Article by Elizabeth Semmelhack

ne day in the summer of 2004, the Bata Shoe Museum received a phone call from Peaks Island, Maine. The woman calling was organizing a benefit for a local historic site and needed assistance in assessing an unusual pair of boots that had been donated. She explained that they had been given by an eighty-year-old supporter who had kept the pair in her attic for years. She also noted that the boots were lavishly embellished and were stamped Paris 1855 on the soles. Intrigued, we asked her to send some pictures. The minute the images arrived, we knew that these boots needed to be preserved.

The boots were exquisite examples of mid-nineteenth century side-lacing Adelaides. Named after the British Queen Consort to King William IV, Adelaides came into fashion along with the crinoline. The crinoline had been invented to relieve women of the weight of innumerable petticoats by means of a wire structure, over which only a few layers could be draped and still the fashionable look of fullness achieved. The hazard of the crinoline, however, was its sensitivity to motion. The subtlest of movements–a jostle or unexpected gust of wind–would cause the crinoline to sway, coquettishly revealing the wearer’s legs. Adelaides, such as this one, came into fashion ostensibly to preserve the wearer’s modesty because they covered the ankle.

The eye-catching embellishment, however, suggests that rather than deflecting unwanted glances, many Adelaides were designed to attract attention. One of the remarkable aspects of this artifact is that the rich colours of both the brown silk and embroidery that made these boots so fashionable at the time were still vibrant after more than one hundred and fifty years. Determined to preserve these boots for future generations the Museum offered to purchase them and how they have become treasured artifacts in the collection of the Bata Shoe Museum. In so doing their acquisition has also contributed handsomely to the preservation of the historic building on Peaks Island that they were earmarked to help.

Elizabeth Semmelhack is Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum.