge is how my attention is not only directed outwards by the exhibits on which I’m “musing,” but also inwards. Not only am I considering the Depression (or Indigenous culture, or Ontario animals, or hip hop music), but also my own personal experience of the subject matter. I suppose it’s inevitable. In this case, I’m reminded of a stunning pair of strappy silver 3-inch heeled dancing shoes that I wore to a gala ten years ago. The most beautiful shoes I’ve ever owned … but absolutely lethal after two hours on my feet. Shoes as instruments of torture (but they looked amazing!!).

Also in that vein, the Want exhibit features this pair of 1930s roller skates … and I swear I grew up with the same ones! I can remember the metal key used for adjustments, the swish-swish sound of the metal wheels on hot asphalt in the summer, and the way the toe pieces would cut into the sides of my feet, ouch. So much fun.

I left Bata Shoe Museum much more conscious of my footwear choices – style and material – and a strong urge to go shoe shopping.

The exhibit Want runs through March 30, 2020.

Bata Shoe Museum is museum no. 12 in my #100museums challenge (see 100 Museums Challenge).